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Wednesday, 11 September 1996
Page: 3329

Senator COONEY(6.51 p.m.) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

This is a very important document. The first paragraph of the introduction states:

1.1 This report is made in compliance with Division 2 of Part IX of the Telecommunications (Interception) Act 1979 (the Act), which requires the Attorney-General, as Minister administering the Act, to have prepared each year a report giving details of interceptions of telecommunications for law enforcement purposes. This is the sixth report prepared in accordance with the requirements of that Division, and relates to the year ending 30 June 1995.

The Telecommunications (Interception) Act has two purposes: one, to ensure that we, as citizens of this country, can talk to each other over the telephone and use telecommunications in a way that is protected so that our privacy is maintained; and, two, to allow law enforcement authorities to carry out the very necessary purpose of detecting crime and suppressing it. It is important to keep those two things in balance.

It is for this parliament to set out for law enforcement authorities the limits that they must observe in going about their very difficult and necessary task of investigations. In recent times, the issue of how law enforcement people should go about their work has become a matter of some importance. There was the Ridgeway case last year and, more recently, the Elliott case in Melbourne, a case that was presided over by perhaps the most outstanding criminal law judge in this country, Justice Vincent. What was pointed out in both cases is the fact that we, as a community, must set those limits which preserve the democracy under which we live and, at the same time, enable the law enforcement authorities to go about their task.

At times, great criticism is poured upon those law enforcement authorities. They have a difficult task and, by and large, they do an outstanding job in preserving the security of this community. It is important that we, as a parliament, are ever conscious of our obligations to see that Australia remains a free and democratic society. We do that by setting the framework within which this society operates, by passing laws such as the Telecommunications (Interception) Act and the various amendments we have made to that act, and by exercising overall supervision and monitoring of how things operate. On the other hand, we should never go too far in making things difficult for those who carry out the duty of policing our society or those who are subject to that conduct. One of the ways that balancing act is carried out is by asking for reports such as this. It is a report which comes out regularly and I think it is the first one that the new Attorney-General the Hon. Daryl Wil liams has produced. I congratulate him on doing so and commend it to the reading of all honourable senators.

Question resolved in the affirmative.