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Thursday, 13 November 2008
Page: 32

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) (12:41 PM) —Mr Acting Deputy President, I apologise for arriving in the chamber after my allotted speaking time but I trust that the chamber will allow me to make a contribution. In relation to the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Laws Bill 2008 [No. 2], can I raise as to a matter of procedure, and this may have been already raised, some concern that the government has been asked to vote on this bill, depending on what negotiations now occur in relation to procedure, when we did make it clear to both the Greens and the opposition that this bill had not yet gone to caucus. As a matter of courtesy, we had requested that it not be brought to a vote until that had been enabled.

Senator Brandis —It was introduced into the House of Representatives on 17 March.

Senator WONG —Yes, but this is a private member’s bill being debated in the Senate, Senator Brandis.

Senator Brandis —Don’t say that the caucus was not seized of the issue until now.

Senator WONG —Actually if I could finish, Senator Brandis. I know that you seem to be wanting to demonstrate to everybody your incredible speaking skills today but I am actually on my feet. I have been in this chamber for six years and there have been many occasions on which parties have requested, in terms of a matter being brought to a vote, the ability to go back to their party rooms before that occurred and that courtesy has been extended. We in the government do regret that that courtesy was not extended on this occasion.

I also make the point, Senator Brandis, that, whilst I appreciate the importance that some members accord to this bill, despite your speech about civil liberties your government did not. I note the inclusion of this bill at this time obviously has had consequences for the same-sex reforms, and I have raised those with the crossbenches and the opposition.

It is a case that Labor has a longstanding interest in ensuring Australia’s counterterrorism laws contain appropriate safeguards and review mechanisms. I indicate that one of our government’s high priorities is the maintenance of strong and effective counterterrorism laws. That is one of our highest priorities because of course nothing is more important than ensuring that all Australians are safe and secure. The government is committed to ensuring that strong counterterrorism laws are accompanied by strong safeguards that ensure the laws operate in an accountable manner.

I know that the member for Kooyong and Senators Troeth and Humphries have a well-documented sincere and ongoing interest in this important issue of balance and accountable counterterrorism laws. I note also that this is a position that they held even when they were on this side of the chamber and contrary to the position of some of the members of the then government. I would like to commend them on their contributions to the public debate on these issues, which are central to the proper functioning of our democracy.

It should be recorded that when the coalition were in government they did not respond to the recommendation for an independent reviewer nor to other recommendations made by the Sheller committee or the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. I make the point that the coalition government did have ample opportunity to address these issues. The Sheller committee reported in April 2006 and the parliamentary joint committee reported in December 2006. The previous Howard government had these recommendations before it for some 18 months and chose to take no action. I do say that I am sure this is not due in any way to any lack of effort from the member for Kooyong or Senators Troeth and Humphries.

I am also interested that Senator Brandis made the comments that he made today, because I do notice that he was reported earlier this year in a way that suggested he was distancing the Liberal Party from this bill. He was quoted in the Age newspaper as saying that Mr Georgiou had moved this bill ‘in his own capacity, not on behalf of the opposition’.

Senator Brandis —Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I am only sensitive about being misrepresented or lied about, Senator Wong. The remarks attributed were merely a description of the procedural manner in which this bill came before the House of Representatives. My support for this bill, as Mr Georgiou, Senator Troeth and Senator Humphries well know, has been consistent since it was first raised with me by Mr Georgiou at the beginning of this year.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Humphries)—Senator Brandis, I think that this is not a point of order. This is a debating point.

Senator WONG —Senator Brandis—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President: did you suggest that I lied? If you did you should withdraw it.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —There is no capacity to ask Senator Brandis a question. Are you raising a point of order that you consider that remark to be unparliamentary?

Senator WONG —Yes.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Brandis, did you make any remark which was intended to imply that the minister had been lying?

Senator Brandis —No.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I think in the circumstances, Minister, that was not the intention.

Senator WONG —I am fine with that. I just wanted that on the record. As I said, Senator Brandis was quoted in the Age newspaper as saying that Mr Georgiou had moved this bill ‘in his own capacity, not on behalf of the opposition.’ People can have their own views as to what Senator Brandis was intending to infer by that. I indicate that the government is committed to ensuring that counterterrorism laws are effective and accountable. We have concerns as to whether this bill is the best way of achieving this. While the aims of this bill are commendable, there are flaws in its approach. For example, the independent reviewer is given a general and non-specific mandate and is free to determine priorities as he or she thinks fit. In our view, this provides little certainty in terms of the reviewer’s responsibilities or purview. There are a number of questions that remain unanswered with the bill. For example, will the reviewer examine all new legislative proposals relating to terrorism and national security, and will he or she examine laws which have been used in each year?

A number of flaws in the bill were recognised by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which recommended extensive amendments. The government does believe that the issue of how our counterterrorism laws are to be monitored and reviewed needs careful and comprehensive consideration. Importantly, the establishment of an independent reviewer should be addressed in the context of other recommendations made by the reviews of the counterterrorism laws. It should be remembered that there are a number of outstanding reports which need to be considered: firstly, the one I referred to—the Sheller committee report; secondly, the report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security; and, thirdly, the report of the Australian Law Reform Commission. All of these reports contain numerous recommendations on various aspects of the counterterrorism legislation. As I have previously indicated, the action in response to those reports from the previous government was wanting.

As senators would be aware, the Rudd government has established an independent inquiry, to be headed by the Hon. John Clarke QC, into the case of Dr Mohamed Haneef. Mr Clarke’s terms of reference also include consideration of the counterterrorism legislation involved in that case. Mr Clarke is due to report in the near future, and the government will certainly be considering closely any recommendations he makes. The government has given and continues to give detailed consideration to the recommendations of the reviews of the counterterrorism legislation conducted by Sheller, the PJC and the Australian Law Reform Commission. The government does take these issues seriously. It is important that lessons learnt from the implementation of the laws, cases and investigations, as well as issues identified by reviews into the operation of the legislation, are acted upon to ensure Australia has an effective yet accountable counterterrorism regime.

Many of the aspects of the legislation which were identified by reviews as increasing the accountability of the operation of counterterrorism legislation were included in the legislation only due to efforts by Labor. Our approach, including in opposition, has always been to ensure that Australia has strong counterterrorism legislation that protects the values and freedoms that are part of Australia’s way of life. The government recognise that it is only through effective safeguards and review mechanisms that we are able to ensure this continues to be the case. In opposition we argued for the inclusion of important protections and appropriate safeguards within the counterterrorism legislation and moved amendments to improve safeguards such as greater judicial oversight of the operation of the laws, promoted shorter periods of time for sunset clauses and regular reviews of the operation of counterterrorism legislation. Labor also advocated greater oversight of the use of the counterterrorism laws by law enforcement and security agencies.

The Rudd government understand that is not sufficient to maintain a robust set of counterterrorism laws. We are also determined to ensure that our national security agencies work together as effectively as possible in enforcing those laws. As the Attorney-General has indicated, the AFP, ASIO and the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions are implementing practical recommendations made by the review of interoperability between the AFP and its national security partners, conducted by Sir Laurence Street. The recommendation covers four broad areas: operational decision making, joint task force arrangements, information sharing, and training and education. Significant progress has been made on implementation.

A regular forum has been established to provide the heads of ASIO, the AFP and the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions with an opportunity to regularly review strategic priorities and interoperability issues in national security operations. ASIO and the AFP have put in place a counterterrorism protocol to provide for regular and accountable exchange of national security information and ongoing high-level consultation and operations. ASIO, the AFP and the Commonwealth DPP have developed guidelines for counterterrorism prosecution to improve consultation and communication in the investigation and prosecution of terrorist offences. Other key measures include interagency training and secondment arrangements between the AFP and ASIO. The implementation of the Street review recommendations, as well as the report of the Clarke inquiry into Dr Haneef’s case, will ensure that the lessons learnt from counterterrorism investigations are identified and addressed.

In conclusion, Labor has a longstanding and demonstrated commitment to ensuring Australia’s counterterrorism laws contain adequate safeguards and fulsome review mechanisms. The government will continue this commitment by bringing forward a comprehensive response to the proposal for an independent review of counterterrorism laws and other review recommendations in the near future. We will ensure that there is ample opportunity to debate this issue at that time.

Question negatived.

Original question put:

That this bill be now read a second time.

A division having been called and the bells being rung—

Senator Bob Brown —Mr Acting Deputy President, there was only one government member in their seat. Unless somebody from this side called a division, there was only one voice in favour of the division.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Humphries)—I think we can constructively assume that there were other government members prepared to support Senator Wong’s call.

Senator Wong interjecting—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Brown, is that necessary, do you think?

Senator Bob Brown —Mr Acting Deputy President, no. I make the point, though, that government members should be in their seats if they are going to call a division.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —It is a good point.