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Wednesday, 7 December 1983
Page: 3409


Senator GEORGES(4.29) —I wish to make a brief comment and express a concern that has already been expressed elsewhere regarding this Bill and the powers given under it. As Senator Chipp has indicated, it is obvious that the orginal intention of the Attorney-General was refined, and with cause. There is also, no doubt, to be a review of the problems which arise under this legislation. The concern, of course, is that there is increasing interception. There is possibly a danger of information being gathered that is not relevant to the purpose for which the warrant was issued. It is the use of that information which concerns many of us. I do not know whether the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Button) who is in charge of the Bill at this time can answer the question I wish to ask. Nevertheless, I think it is important to ask this question: Is the obligation of the Director-General of Security under section 14 of the Telecommunications (Interception) Act 1979 to destroy records being efficiently carried out? Is that provision of the Act being efficiently carried out? It is important that those records, once they cease to be relevant, be destroyed as the Act provides. Are adequate security and other methods being instituted to prevent any unlawful communication of information gathered under section 20 of the Telecommunications (Interception) Act 1979? Are all facilities provided and adequate methods instituted to ensure that the Commissioner of Police can carry out without delay the obligations under section 24 of the Act to destroy records and copies so that there will be no neglect in the ascertaining and destroying of all records and all copies which are not required and not likely to be required for the purposes stated in the Act? I do not expect the Minister to be able to answer that at this stage. It is important for me to indicate my concern that there may be some neglect in relation to the carrying out of provisions of the original Act.

I am also pleased-the Government has accepted this point-that the powers to reveal information have been limited to this particular inquiry. I believe that in some future debate the reasons for limiting, to a particular inquiry, the powers of this amendment to the Act will be revealed. There is a grave danger that the police forces of this country will be encouraged to widen the interception of communcations with the added ability to do so outside the law. They could gather information concerning the activities of citizens and use that information in, shall we say, both a covert as well as an overt way in order to intimidate. Evidence has appeared in New South Wales that certain sections of organised crime-unfortunately this applies to Queensland and certain sections of the police force special branch-are prepared to gather information by whatever means is made available to them, to withhold that information from general distribution and to make it available only to the persons concerned so as to intimidate and to impose upon them limitations in the carrying out of his of her public duties. Evidence has arisen in the Queensland Parliament that files and information received by means that could only be related to interception of communications have been used against individuals by special branch officers through members of Parliament. The whole of this area, of course, is fraught with concern. I merely introduce that concern at this stage. I hope that at a later stage, before we give any extra powers to the law enforcement authorities, we have a wide-ranging debate about the consequence of those extra powers.