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Wednesday, 7 December 1983
Page: 3417

Mr DUFFY (Minister for Communications)(8.08) —I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The Telecommunications (Interception) Amendment Bill 1983 is necessary to allow the Attorney-General to consider any request from the New South Wales special commissions of inquiry for information relating to the commission, or intended commission, or a serious criminal offence which has been obtained by the lawful interception of telecommunications. Honourable members will be aware that three separate inquiries are being conducted in New South Wales under the Special Commissions of Inquiry Act NSW 1983 and constituted by Mr Justice Cross. In particular, he is required to report whether there is evidence warranting the prosecution of any person for any offence arising out of the matters referred for inquiry.

The Telecommunications (Interception) Act 1979, which empowers a judge to approve telephone interception by the Australian Federal Police where relevant to a narcotics investigation, places stringent restrictions on the communication of information so obtained. Where information relates, or appears to relate, to the commission or intended commission of an offence againt the law of the Commonwealth or of a State or Territory, being an offence punishable by imprisonment for life or for a period of not less than three years, the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police may communicate it to a member of the Australian Federal Police for the purposes of investigations into the offence, or to an officer of the police force of a State or Territory, as the case may be. The Act also provides that such information may be given in evidence in specified prosecutions and certain proceedings under the Customs Act 1901. The Act does not, therefore, authorise the communication of information obtained by an intercept to Mr Justice Cross, either by the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police or by an officer of the New South Wales Police Force to whom any such information had been communicated.

The Government is of the view that, in circumstances such as these, the public interest in proper law enforcement and co-operation with the States in law enforcement matters outweigh the concerns of privacy involved in the enlargement of the circumstances in which such information can be communicated, but that proper safeguards must be observed. It therefore proposes this amendment to the Telecommunications (Interception) Act 1979 to allow the Attorney-General in certain circumstances to communicate information obtained by the lawful interception of telecommunications to the Cross Inquiry. First, there must be a request for specific information. The Attorney-General must then consider, if any relevant information exists, whether it is relevant to the purposes of the inquiry, and whether it relates, or appears to relate, to the commission or intended commission of an offence against the law of the Commonwealth, a State or Territory punishable by imprisonment for life or for a period of at least three years.

If these requirements are satisfied, and if the Attorney-General is satisfied that it is appropriate to do so, he may then communicate the information to Mr Justice Cross. The Attorney-General may, when communicating any such information , impose conditions as to the use that may be made of it. It is envisaged that conditions would generally relate to preserving the confidentiality of the information for reasons such as the protection of current Australian Federal Police investigations. Finally, the Government thinks it proper that whenever the Attorney-General communicates information to an inquiry, he should, subject to the need to preserve the confidentiality of the information and the need to avoid prejudice to reputations, report to Parliament that he has done so, and advise Parliament of any conditions imposed by him on the use of the information . I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Steele Hall) adjourned.