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Tuesday, 10 December 2002
Page: 7624

Senator GREIG (9:31 PM) —There may be no greater illustration—although that may be yet to come— of an argument in favour of the three-year sunset clause. We are effectively involving ourselves in a debate and a discussion on which is the better model in terms of issuing warrants. There are pros and cons on both sides. I have some sympathy with the minister's argument that there are few judges. To be fair, in the statistics that he has given he has referred only to retired chapter III judges, not to state jurisdictional retired judges. There was also the argument that warrants cannot be issued by phone. However, we have heard that they can be issued by fax and that state judges are available. I could have some sympathy with the minister's position if he could further quantify it or strengthen the argument that a lack of judges was the issue, but I am not so sure that it is. If that is or is not the case then surely this is an illustration of where the sunset clause comes into play. In three years time we can, with the benefit of hindsight, look back on this and say, `That model worked,' or, `That model didn't work.' That will be an opportunity for a new parliament in a different environment to review the legislation.

I strongly pick up a point that Senator Faulkner made—and I am paraphrasing— that this is not just an issue of practicalities or indeed technicalities but also a question of perception. There was recently an article in the Australian print media resulting from questions asked in recent Senate estimates where ASIO confirmed that it had in some cases issued its own warrants—the minister may correct me on that—on the basis that the Attorney was unavailable. I think that creates an understandable perception and concern in the community around the notion of a secret police force. It is something which we as a parliament should avoid and we should ensure that the appropriate protections are in place. The proposal by the opposition better does that on the basis that there is the stronger perception that the issuing of warrants is at arm's length from the government or, at least, departments associated with the government when you are referring instead to the integrity and judicial experience of retired judges. On that basis I believe, and the Democrats believe, that these government amendments ought to be opposed. The alternative model, which we will get to shortly, offers a better opportunity to deal with this issue not just in terms of its perception but also in terms of its practicality, given that the three-year sunset clause is there to remedy the situation if it is proven to be fundamentally flawed. On the debate I have heard thus far, I am not convinced that that is the case.