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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 8151


Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer) (9:02 AM) —I move:

That the committee does not further insist on its amendments nos 2, 4, 6, 8 to 10, 12, 13, 16 to 28, 30, 32 to 37, 40 to 47, 51 and 54 to 56 to which the House has disagreed, and agrees to amendments nos 8 and 11 to 14 made by the House in place of Senate amendments.

I will try not to delay the Senate a minute longer than I need to but I want to make a few points. When this bill was last in the Senate, Senator Ray made a couple of very important points but there were a couple of points that he made that I think were unfair. Senator Ray spent the first 10 minutes of his speech last time the bill was before the Senate talking in quite precise detail about what he called the government's principles—I do not want to use his words—and basically making the point that the government had changed its mind. I think in his own way, he gave us credit for showing flexibility in the passage of this legislation over the past six months to where we are now.

At the end of the speech I think he contradicted himself somewhat. No doubt he will want to further explain, even though I do not encourage that. He said that the opposition had moved some way towards accepting our legislation—I think that is an accurate reflection—but the government had not moved very far at all. I saw a contradiction; I may be wrong and I may be unfair to Senator Ray, but I think it is important to note that Senator Ray was quite correct in the respect that the government had made a number of significant compromises in relation to this legislation.

We have always said that we are willing to consider amendments that improve the bill, and our form is very good in that respect. The amendments that we had already made prior to the bill coming to the Senate a couple of hours ago in its last drive through this place included, just for example: first, providing for a maximum period of detention of seven days; second, providing for a split regime whereby judges issue the warrants and AAT members preside over them; third, significant additional safeguards to ensure that the warrants are warrants of last resort; fourth, significant additional safeguards to ensure that the people detained under the bill are treated appropriately; fifth, access to security cleared lawyers paid for by the government, except in extraordinary circumstances where access could be delayed for 48 hours; sixth, penalties for the actions of officials who breach the safeguards; seventh, protection against self-incrimination; and, eighth, protocols to govern the questioning process. These are all amendments that the government has made along this path, and I think Senator Ray and I would agree on that point.

We arrive at the legislation now, and only a few minutes ago the government in the House of Representatives further showed its willingness to compromise. The government, as I said earlier, has been focusing throughout this year on getting this bill passed. But, while the government has consistently pressed the importance and urgency of this bill, the opposition has shifted and changed its position, apparently unable to make up its mind on where it stands on the important issue of national security. In contrast to the opposition, the government's position on this bill has always been clear and it has been consistent. We introduced the legislation because we believe that we need it to give our intelligence agencies vital tools to deter and prevent terrorism.

Despite the difficult passage of this legislation, we have never wavered from this position and we do not intend to do so now. By contrast, the opposition has had as many positions on the bill as you could possibly imagine. First, they would not support the powers in the bill, despite the extensive amendments made by the government at the behest of the parliamentary joint committee, which included senior members from the opposition's own ranks. Then they decided that the power should be given to the police, despite the fact that the bill has nothing to do with law enforcement. As if that was not enough, they finally saw sense and decided that the power should go to ASIO, but they amended the form of the bill so as to make it unworkable. Their indecision has not only put the community at risk by delaying the passage of the bill but also ultimately turned the bill into something which could no longer deliver the protection it was designed to achieve.

Members opposite have preached long and hard about the things the Labor Party will not wear, but apparently they will not wear a system that would permit intelligence agencies to hold and question a person believed to have information about potential terrorist acts. They will not wear such intelligence gathering under a warrant issued by the Attorney-General, who is accountable to the people and the parliament and whose actions may be challenged in the courts. They will not wear a system where that warrant is approved by a federal judge or a retired judge and where the person is questioned in the presence of a senior member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal or a retired judge. They will not wear a system where the person being questioned has a right to a security cleared lawyer paid for by the Commonwealth. They will not wear a system where the person can complain to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, who can sit in on the questioning. And they will not wear a special regime for questioning persons who are at least 14, but under 18, in the presence of a lawyer and a parent or a guardian. Yet the Labor Party's New South Wales counterparts have given the New South Wales Police the power, without a warrant, to strip search children between the ages of 10 and 18 where there is a threat of a terrorist act. The New South Wales Police will also be able to search persons, premises and vehicles without a warrant. I repeat: no warrant, no judicial oversight, as exists in the government's legislation; just the authorisation of the police minister. Federal Labor has been willing to wear this without a single word of complaint and not a single, solitary peep.

We believe that the opposition's amendments go to matters of fundamental principle that we cannot accept. We have accepted all the amendments that we felt that we could in good faith. The government will not pretend to the community that the opposition's version of this bill will provide the kind of protection against terrorism that we know Australia needs. We will not do that when we know the opposition's package of amendments effectively renders the bill useless in the emergency situations that it is actually designed to address and leaves it open to challenge. The opposition has exposed itself as being hopelessly divided on this bill, while the government has demonstrated time and time again its commitment to community safety. We will not accept amendments that fundamentally change the nature of the bill. However, this government wants this legislation passed before Christmas, and in the interests of getting the legislation through and giving the community the benefit of this protection we are now prepared to accept two of the opposition's amendments.

The opposition has made much of the need for inclusion of state judges as prescribed authorities. As we discussed in the Senate only a few hours ago, legal advice on this point differs. However, on the basis of the opposition's advice—that in the event that the provision with regard to state judges is found to be unconstitutional it would be excisable and thus would not render the entire bill unconstitutional—we are prepared to accept that provision. In addition, while we are firmly of the belief that the security environment we are living in is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future and these powers will be needed for some time to come, we are also prepared to accept the opposition's sunset clause on the bill. This will enable this parliament to give the community the protection it needs in the current heightened security environment, secure in the knowledge that these extraordinary powers will necessarily be revisited by parliament in three years time. These are concessions that we are prepared to make because we are committed to getting this legislation passed today. We have demonstrated that commitment since the legislation was introduced and we have never wavered from that commitment. There is now an opportunity for the opposition to display a commitment to the security of the Australian people by accepting the government's offer and supporting the bill.