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Wednesday, 1 December 2004
Page: 3

Senator BROWN (9:33 AM) —At the end of consideration last night, we had established from the Minister for Justice and Customs that the government has a section in the Attorney-General's Department which operates to vet lawyers qualified in Australia, to determine whether or not they are fit people to represent Australians before courts where matters of national security are involved. I asked the minister to tell the committee how many lawyers are currently listed by this section of Attorney-General's and to give the committee the criteria which are used to determine which lawyers are suitable and which lawyers are not suitable.

What we can take from this is that this government has, in a corner of the Attorney-General's Department, a black list of lawyers, vetted by bureaucrats who are not known to the public or to the legal profession, using a set of criteria that is secret and using some unknown parameters set down by the government. This is a government department and the Attorney-General has the final say, so the operation becomes a political one in determining who is or who is not a fit lawyer to appear before an Australian court. The Greens' amendments would change that. They follow the Senate committee recommendation that there be involvement of the court in determining who is or who is not a fit lawyer and, indeed, what is or what is not information that, in the national interest, is to be kept off the public record. I ask the minister for justice: exactly what is this section of the Attorney-General's Department which determines who is or is not a fit lawyer? What is the nature of the list of black-banned lawyers kept by this section of Attorney-General's? And what are the criteria used by the bureaucrats in this section of Attorney-General's to determine who is or who is not a fit person to appear before an Australian court to represent a person who has been charged and brought before that court?