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Friday, 9 June 1989
Page: 3760

Senator TATE (Minister for Justice)(9.52) —Several matters have been raised by Senator Macklin. I need not go over the discussion that has taken place during the last quarter of an hour in the chamber. I have not grasped what Senator Macklin is looking for out of section 27 (1) (b). It provides, in part:

when requested to do so by the Minister, to examine a proposed enactment . . .

If Senator Macklin is asking whether the Treasurer (Mr Keating) afforded to the Privacy Commissioner a copy of the Bill to seek advice on a proposed enactment, then the answer is no. No such request was made by the Treasurer of the Privacy Commissioner. Nevertheless, I believe it would be possible for the Privacy Commissioner to provide advice to a Minister or an agency on any matter relevant to the operation of this Act under, for example, section 27 (1) (f). The opportunity not having been taken under section 27 (1) (b), perhaps section 27 (1) (f) could provide a vehicle for the sort of consideration by the Privacy Commissioner of the way in which this particular amendment, if passed by the chamber and assented to, would operate in relation to the general privacy principles that are available--

Senator Crichton-Browne —Where are you reading from, Senator?

Senator TATE —I am reading from the Privacy Act. I could informally give an indication that the Government would seek from the Privacy Commissioner under section 27 (1) (f)-if that proves to be the best vehicle-advice on the way in which this particular amendment ought to operate so as to maintain strict adherence by the Taxation Commissioner to the objectives of crime fighting, to which Senator Macklin has so eloquently spoken, and yet maintain a balance with the privacy and confidentiality considerations, which are so important, particularly when dealing with information given to the Australian Taxation Office. I give an informal undertaking to that effect.

As to the question of urgency and the initiative being taken by the Taxation Commissioner to provide information to law enforcement agencies, this is an important point. Despite what Senator Macklin thinks, it may be quite important in relation to proceeds of crime proceedings. It might, perhaps more commonly, turn out to be the case that the Taxation Commissioner has information that is more relevant to the hidden accumulation of assets and the very imminent attempt to dispose of those assets in relation to proceeds of crime proceedings than to some other more substantive criminal activity or serious offence. We might find that the Taxation Commissioner actually has more information and intelligence of use in relation to proceeds of crime legislation where the profits of unscrupulous criminals could otherwise be dissipated, and to make that available quickly and urgently, and in a timely fashion, to a law enforcement agency might be extremely useful.

But there is a trade-off, as Senator Macklin has pointed out. Apart from proceeds of crime proceedings and those matters relating to revenue raising-tax offences and the like-none of this information can be voluntarily disclosed to a court or compelled or coerced in a court proceeding. It cannot come out on the public record. It cannot be used as admissible evidence; it remains simply as information and intelligence which may be of use during the investigative phase leading up to the assembling of admissible evidence for presentation in the court proceeding.