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Thursday, 26 September 2002
Page: 4982

Senator BROWN (11:52 AM) —I am a bit surprised by that, and I think that there will be not a few journalists entranced by the idea that $1,000 is a minute's work for them.

Senator Greig —For media moguls.

Senator BROWN —Maybe it is for media moguls, as Senator Greig says, but it is not media moguls who are going to be put under the draconian five-year threat by the Democrat-supported government penalty regime here; it is going to be their ciphers, investigators and investigative journalists. What Senator Greig may have overlooked and what Senator Ellison has not explained is: how come, in 100 years of developing laws on espionage, the Australian body politic has made seven years the penalty up until now, rather than 25 years? Why are we going from seven years to 25 years? Why pick that particular figure? The Attorney-General said that he was lining up with practice in other Commonwealth countries, and he named three of them. But when we looked at the penalties in those other three Commonwealth countries, we came up with 14 years as a maximum, and that is what the Greens are moving.

It is easy to pick a figure out of the air and to apply it. We are in an environment at the moment where it is easy to bring in draconian penalties. What we are dealing with here—and I ask Senator Greig to think about this—are laws which are going to be in place for a long time to come. What we are not seeing in this parliament is the winding back of penalties for citizens who engage in public debate at the edge of our time-honoured civil liberties and open society in a time when there is tension and a great deal of concern about insecurity. We should debate these things and it should be on a very informed basis, not just, `I have a hunch that it would be good to raise this from seven years to 25 years.' I have not heard Senator Ellison say why seven years was wrong. I have not heard him say why 14 years in similar jurisdictions is wrong. Indeed, I did not hear Senator Greig say why the New Zealand parliament was wrong in its penalty on the suppression order. We are not dealing here with picking figures out of the air, as far as the Greens are concerned. We are dependent on the long parliamentary debates of the past in those jurisdictions and our own country which settled on penalties which are far shorter than the draconian penalties that the government is now bringing in.

I say again that we are not hearing why the parliaments were wrong before. This is not some adjustment. The government is bringing down a massive increase in the penalties. Senator Ellison spoke about US spies in the Cold War, and since, and the executions of agents. We are dealing here with a country—I am talking about the United States, but you can bring Russia into this— which has a far different approach to the sanctity of life when it comes to people who infract against the laws. My home state of Tasmania did away with the death penalty back in the sixties, as did most of the rest of this nation. It is getting on for half a century ago. Equating us now with a country which not only sees the death penalty as being important, but which executes hundreds of people each year, is not appropriate in this parliament. We are looking at penalties which are inappropriate and which greatly ratchet up the government's intention to suppress public debate about intelligence operatives, intelligence operations and the way in which they work. This is very dangerous territory. It is very easy to slip this through.

The minister referred to a 25-year penalty now for people who are involved in people-smuggling. It is much more complicated than it sounds at the outset. He is saying, `We have the 25-year penalty through there for people,'—potentially including Australians who are involved in what the government calls blanket people-smuggling but which, in some cases, may mean saving people from the extraordinarily dangerous backgrounds from which they come anyway—`so let us have 25 years here.' We are seeing a ratcheting up of the penalty system for a whole range of policy issues which the government has at the top of its agenda. I would urge caution. These debates have been held in this parliament in this country before, in equally tense situations. Why was the 25-year penalty not brought in during the Cold War? Why did the Petrov episode not lead to a 25-year penalty? Perhaps the minister could tell me that. They were far more anxious times for the nation in terms of its security than we have at the moment, I can tell you—because I remember them.

The minister went on to say that bail should be opposed in all cases—and the government will be giving a directive to, presumably, its prosecutors. He went on to state:

Those who have committed espionage should not be able to escape the law.

What happened to the presumption of innocence? Are we not allowed to speak about it any more?

Senator Faulkner —Read that again.

Senator BROWN —He said:

Those who have committed espionage should ...

This followed straight on from `we will be'—

Senator Faulkner —The sentence itself is reasonable, isn't it?

Senator BROWN —I am talking about bail. The government is saying that people who are charged should not be bailed. The reason the minister gave for that was that people who have committed espionage should not be able to escape the law. But he was saying that these people who are presumed to have committed—

Senator Faulkner —That is different; it is not what you said.

Senator BROWN —No, that is what the minister said. Let me make that clear.

Senator Faulkner —I'm only going on what you said.

Senator BROWN —I am sorry; I did not put—

Senator Faulkner —I have no idea what he said, but I did hear what you said.

Senator BROWN —I wanted to put that in the context of what the minister was saying. He was not talking about convicted criminals; he was talking about people who are charged and he said that they should be kept in jail, without exception. I do not agree with that. Fortunately, this has not been able and is not able to remove the court's jurisdiction, but the government's viewpoint is that for these particular charges people should be kept in jail until they are proved innocent. They are guilty until proved otherwise. This, again, is a dangerous tenor in the way the government is bringing legislation into this place. It goes counter to a century of national law in this place and it goes counter to a much longer period of common law and the expectation that we are innocent until proved guilty. I do not accept the ideology which says we should be jailed until we prove we are innocent.

I am more than alarmed by the context in which the government has brought in this legislation and by the penalty regime it has. The Democrats might think that is fine; the Greens do not. We think it is out of kilter. We recognise the times we are in but we have been in them before and we did not see the parliament pass this sort of regimen in those times. I urge caution on the committee. I ask again that the Greens' amendment be seen in the context of the penalties that we cite as being in very close relationship with those in the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand, and I commend it to the committee.