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Monday, 12 September 2011
Page: 9545

Dr STONE (Murray) (10:14): by leave—as acting deputy chair of the committee in the absence of the member for Pearce, Judi Moylan, I want to stress that the Extradition and Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislative Amendment Bill 2011 is a bipartisan-supported advisory report.

While we are told that the aim of the bill is to streamline and to modernise Australia's extradition and mutual assistance law, in fact it deals with some very significant issues. It is not just streamlining; we believe it is a very significant movement forward to ensure that Australia has special measures to ensure that in extradition we uphold the rights of individuals to be treated properly before our law and also that their human rights are observed in other jurisdictions.

Particularly in relation to extradition, the bill aims to extend the circumstances in which a person may be prosecuted in Australia as an alternative to extradition. We want to allow the person to consent to extradition in relation to a wider range of offences and to modify the definition of political offence to clarify that the political offence exception to extradition does not extend to specified crimes such as terrorism.

The bill also requires that extradition must be refused if a person may be prejudiced by reason of his or her sex or sexual orientation following surrender. As we know, not all countries share the same beliefs as we do in Australia, where a person should not and may not be discriminated against on the basis of their gender, their religion, their ethnicity or their age. It is essential that we cover all of the circumstances where a person may be discriminated against if extradited.

The stated purpose of other measures is to streamline the extradition process, and potentially to reduce the amount of time a person is required to spend in extradition custody while maintaining appropriate safeguards. This is very important, of course. We also want to strengthen safeguards in relation to the provision of assistance where there are death penalty or torture concerns in a particular case.

This bill aims to amend the various grounds on which Australia can refuse a request for assistance from another country. I have already referred to the case where a person may be prejudiced at their trial, or where the purpose of the investigation or prosecution is to persecute a person on the basis of his or her sexual orientation. The bill also aims to streamline the process used to authorise a proceeds of crime action to allow Australian courts to register and enforce foreign non-conviction-based proceeds of crime orders from any country.

These are important changes and we believe they will better safeguard the rights of individuals and also help Australia to be a better global citizen. We were conscious when we looked at this bill not to make it more difficult than it already is for our law enforcement officers to do the work that they are often called to do in collaboration and cooperation with other governments. After speaking with the Australian Federal Police, for example, we are quite satisfied that they are comfortable with these amendments.

This is a very important bill. As our chair has said, we do recommend that consideration be given to amending the current provisions of the Extradition Act, which allow bail to be granted only in special circumstances. We believe a magistrate should be able to use his or her full discretion when it comes to considering bail.

We also believe that, since these are significant changes to the current law, we should include removing several grounds for refusing assistance in mutual assistance cases, such as the current double jeopardy ground. Given the seriousness of the issues involved in extradition and mutual assistance, the committee recommends that the government undertake to review the operation of the amendments three years after they come into force if the amendments are passed by this parliament. We think that is very important to do. The review will ensure that the amendments are operating as intended and that there are adequate safeguards in place to protect human rights.

Again let me stress that there was bipartisan supported approval of this bill, and we certainly commend it to the House.