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Wednesday, 1 December 2004
Page: 11

Senator GREIG (10:13 AM) —It is timely to bring the debate back a little to the heart of the Australian Greens' amendments (1) through (4), which is closed hearings in court proceedings. It is the Democrat view that, while appreciating Senator Brown's intention in moving those amendments—and we share the view that holding open, public trials is an essential element of the criminal justice system—nevertheless we believe that the closed court provisions in the bill are appropriate.

Perhaps it is timely to recall how courts currently deal with sensitive information or information affecting national security. Almost always the admissibility of such evidence would be debated in the absence of the jury and frequently in a closed courtroom. That is a normal occurrence. There is nothing extraordinary about hearings about these matters in a closed courtroom. Given that the court would be likely to make an order for a closed court in any event, we Democrats do not see any difficulty in mandating that in the legislation. We are sympathetic to Senator Brown's point that, as far as possible, decisions about the handling of sensitive information should be left to the discretion of the court. However, the need for a closed court in a limited range of circumstances, we believe, is appropriately enshrined in the legislation. On that basis, we will not be supporting these particular amendments.