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Tuesday, 30 November 2004
Page: 19

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) (1:30 PM) —Likewise, the government is not minded to support the amendments proposed by the Democrats. The requirement that a warrant may be obtained for offences which have penalties of at least three years imprisonment was adopted from the model electronic surveillance bill developed in consultation with the states, and provides a consistent standard for Australian surveillance device laws. This threshold is consistent with that which applies to controlled operations under Commonwealth law, and for a majority of states which will be enacting legislation based upon the model bill this threshold will be greater than the threshold currently applying. Most states—Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory—allow surveillance device warrants to be obtained for any offence; in the case of New South Wales and Tasmania, for any indictable offence. We believe the threshold strikes a fair balance between privacy and the need for law enforcement. I also point out that in submissions on the model bill the Privacy Commissioner in New South Wales and the Information Commissioner of the Northern Territory supported the three-year threshold.

I would like to make one final point in relation to our international obligations. Under the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act 1987 Australia is able to seek assistance from and provide assistance to foreign countries in relation to criminal matters. If we were to change this and accept these amendments that would impede the assistance that we could give those countries and on a quid pro quo basis that could result in our also having less cooperation from those countries. It would narrow the ambit within which we could work with those countries in relation to law enforcement. We think the three-year threshold is appropriate and for that reason we do not believe it should be increased to seven years.

Question negatived.