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Wednesday, 4 May 1994
Page: 155

Senator NEWMAN (10.23 a.m.) —I appreciate Senator Chamarette's remarks because she covered two points that I particularly wanted to make in response to the minister. One of those points is that the Australian Federal Police could not exercise these powers without having to get a search warrant. So the extension of the powers to people other than police, giving them powers that the police do not have, is unacceptable.

  As Senator Chamarette also said, the examples given by the minister were very different because the minister's own amendments make it clear that HIC officers may enter premises if they have reasonable grounds for believing that an offence has been or is being committed. The minister dismissed that as if it were nothing. We are dealing with criminal offences and potential criminal offences. In those circumstances, it is critically important that a search warrant be required in order to protect the rights of the citizen. The minister quite wrongly—and I wonder at her motives—suggested that we were opposing this legislation, or that we were gutting it by supporting the legislation but putting some mechanisms in place to protect the citizen. We can in no way be described as opposing it or gutting it.

  We are going further than the government in saying that this important purpose to which this legislation is addressed must not at the same time do a wrong to others. We are making sure that the rights of Australians are not lost simply because it is in a good cause. The government seems to have lost sight of the need to get that balance. Despite all that the minister said about balance, she failed to recognise that the only way she will achieve balance, if she gives powers of search, is to give them under certain conditions. She tried to suggest that I was damning all the medical profession as not being concerned about civil rights and not knowing about civil rights matters. I have said that lawyers perhaps are more attuned to civil rights issues than are doctors, but the AMA, for example, has looked at amendments Nos 3 and 4 and has expressed itself as happy with them.

  I was interested to hear the remarks of Senator Cooney. He has great understanding of these issues and was chairman of the committee that examined these matters. Certainly he put his finger on a pretty serious problem. Indeed, the minister evidenced this by her litany of examples of those who can go in and do things without search warrants. He said that more and more legislation in this country grants power to go in and inspect people in their homes or workplaces for all sorts of new offences, or to obtain evidence in order to control the citizen in some way. There may be socially desirable reasons, but in this of all places in Australia we should be alert to the restriction on the rights of citizens. No matter how worthy the purpose, we must be careful to see that we do not allow incrementally a position to develop where the rights of Australian citizens are there in name only.

  The creeping power given in recent years to officials has been imperceptible, but nevertheless is serious. This is one place where I believe we must take a stand. I do not believe that it will gut the effectiveness of the act. It simply means that HIC officials must exercise the same responsibility as do police officers. I question why the government wants to give more powers to the HIC than it is prepared to give to the Australian Federal Police.