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Tuesday, 30 November 2004
Page: 18

Senator LUDWIG (1:28 PM) —Democrats amendments (1) to (3) and (31) to (33) all seek to change the definition of `relevant offence' in section 6(1) of the Surveillance Devices Bill 2004. A `relevant offence' is defined as:

(a) an offence against the law of the Commonwealth ... or ...

(b) an offence against a law of a State that has a federal aspect and that is punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of 3 years or more ...

Effectively, the concept behind the amendments is to change that from three years to seven years—that is, to change the tenor of the position. I can indicate that we are not minded to support those amendments, because we think the balance that has been achieved within the legislation is appropriate and adapted to the circumstances that both the police and other law enforcement agencies and those who are being investigated for what we say are serious crimes have to face. The issue is always about regulating an area which currently is unregulated, and we think it is beneficial legislation in the sense that it seeks regulation to ensure that there is fairness and a balance between the rights of the public to privacy and the ability of the Australian Federal Police and other law enforcement agencies to investigate these types of crimes.

New terminology is now being introduced into the language. We are going to talk of OSDs, optical surveillance devices, and we will have a whole range of new acronyms that the Australian Federal Police will have to get their heads around. It is also worth mentioning at this juncture that there is no common-law right to privacy as we know it, so in a lot of these bills we have sought to examine the issues on their merits and determine whether an appropriate balance has been struck. As I said in the second reading debate, the Labor Party believe that a balance has been struck in this instance. We think that on the whole the legislation will provide clear guidance for the law enforcement officers and that it regulates an area that has been recognised as having no substantive uniform regulation in place.

On the whole we think it assists not only people's right to privacy but also the law enforcement agencies to understand the length and breadth of what they can and cannot do. There would be concerns if you did not have this legislation or if you said that there should be telecommunications interception warrants for all occasions, because a law enforcement officer using an optical surveillance device such as a pair of binoculars would be limited or would be required to have a search warrant whereas the normal citizen in the streets walking around in public places with binoculars, cameras, phone cameras and a whole range of other things would have far greater powers to take photos. We think the former might need some careful attention but in this instance there is a need to regulate the use of these devices, and this legislation clearly outlines and provides a basis upon which law enforcement officers can act and also gives them knowledge about where they can use devices without warrants. We are not minded to support the substantive issues of the amendments.