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Thursday, 26 September 2002
Page: 4989

Senator BROWN (12:36 PM) —I thank Senator Ludwig for that discourse on the deliberations and outcomes of the Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee, but the central point that was missing from that was an effective explanation as to why the public interest should not be catered for. So the argument for these amendments stands.

I would like to put to the Minister representing the Attorney-General a hypothetical situation, although it contains overtones of reality. I refer to what would happen if I or some other citizen supported the Tampa coming to Australia. You might remember, Mr Temporary Chairman, that in that circumstance the government thought that not only was that not in Australia's interests but it posed somewhat of a threat to Australia's security. What would happen if you found out that your phone calls to the captain of the Tampa to encourage him not to go away were being tapped by the intelligence agencies? What would happen if you released the information on that because you wanted the Tampa to come to Australia and you wanted to know that there was an illegal operation that was inimical to your stand?

Is the government going to say that it can exclude the citizen or the parliamentarian who discloses an operation—albeit an illegal operation—of the intelligence services and makes a public revelation about it from the draconian penalties in this bill? Again, ought not the simple, effective, time-honoured test of the public interest be levied here? In the absence of a definition in this legislation, I take you to the Macquarie Dictionary definition of `prejudice'. I see that the minister has his dictionary, so he will understand that we are looking at the verb. The Macquarie Dictionary definition of the verb `prejudice' is:

5. to affect with the prejudice, favourable or unfavourable ...

It gives the example:

... these facts prejudiced us in his favour.

We have here the absurd situation where a citizen who releases information which actually favours the national interest or prejudices the national interest for the good could be caught under this legislative device. The minister will no doubt get up and say, `That's absurd; that wouldn't happen.' I say it is sloppy legislation. When you bring in jail sentences of up to 25 years, you have to get it right. Before we move on, there has to be a definition of `prejudice' in here which says `inimical to the nation's interest'.

There are very major holes in this particular part of this legislation. I might not push it so hard if we were looking at fines or at the potential for a minor inconvenience to citizens. But we are not; we are looking at five-year and 25-year jail sentences, so it is incumbent on the government to get it right, and it has not got it right. I ask the opposition to look at this again. I am pleased that the Democrats will support this very important amendment. I say to Senator Ludwig and the opposition: please do look at this amendment. It is not an offensive amendment; there is no way it can be offensive. It enhances this legislation, but it looks particularly at guaranteeing time-honoured rights for citizens in this country. There will be time for the opposition to look at this and I plead with the opposition to look at it very carefully. It is a very serious matter.