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Tuesday, 10 December 2002
Page: 7618

Senator NETTLE (8:50 PM) —I rise to give the Australian Greens' position on the amendments put forward by the government. We will not be supporting these amendments. They are in conflict with the next amendments to be put forward by the opposition. We have had some discussion already about potential constitutional issues with regard to serving judges being a part of this regime. The amendments put forward by the government take up one suggestion of the committee about former judges. But rather than, as suggested by the committee, replacing the existing AAT members or magistrates with former judges, the government's proposal is just to extend the number of people who can be issuing or prescribed authorities to also include former judges. We have had some discussion already about the constitutional issues that could arise from the government's current model, and they are not addressed by the amendments proposed by the government.

Another issue that we have not heard talked about is AAT members being able to provide warrants under the current regime. This being the enormously controversial legislation that it is, I understand that part of the rationale for putting forward the retired judges model was to make a further separation between the government or the executive who are putting this legislation in place and the people who will actually issue the warrants. The idea is that former judges perhaps do not have as much reliance on the government and the executive for their ongoing positions, their future employment or their general relationship with the government. This government amendment does not take away those concerns that people have about government employees, through the AAT, making decisions about how this legislation should be implemented.

The responses from the Minister for Justice and Customs so far have focused on constitutional issues and the number of retired judges that would be available to serve this function. We have heard others refer to the evidence given by Dennis Richardson during the committee hearings that he believed this legislation would have been used on two to three occasions in the last 12 months. It is particularly disturbing that this government is putting forward as one of its strongest arguments against the retired judges model that it does not believe there are enough retired judges to fulfil these responsibilities. I hope that the government's expression of this as such a concern is not an indication that this legislation would be used more than the two to three times in the last year that we heard about from the Director-General of ASIO. It is deeply concerning to hear that being put forward by the government as a major argument for why they do not support purely retired judges being the prescribed and issuing authorities. Perhaps the minister can enlighten us as to whether he believes this legislation would be used a lot more frequently than Dennis Richardson's evidence to the committee suggested.