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Wednesday, 15 October 2003
Page: 21571

Mr RUDDOCK (Attorney-General) (10:32 AM) —I take this opportunity to thank all the members who have participated in this debate on the Telecommunications Interception and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2003 and to particularly thank, in his absence, the member for Barton for his comments. As he noted, there have been no prosecutions for slavery, sexual servitude and deceptive recruiting offences. As was mentioned earlier in the week, the Australian Federal Police have now charged eight people with slavery, sexual servitude and deceptive recruiting offences, and they are currently investigating a further 18 cases of alleged offences.

The measures set out in this bill will provide the AFP with an extremely effective tool to further assist in their investigations of these crimes, which are quite repugnant to us all. The strength of the government's commitment to combating trafficking has been demonstrated by not only the improvements to investigative tools provided by these amendments but also the comprehensive whole-of-government strategy to combat trafficking in persons which was announced on 13 October—a couple of days ago. You will recall that, in the House at question time, I took the opportunity to elaborate on the range of initiatives, costing in the order of $20 million over four years, that will include legislative preventative law enforcement and victim support measures. These initiatives, including the amendments to this bill, demonstrate that ongoing commitment to investigating, preventing and prosecuting this insidious criminal activity of trafficking.

The bill is important for law enforcement. Trafficking of people into Australia is an issue of significant concern to not only the government but people generally. This bill enables law enforcement agencies to obtain warrants to assist in the investigation of offences involving smuggling aggravated by exploitation, slavery, sexual servitude and deceptive recruiting, as set out in the Criminal Code. Telecommunications interception provides law enforcement agencies with a proven, cost-effective technique for uncovering and prosecuting such serious offences. The availability of telecommunications interception warrants provides law enforcement agencies with a valuable tool to assist in the collection of information. Offences of smuggling, exploitation, slavery and sexual servitude are very serious. They attract hefty penalties and, as the member for Barton acknowledged, this bill gives the law enforcement agencies a very important capacity.

The bill will give the proposed Western Australian Corruption and Crime Commission and the Parliamentary Inspector of the Corruption and Crime Commission the means to perform their crucial functions more effectively. The government is aware of the corrosive effect that organised crime and corruption can have on our society. For this reason we support the conferral of appropriate powers on the proposed commission. The amendments will enable the commission to receive information which is collected by telecommunications interception conducted by other agencies and which is relevant to the performance of the commission's functions. The amendments enable the commission to be declared an agency for the purposes of the interception act, allowing it to apply for and execute telecommunications interception warrants in its own right.

Telecommunications interception has of course been extremely effective in dealing with organised criminal activity and a range of other offences, and it has been an extremely valuable tool for the law enforcement agencies and anticorruption bodies in Western Australia. The bill will also allow authorised officers of the Corruption and Crime Commission to acquire and use evidence of assumed identity and to access financial transaction reports in the course of investigating corruption and serious criminal activity. The bill reflects the government's commitment to providing effective law enforcement tools and ensures appropriate safeguards are there to protect the rights of individuals. It is a question of keeping a sense of proportion while enabling us to deal with organised criminal activity, to deal with corruption and to deal with trafficking in persons, which is of a very serious nature. In that sense the bill is very valuable.

In the course of this debate, the member for Burke claimed that Australians are `spied on' more than Americans, for example, and cited figures from some recent reports as evidence of this, claiming that, per capita, Australian authorities use telecommunications interception more frequently than their American counterparts. The advice to me is that this is not true. Comparing the Australian and US statistics is like comparing apples and oranges. Both schemes have very different legislative requirements. For example, Australian law enforcement agencies must obtain a warrant for all forms of telecommunications interception, whether voice, fax or data. The US legislation provides separately for access in the different fields of communications, making it very difficult and perhaps almost impossible to directly compare their statistics and ours.

The member for Burke also questioned whether the use of telecommunications interception is subject to sufficient safeguards. I served on a parliamentary committee looking at these matters under the former government when I was an opposition member, and I know that these matters were pursued in government by the member's own colleagues. I always find accountability issues, when raised in these contexts, fairly interesting. Often accountability is only pushed when you are in office and want to try to suggest that the use is in some way inappropriate. But I can assure the committee that the act does contain a wide range of accountability measures designed to ensure appropriate use and to ensure that the Australian public, through reporting to parliament, has access to information about it. The member himself was able to cite some of the statistics. As the member noted, each year the Attorney-General does table an annual report. That gives information to the public generally.

I think this is a very important measure. It ensures that we are able to deal with these issues effectively. It demonstrates that we are prepared to work cooperatively with state governments and, in this case, particularly with the Western Australian government. I commend the Telecommunications Interception and Other Legislation Amendment Bill to the committee. I look forward to it receiving speedy passage.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that the bill be reported to the House without amendment.