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Wednesday, 1 December 2004
Page: 10

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) (10:05 AM) —As I have said repeatedly, this provides a certainty so that at the outset of the proceedings there is a clear direction as to what does and does not come within the ambit of national security. It provides that aspect of certainty which is desirable for everyone involved. I have gone over at length the desirability of having that certainty, especially when dealing with other countries in relation to security matters so that they know exactly where you stand. I do not think the courts necessarily relish making determinations as to what comprises national security. Certainly, as to what constitutes a fair trial is something which is quite different and which in this legislation we have retained for the courts to decide. In relation to the question of national security, we believe you need this certainty so that, at the outset of any proceeding, people know where they stand.

In relation to national security relationships with other countries, where you have a sensitive decision which has to be made a court could find itself having to arbitrate on that very question in relation to something which goes to the heart of a relationship between Australia and another country. That is not something that courts normally do. In fact, those security issues are a matter for the executive government of the day. Time and time again, the special relationship that we have with foreign countries as two sovereign states is recognised internationally as being something within the domain of the executive arm of government in those respective countries. It is something which we believe in this legislation is essential for the operation of national security and the protection of national security, and it provides certainty to all.

In relation to a security clearance, I would remind Senator Brown that in this particular bill we might be talking about lawyers having a security clearance, but I can tell you that scientists, officials and people who do work for the government, such as subcontractors who may be tradesmen—for instance, electricians doing work at ASIO headquarters or something of that nature at a Defence installation—need security clearances because they may be working on a job which is involved in national security. Obviously you are going to have that applying across the board, and to say that we have singled out lawyers is fanciful. What we have done here is applied a security clearance to lawyers who appear in the courts in these instances. We apply security clearances to plumbers and electricians who do work on sensitive installations and we apply security clearances to people who do work in other areas, whether they work for the government, whether they are scientists or even whether they are staff of ministers. To try to conjure up some misapprehension that we are singling out lawyers in some way or that they are disadvantaged in some way because of their profession is totally false.