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Thursday, 14 May 2009
Page: 2847

Senator LUDLAM (12:52 PM) —I would like to make some brief remarks on the passage of the Telecommunications Interception Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2008. The Australian Greens acknowledge that the amendments proposed by the government through this bill are noncontroversial. These particular amendments provide for Queensland to finally come into the accountability framework, contributing record keeping, reporting and compliance with inspection obligations, and establishing the minimum standards for agency compliance. What is noteworthy about Queensland is that it has a Public Interest Monitor—an independent barrister who represents the public interest and, in the case of this legislation, is basically a barrier to police having unfettered power to get highly intrusive powers for surveillance device warrants or covert search warrants. The Public Interest Monitor will be present for the actual warrant applications in Queensland. While the history of the Queensland police force is mixed, as we all know from the Fitzgerald inquiry and various exposes in the media, including pieces in Four Corners, it is especially appropriate for this kind of oversight to ensure that the police and law enforcement agencies are respecting privacy and acting within the law. But the question really is: why aren’t the citizens of every state protected in this way? Why is there not an office such as this in all states and territories that ensures that checks and balances do ensure that privacy rights are upheld?

As I said the first time I got to my feet in this place, it is very concerning that an Australian telephone is 23 times more likely to be bugged than an American telephone. In the United States only judges may issue telecommunications warrants, but in Australia almost all are issued by nonjudges, as we can see from the list of authorised personnel listed in the bill before us today, which empowers the state commissioners to authorise officers of a particular rank to be a certifying officer. The Australian people should be provided with evidence that this level of surveillance is actually necessary and that it is being used in successful prosecutions. The legislation should also be reviewed to ensure that necessary, lawful and proportionate access by law enforcement agencies to telecommunications data is balanced with the public’s right to communicate free from surveillance. Australians should be able to communicate with their friends and colleagues without a range of organisations listening in. It must only be in extraordinary circumstances when that right to privacy is denied.

Who exactly is being spied upon? In many cases it has been people who are working for peace and human rights or organising their democratic right to free expression which we hold very dear in this country. Why are these people under surveillance? We have seen recent media reports, particularly in Victoria and New South Wales, of state law enforcement agencies spying on perfectly legitimate organisations who are simply expressing their democratic rights to dissent from certain kinds of decisions or certain activities. Why are they under surveillance? A public interest monitor mechanism in every state and territory will help ensure that proper justification is made each and every time an Australian’s right to privacy is breached.