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Shadow Minister is concerned about civil liberty breaches in proposed ASIO Bill; Attorney-General criticises Opposition.

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Tuesday 27 August 2002


Shadow Minister is concerned about civil liberty breaches in proposed ASIO Bill; Attorney-General criticises Opposition.


MARK COLVIN: Labor has put a big spoke in the wheel of the Federal Government's bid to expand the powers of the nation's spy agency, ASIO. Labor says the Bill is unacceptable; it'll vote against it in the House of Representatives and refer it off to an inquiry when it reaches the Senate.


With Democrats and Greens Senators poised to vote no also, Labor insiders say the ALP's strategy will effectively kill off the Government's counter-terrorism legislation as the first anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks approaches. The Government says Labor's tactics would do Sir Humphrey Appleby proud, as Alexandra Kirk reports from Canberra.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Government's made a lot of changes to its original ASIO counter-terrorism bill, but Labor's determined it's not good enough. Labor leader in the Senate, John Faulkner, who has carriage of security matters, took his concerns to the caucus room, and says he got unanimous support for his stance.


JOHN FAULKNER: There are serious civil liberties concerns, such as Australians not suspected of any offence being detained by ASIO; the fact that those detained by ASIO would not have any rights to legal advice; the proposal that ASIO would be given the powers to detain children for questioning, and we're also worried about the Government's proposals that would significantly change the role of ASIO by giving it powers of coercion and detention.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Labor's listened to a campaign from legal, union and community groups, who warned people that the Government's new ASIO powers would mean they could disappear in the middle of the night and be interrogated without a lawyer of their choice.


The Labor leadership went with those civil liberties concerns, rather than the views of its former leader, Kim Beazley, and another former Labor Defence Minister, Robert Ray, who argued in favour of extra powers for ASIO, albeit with some changes.


Attorney-General, Daryl Williams, who'll introduce the ASIO Bill into the House of Representatives in a couple of days' time, says Labor is trying to have a bet each way, telling him they'd vote for the Bill in the House of Representatives, but send it off to an inquiry when it hits the floor of the Senate.


DARYL WILLIAMS: The notion that it's appropriate to refer the Bill off to a Senate committee when it's already been dealt with by one Senate committee, and one joint committee, is ludicrous.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Now, is there any use in you introducing the ASIO Bill into parliament as you planned to on Thursday, when it's clear it won't pass the Senate and will founder there?


DARYL WILLIAMS: I think we have to put Labor to the test. Senator Faulkner has said it'll pass the house, and he wants an open-ended review of issues relating to the Bill. The idea of an open-ended review, I think, would do [inaudible] proud.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Do you have further room to manoeuvre in order to try and meet Labor's concerns?


DARYL WILLIAMS: Labor has not actually identified their concerns; they have indicated several issues on which they want to seek a Senate committee inquiry. Can I say that the committees that have looked at this Bill, and have basically recommended passage of the Bill subject to ammendment, have involved Labor representatives, including Senior representatives, like the former leader of the Opposition, Kim Beazley, and the former Defence Minister, Senator Robert Ray.


The Bill, even before the proposed amendments, had the support of Dr Geoff Gallop, the Premier of Western Australia. What does Labor want that those representatives on the two committees that looked at the Bill couldn't provide?


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Well, La bor says that it doesn't want new enhanced powers for ASIO, but it would look at enhancing the powers of the Federal police.


DARYL WILLIAMS: Is that what Kim Beazley said, and is that what Robert Ray said?


ALEXANDRA KIRK: No, but that's what John Faulkne r is saying, and that's what the majority of the party are saying.


DARYL WILLIAMS: Well, I think they should pay attention to the views that were expressed by the two parliamentary committees that looked at the Bill.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: John Faulkner's office says Labor's position is consistent, and that the Attorney General has it wrong, because the Opposition's never indicated it would support the ASIO bill in the House of Representatives.