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Monday, 12 September 2011
Page: 9544

Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (10:10): On behalf of the Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs, I present the committee's report entitled Advisory report on the Extradition and Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Amendment Bill 2011, together with the minutes of proceedings and evidence received by the committee.

Ordered that the report be made a parliamentary paper.

Mr PERRETT: by leave—before I go into my response to the report, I would like to note that this report has brought people from all around Australia to the parliament. I see up in the viewing gallery Paul Kennard, Kylie Hutton and their children Ben, Tom and Sophie, who have come down from Brisbane especially to hear this response.

The Extradition and Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 was referred to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs for inquiry and advisory report. The bill proposed a number of significant reforms which are designed to streamline and modernise Australia's laws on extradition and mutual assistance processes. Policy and processes in this area must balance the interests of criminal investigations with the great need to safeguard human rights. It is a complex balance, and the committee is pleased to have contributed to scrutiny on this bill and to make a number of recommendations to the House. These recommendations have the unanimous support of the committee.

Prior to this committee's inquiry the bill went through a rigorous process of public consultation during its development. Exposure drafts of the bill were released in both 2009 and January 2011, and subsequently a number of amendments were made. Firstly, the committee welcomes the reforms in the bill to extend the availability of bail to allow individuals to apply for bail during the latter stages of the extradition process. However, there is a statutory presumption against bail which restricts judicial discretion and places the evidentiary burden on applicants to prove that there are special circumstances to justify bail. As a matter of principle the committee queries the necessity of this presumption against bail. The committee's view is that it is rightly the role of the judiciary to determine the merits or risks of bail in any given situation and so recommends that consideration be given to removing this statutory presumption against bail in extradition cases. This change could be made without impacting on Australia's treaty obligations.

A further area of concern relates to transparency. Increasingly there is a reliance on undertakings from foreign countries to facilitate the extradition or mutual assistance process. These include undertakings regarding the storage of personal information and undertakings that a person wanted for an offence that carries the death penalty will not have the death penalty imposed upon them or, if it is imposed, will not have the sentence carried out on them. The breach of an undertaking has serious consequences not only for the individuals involved but also for the bilateral relationship between Australia and the country concerned. Therefore, we recommend that all breaches of an undertaking be reported on in the annual report of the Attorney-General's Department. The committee further recommends that any significant breach of an undertaking should be immediately reported to the parliament.

The committee agrees that reforms to our extradition and mutual assistance processes are required to recognise further grounds for refusal of assistance, to clarify what constitutes political offences, to expedite processes and to ensure there is appropriate scope for the Attorney-General to exercise discretion in any decision. The bill as proposed achieves an effective balance between streamlining processes and maintaining safeguards. However, given the gravity of the issues involved, the committee recommends that any reforms to extradition and mutual assistance processes be reviewed within three years to ensure that the balance is operating effectively.

The issues that the committee has raised are designed to enhance the reforms proposed in the bill. The committee recommends the government give consideration to these additional issues and that the House pass the bill without amendment.

In closing, I thank all of the members of the Social Policy and Legal Affairs Committee, particularly the deputy chair, for their thorough approach to this inquiry, and thank all contributors to the inquiry and the wonderful secretariat under Dr Anna Dacre's leadership—especially Mei-Lin Wang, who provided specialist advice on the bill and who is here in the chamber today.