Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 546

Mr SLIPPER (11:31 AM) —This is one of those items of legislation which enjoy the support of both sides of the chamber. The Foreign Evidence Amendment Bill 2008 obviously enjoys the support of the Rudd government, and it also builds on the work of the Howard-Costello government. This is an issue which is important to all Australians, and it comes to the matter of fairness in the tax system. Technology gallops along—who would have known 10 years ago that we would have the technology and various electronic methods of avoiding obligations that we have in 2009? That is why it is always important that governments look very carefully at the law and make sure that it is updated so that they are able to deliver on their obligations to the Australian people.

This bill amends the Foreign Evidence Act. It seeks to make sure that Australia’s courts are given the weapons they need to guarantee that Australian taxpayers are not defrauded and, more generally, that business records from overseas are able to be used as evidence, unless the court is satisfied that the records are not reliable, probative or privileged. The Bill Digest emphasises:

  • Testimony provisions will operate more flexibly to allow for evidence to be received where an individual is under a legal obligation to tell the truth, even though no formal oath or admonition has occurred—unless of course, there is sufficient evidence to raise doubt as to the contrary.
  • Courts will be given greater discretion to limit the use of foreign material where there is a danger that it may be unfairly prejudicial to a party to the proceedings.

Also, as in so many other items of legislation, there are additional amendments which update provisions and make consequential changes, many of which are important from the point of view of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s but do not to any great extent change aspects of the law.

There is no doubt that right across the world there are criminals and people who seek to take advantage of loopholes or deficiencies in the law. That is why the Foreign Evidence Amendment Bill 2008 is an important tool in updating the law to make sure that the interests of litigants and taxpayers are carefully observed. Honourable members opposite have pointed out some aspects of the genesis of this legislation. It is one of those items of legislation which ought to become law sooner rather than later.

Money laundering is an issue which confronts governments and nations across the world. Because of the fact that the world is now a global village, increasingly we find that governments in one part of the world seek evidence and assistance from other governments to help bring about satisfactory legal outcomes. The concept of a mutual assistance request once might have been quite rare but it is now routine and Australian authorities and authorities overseas cooperate as much as possible, particularly in fraud and money-laundering cases.

The act applies to proceedings in state and territory courts as well as to those in Commonwealth courts; however, the amendments in this bill are initially intended to only apply to Commonwealth proceedings. As is often the case, the application of the law may well be broadened by appropriate regulations tabled by the executive. The Foreign Evidence Amendment Bill 2008 is an important bill and is supported by the opposition. I commend the bill to the House.