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Tuesday, 19 November 2002
Page: 6752

Senator GREIG (4:41 PM) —We Democrats will support the amendments as circulated, as they do go some way to improving the accountability of the Australian Crime Commission Establishment Bill—something we care very strongly about. The transfer of power to authorise the use of the Australian Crime Commission's substantial coercive powers from the intergovernmental committee to the ACC board represents one of the most significant changes under the new regime that will be established by this legislation. Whereas this power has previously been exercised by a ministerial group, it will now be exercised by a board consisting of police commissioners and Commonwealth agency heads.

As I outlined in my speech in the second reading debate earlier today, this has significant implications for the accountability of the ACC, and we Democrats share many of the concerns expressed by the individuals and organisations who made submissions to the parliamentary joint committee. In particular, we are concerned that these powers are to be vested in a body which is dominated by police interests and which is not subject to parliamentary accountability in the same way that the IGC is. For that reason, we Democrats would ideally like to have seen the power to authorise the use of coercive powers retained by the IGC. Unfortunately, however, the government indicated that it would not agree to such a regime, and it was in this context that the amendments before us were negotiated between the government and the opposition.

The amendments seek to ensure greater accountability of the ACC board to the IGC when making determinations as to which investigations and intelligence operations should be classified as special investigations and operations, thereby enabling the ACC to exercise the coercive powers which it has. The amendments effectively invest the IGC with a power of veto over a determination by the ACC board that an investigation or operation is a special investigation or operation. The chair of the ACC board will be required to notify the IGC of a determination relating to a special investigation or operation within three days of that determination being made. This is covered by amendment (1). The IGC then has the power to request further information regarding the determination or to revoke the determination within 30 days of receiving notification of the determination, as covered by amendment (4).

A resolution to request further information or to revoke a determination must be supported by the Commonwealth representative on the IGC and at least five other members of the IGC, as covered by amendment (3). The chair of the ACC board must comply with a request from the IGC for further information unless the chair considers that disclosure could prejudice the safety or reputation of persons or the operations of law enforcement agencies, as covered by amendment (3). If the chair refuses to provide the information on that basis, the IGC may refer the request to the minister, who must then provide the chair of the board and the IGC with a determination in writing, as covered by amendment (4), in proposed sections 9(5) and 9(6).

If the IGC revokes a determination of the board relating to a special investigation or operation, it must then notify the chair of the board and the CEO of the revocation. The revocation comes into effect upon the notification of the CEO, and at this time the ACC will no longer be authorised to use coercive powers, as contained within amendment (4), proposed section 9(8). The revocation of a determination regarding a special investigation or operation will not affect the validity of any act in the ACC in connection with the investigation or operation prior to the revocation coming into force, as explained in amendment (4), proposed section 9(9). Finally, amendment (2) will require that the IGC meet at least twice a year.

These amendments represent a compromise between appropriate accountability measures and the alleged need for greater efficiency in the determination process. We Democrats do not believe that these amendments go far enough or that they get the balance quite right, as I have said. We would ultimately have preferred to have seen the determination powers retained by the ICG. However, we do acknowledge that the amendments will bring about some substantial improvements in the accountability of the ACC board and, accordingly, we support them.

Question agreed to.