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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 549

Mr NEUMANN (11:46 AM) —I rise to speak in support of the Telecommunications Interception Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2008. It is interesting that the genesis of this legislation goes back to the 1980s in Queensland, to the Fitzgerald inquiry, which ran from 1987 to 1989. Subsequent to the Fitzgerald inquiry the CJC, as we call it in Queensland—the Criminal Justice Commission—was established. Then we had the Queensland Crime Commission, which was merged into one entity, which we know today as the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission. As someone who was practising in the Brisbane CBD as a lawyer, whose office was directly across the road from the Fitzgerald inquiry when it was being held and whose firm gave significant advice to people in relation to the Fitzgerald inquiry, I am quite happy to speak on this bill. The regulatory investigating bodies that were established in Queensland subsequent to the Fitzgerald inquiry continue on in different guises, but they are still there, in a uniquely Queensland experience, to look at corruption in the police force and elsewhere.

In that very interesting time a great phalanx of celebrities and police officers were charged and convicted. Politicians, people involved in law firms and banks, and real estate agents came before the commission. So many people were involved in the inquiry over that three-year period. Tony Fitzgerald is to be commended for it. The recommendations of the inquiry were taken up by the National Party government, and the National Party Premier at the time is to be commended for that. Bill Gunn, then the Acting Premier of Queensland, is to be commended for the courage he showed in establishing the Fitzgerald inquiry. Tony Fitzgerald is to be commended for his hard work and integrity in the circumstances. Subsequent Labor governments and coalition governments in the 1980s, under Borbidge and Sheldon, continued the process.

Queensland is very concerned about these sorts of issues, but sadly we have been left out in this particular area of interception. This legislation is a very Queensland response. It ensures that Queensland law enforcement agencies have the same telecommunications interception powers as other law enforcement agencies throughout Australia.

We have a peculiar entity in Queensland, known as the Queensland Public Interest Monitor, PIM, which has a particular role in Queensland. This bill recognises the Public Interest Monitor in Queensland and introduces that particular person into the interception regime. It enables the Public Interest Monitor to make submissions to the judge or the Administrative Appeals Tribunal member considering the interception warrant application made in the circumstances by the Queensland Police Service or the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission. In those circumstances this legislation allows for those agencies to be declared interception agencies under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act but allows the Public Interest Monitor to continue the role which he currently plays in the circumstances—and there is only one Public Interest Monitor, and that is in Queensland.

The Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh, and her predecessor, Peter Beattie, also argued for a long time that Queensland ought to be brought into the national scheme. It is inexplicable that the Howard government refused to cooperate in this regard. I am pleased to say that the current Labor Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has accepted the role of the Public Interest Monitor, who is an independent barrister who represents the public interest. His role is now recognised in the system. I just cannot understand why the previous government opposed it in the circumstances. The Attorney-General has introduced this legislation, which will fix up an anomaly.

We are well served in Queensland by the current Public Interest Monitor, whose name is Colin Forrest. He is a barrister at the Queensland bar. He began his legal career as an associate to Justice Michael Kirby, the then President of the New South Wales Court of Appeal. Subsequently Colin relocated to Brisbane. He has been practising for about 17 or 18 years as a barrister in Queensland and for a couple of years before that as a solicitor. It has been my privilege to find him a tremendous adversary in court proceedings in Queensland. He is a very fine lawyer. He practises in family law, estate law and administrative law. He is a tough opponent and he is a man of real morality, ethics and integrity.

He is a very good choice for the role of the Public Interest Monitor in Queensland. He actually serves as a part-time member of the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Tribunal. He also finds time to work as a part-time member of the Commonwealth Social Security Appeals Tribunal. And he is a wonderful lecturer and speaker at many conferences in Queensland, particularly for the Family Law Practitioners Association of Queensland. So Colin is the right person for the job.

He has a couple of deputies with him to perform the role and he has given very detailed reports in his role. He wrote an interesting article last year for Proctor, the solicitors’ magazine in Queensland. He said this, and I think it is right:

It is probably fair to say for lawyers and non-lawyers alike, the role the Public Interest Monitor (‘the PIM’) plays in the criminal justice system is little known or understood.

That is probably true, but there is an oversight, a watchfulness. He is entitled to ask questions of those people who make applications for warrants. He is entitled to stand for the public and play that monitoring role. I think someone like Colin, with intelligence and all-round knowledge of legal proceedings and law in Queensland, is just the right person for the job.

He has to report six-monthly to the parliament, through the police minister. As I say, he has a couple of deputies who also serve in this role: Ms Karen Carmody, a barrister, and Mr Peter Lyons, a solicitor. It is an interesting role and I would commend people in Queensland to know what kind of role these people perform. They discharge their duties on a part-time, fee-for-service basis, and they charge the Queensland government via the Queensland Police Service budget at $300 per hour plus GST—so he told me in a conversation I had with him. But he has been frustrated for several years. In the Proctor article he said:

For several years, the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments have not been able to agree on the introduction of telephone interception powers in Queensland because of the central ‘front end’ and ‘back end’ monitoring role proposed by the Queensland Government for the PIM in the process. For some years, the PIM has supported the introduction of these powers—

which are the basis of the legislation currently before the House. But the Public Interest Monitor could not get the previous government to agree. The article went on:

Appropriate resourcing of the PIM is likely to be the challenge. Currently, the QPS and the CMC bring around 80-100 applications per year between them for covert surveillance warrants. Estimates as to the number of telephone interception warrants that they are likely to bring are currently around 300-400 per year based on experience in other States.

So it is very important that the Queensland government adequately fund the Public Interest Monitor and the deputies in these circumstances. I think it is very important that the Queensland government resource it properly so the Queensland public can be sure that civil liberties are protected and yet we are vigilant in attacking organised crime, particularly outlaw bikie gangs, who are often engaged in drug and other criminal activities. It is important that the Queensland government do this. If we are going to give the Public Interest Monitor a greater role and more things to do, the Queensland government, when it passes the legislation which is necessary in the circumstances, ought to resource the Public Interest Monitor and his deputies even further.

Colin Forrest says this in his 2006-07 annual report and repeats it in the 2007-08 report:

Discharge of the Public Interest Monitor’s functions requires a delicate balancing of two competing facets of public interest. The first is the public interest in ensuring that serious criminal conduct is detected, prevented and made the subject of successful prosecution by our law enforcement and prosecutorial authorities, particularly during a time of rapid technological change. The second, and no less important, is that fundamental rights of individual members of our community, such as the right to privacy, are respected and interfered with as little as possible in the process of detecting, preventing and punishing that serious criminal conduct. In addition, a commitment to the principle that independent accountability of our law enforcement agencies strengthens the fabric of our democratic society and aids the rule of law has been central to the creation of the office and the discharge of its functions.

You can see why Colin Forrest is the right person for the job in Queensland. In the conclusion to his 2007-08 report he again repeats something he had written in the 2006-07 report, and I think it is worth repeating in Hansard:

I said in last year’s report:-

‘Although the use of covert surveillance devices is often ineffective, due to technical, operational or other reasons, the properly targeted, careful use of the covert surveillance warrant powers can prove very effective in detecting perpetrators of serious crime in this State, particularly in connection with the production and distribution of illicit drugs. At the same time it is my view that the balancing act mentioned earlier in this report with respect to public interest considerations is being appropriately addressed. Charges and prosecutions arising from covert police investigative operations continue to increase.

The QPS has complied with its obligations pursuant to the PPRA in the manner in which it maintains its records and its records contain all the information and documentation required by the PPRA. Those records are maintained and kept in secure facilities with effective procedures in place controlling access.’

Again, those words are entirely worth repeating this year. The ‘front-end’ and ‘back-end’ monitoring functions of the PIM continue to be valuable features of the criminal justice system in this state.

I commend the bill before the House. It is good for Queensland and it is good for the prosecution of criminal activity in Queensland, particularly in the area of illicit drugs. I think it is about time Queensland came into the 21st century in this area. I am pleased to support the bill.