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Wednesday, 15 October 2003
Page: 21566

Mr HATTON (10:12 AM) —The Telecommunications Interception and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2003 has two parts. The first part is dealt with in schedule 1 and it concerns remodelling the way in which the Western Australian Anti-Corruption Commission operates. That remodelling is necessary because the manner in which the commission previously operated has been found to be deficient. In fact, the commissioner who looked into the situation with the WA Anti-Corruption Commission concluded:

... that the identifiable flaws in the structure and powers of the ACC [Anti-Corruption Commission] have brought about such a lack of public confidence in the current processes for the investigation of corrupt and criminal conduct that the establishment of a new permanent body is necessary.

This is an unusual situation in that a Commonwealth bill is seeking to assist a state government to renovate something found to be faulty at a state level. We know that, Australia wide, state governments have set up independent commissions against corruption. Both Deputy Speaker Causley and I are from New South Wales and Deputy Speaker Causley's former experience is in the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales. He will know that the New South Wales anticorruption body has now had a considerable history. In the way they have been set up, moved forward and changed, the New South Wales and Queensland anticorruption commissions have almost formed the benchmark for the way in which state jurisdictions have dealt with these matters. But, in Western Australia's situation, the experience was that, over time, they fell far short of the quality of practice of places like New South Wales and Queensland.

The Labor Party is entirely supportive of the changes proposed in this bill with regard to Western Australia. It is supportive of the fact that the Western Australian Premier, Mr Gallop, and the relevant minister, Mr McGinty, have sought to resolve these problems and come up with a new anticorruption commission which will do its job much more effectively. The bill specifically deals with this in schedule 1. I will now state the advice that has been given to me about the way the bill attempts to get around these problems. I think this bill is coming before us for about the third time. It has had a foreshortened history, if I am thinking about the correct bill, and we are finally dealing with it now. But I stand to be corrected on that.

In terms of the Western Australian situation, this bill amends Commonwealth laws to provide the Western Australian commission with enforcement powers to perform its functions consistent with the powers available to the body that it will replace—the WA Anti-Corruption Commission. So it is the enforcement powers linked to the Commonwealth's ability to guarantee those, effectively, that are being introduced here.

Specifically, the bill will amend the Telecommunications (Interception) Act to include the proposed Western Australian commission and the proposed Western Australian parliamentary inspector of the Corruption and Crime Commission as eligible authorities, enabling them to receive intercepted information. Of course, if they were not in a position to do so, we would have the problem that, although people working for the commission might otherwise be operating legally, if this measure had not been taken they would not be in a position to be able to use the information gathered in hearings before the Western Australian Corruption and Crime Commission. That instance is now covered by this covering Commonwealth legislation.

In addition, the amendments will enable the Western Australia commission to be declared to be an intercepting agency in its own right, allowing it to obtain and execute telecommunications interception warrants, subject to the fulfilment of specified preconditions. The importance of that, of course, is that references do not continually have to be made to the Commonwealth from the state jurisdiction in order to gain powers. We have seen where that sort of thing has operated in the past. We have seen that it is not particularly effective because it is a cumbrous and burdensome process. What this does is trust the Western Australian Corruption and Crime Commission, as a new entity, to take on these powers and to use them effectively in order to do its job and, hopefully, to do it better than the Anti-Corruption Commission that it replaced, without a tangling of responsibilities or a tangling in terms of process.

Given this situation, you can think about a couple of examples, particularly in New South Wales, where this has become extraordinarily potent. If we go back to the start of the anticorruption commission process in ICAC in New South Wales, the technological capacity that was available to ICAC or available to the Fitzgerald commission in Queensland or, indeed, available to the Anti-Corruption Commission in Western Australia, was relatively poor just more than 15 or so years ago—the ability to record people who were doing the wrong thing; the ability to track them and gain information about what they were doing. In very large part, that was dependent upon wire-tapping or phone tapping to get at them.

Most people at the time these were set up used fixed telephone lines. They were not using mobile phones. When mobile phones came into play, of course, it was pretty easy to track them if you knew the number. We had an analog system at that point, so it was easy for Commonwealth authorities to do it. Over the intervening period we have seen digital telephones come into play. There is a very simple situation in that, unless there is a specific power given—which there has been, under a series of different legislative instruments in this Commonwealth parliament—to our relevant agencies, you cannot crack open digital to digital or digital through to a land line. If anything is carried by radio, it is possible for our interception agencies to deal with that pretty effectively, but they need the power to do it. Every time there has been a dramatic advance in technology which has involved questions about Commonwealth and state government powers, these have needed to be resolved and made certain.

Given that that closely monitored power to intercept has been given through a series of different bills, I think we can be happy with the manner in which it has been used so far, given the new techniques that have been developed in New South Wales. These include ones that have become famous in the past couple of years, where people have used cameras—not the size of cinecameras but extremely small ones, either in cars or on the person who is cooperating with an anticorruption commission—to provide absolutely solid evidence that is transmitted to officers who are off site. It can then be used by the anticorruption commission through techniques similar to what we have got here, with the anticorruption commission taking on the relevant powers extended by the Commonwealth and taking responsibility for those. That is what this bill seeks to do in allowing this new commission to be properly resourced in its capacities and powers. I trust that, in terms of schedule 1 of the bill, this will go a long way to ameliorate the problems that are evident at a state level in the way the anticorruption commission did not function effectively. There can be no worse situation than what was designated by the commissioner who looked at this—the fact that public confidence was utterly wanting because the current processes simply did not work well. So the federal opposition joins with the government in hoping that this will work effectively for Western Australia.

This bill is in two parts. I think the second part is the far more significant one. It is not a question of a state agency being assured of a new future and having powers available to it; it is a question of people-smuggling and the attendant questions of people-smuggling being aggravated by exploitation, slavery, sexual servitude and deceptive recruiting. This very day on the radio these issues have been dealt with. The government is starting to make a case for everyone in Australia to see this as a more significant problem than it has been perceived to be in the past. Sexual slavery and servitude are evident within Australia in a range of our jurisdictions. There has been a significant problem in the past in dealing with those people who have been caught by the department of immigration—the manner in which they have been dealt with—given the fact that they have generally been trundled back to where they came from fairly quickly. There has been an argument that the way in which that has been done has not taken into account enough the enormous suffering that these people—in fact not only they but their families as well—have been put through. There is also the question surrounding the fact that, to crack down as hard as we need to crack down on people-smuggling practices, we actually need the cooperation of the victims. Simply sending them back or treating the victims as if they were the problem is not a fundamental solution to this. Dealing with this on page 2 of his second reading speech, the minister said.

The trafficking of people into Australia and the exploitation of those people is an issue of significant concern to the government. The government has been working to develop a strategy to arm law enforcement agencies with the capacity to investigate these offences and to facilitate prosecutions where evidence of illegal activity is uncovered.

He is quite rightly pointing out there that across a range of different agencies—not just the agencies involved in this bill but a range of government departments whether it be Customs, Immigration, Justice or Attorney-General's—you need a coordinated strategy to unbundle this. He then said:

The nature of trafficking means that victims often fear that speaking out will result in action against either themselves or their family.

This is the very point that I was just making. It is a fact that it can be much harder to undo it if you take the wrong approach. He also said:

The availability of telecommunications interception warrants will provide law enforcement agencies with a valuable tool to assist in the collection of information that may not otherwise be available in relation to these very serious offences.

This in part gets to the nub of the matter—that those who are most victimised by these vile processes are not as likely to come forward, because they think they will just be pushed back to their country of origin. They become partly culpable because they are helping to continue this practice. They cannot stop being sexual slaves, because they have become part of it. The people who are exploiting them are utilising their power over them and their families to the point where they do not see any way out.

So the minister rightly points out that in these circumstances—when those people who are the ultimate beneficiaries of this bill see no light at the end of the tunnel in terms of getting out of their situation—you need to use other means than might otherwise be appropriate. Generally, we can deal directly with these people only if there is a raid by the immigration department and they are taken into custody. We can then extract information from them and, in doing so, get one step closer to taking action against the people smugglers and sexual enslavers. But, in order to achieve this, in most of these circumstances—given the covert way in which people who run these businesses operate—you need these interception means. So I have no difficulty at all in supporting schedule 2 of the bill because of what it is directed at.

I want to make a couple of broader comments arising out of this about people-smuggling, sexual slavery, sexual servitude and the deceptive recruiting of those people. That is also part and parcel of what we have seen over a considerable time now—in fact, since 1996—with regard to people-smuggling itself. Since then, 236 boats have arrived, carrying 11,500 people. This is a large and vigorous industry which has brought many more people in 2½ years than came under 13 years of Labor government, when in fact 2,500 people were smuggled into Australia, primarily from the Fujian province of mainland China. Those people were relocated after questioning and sent back to southern China. We dealt with the provincial government and the central government and, having identified those people and the fact that they had no right to be in Australia, we sent them back to where they had originally come from, at a cost of about $1 million. The people who had run the people-smuggling rings to get them into Australia had their future source out of that area broken.

You need strong effective powers, but you also need discipline and certainty in the approaches that you take in regard to this. Throughout the world, we have seen almost an efflorescence of people-smuggling out of China and other areas since 1996, because people can earn a significantly large amount of money from running those activities.

Catching these gangs of people smugglers has become more difficult in Australia, but the need to crack the gangs has become much greater because they have chosen, by and large, to take people who would otherwise be accepted as refugees in Australia. They do not just perform a broad snatch of people who might want to try their hand at being accepted as refugees; they preselect people. Their preselecting people who are likely to come has provided a significant difficulty for decision makers—not just because of the large numbers but because about 10 per cent of our refugee and humanitarian program intake are people who have come from camps overseas. That program has taken people equally and equitably, rather than people knocking down the door and attempting to come to Australia improperly. We have seen those 11,500 people come in part because there was a question of retribution for certain actions taken by this government in relation to East Timor and because there was retribution from some of our Indonesian colleagues.

We have finally seen—and it has taken a considerable period of time—a cooperative band of practices developed between Australia and Indonesia. Intersecting that, of course, is the dreadful anniversary that we have just celebrated of what happened in Bali, which affected Indonesian nationals as well as our own. Terror there has affected us here. It is also a fact that in Indonesia, which was such a strong conduit for people-smuggling activities in the broad and also a conduit for people-smuggling activities involving sexual servitude and exploitation, these practices have been choked. Most of our problems in this regard are caused not by people coming by boat to Australia but by those flying in, economy class, from a number of originating places, particularly in Asia. The department of immigration has tracked the countries specifically concerned.

When we were in government, we rightly brought in legislation to take into account that Australians travelling overseas should not act inappropriately when it came to dealing with, in particular, under-age women in Asia. People who did so could be prosecuted not only locally but, more importantly, at home for offences they had committed. The other side of this, which we are dealing with here, is where those inappropriate activities have been brought to Australia. The mechanisms that we need to use to break those are at hand if we are willing to use them and to bring about prosecutions.

In closing, concerns in general have been addressed by the former speaker and in quotes from the member for Banks, the previous shadow minister for this area. There have been strong concerns expressed across the board about the liberties of Australians and the overuse of telephone interception. But here is a classic case of a nasty and vicious practice—people-smuggling for the purpose of sexual servitude—which should be wiped right out. I commend the bill to the House. (Time expired)