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Monday, 15 November 2010
Page: 1209

Senator McLUCAS (Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers) (5:27 PM) —I thank honourable senators for their contributions to the debate on the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement Bill 2010. As the Attorney-General mentioned in the House of Representatives, after extensive public consultation these bills were passed by the House of Representatives and were considered by the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs before parliament was prorogued on 19 July 2010. The government took the recommendations of that committee into account in reintroducing the bills.

There have been some points raised during the debate that I would like to take this opportunity to respond to. Senator Ludlam suggested that the government prioritise the national security budget and an expansion of agencies such as the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, but has not given similar priority to review, oversight and accountability mechanisms in relation to national security agencies and the legislation that they operate under. The government makes no apologies for ensuring that agencies with responsibilities for national security matters are appropriately resourced. However, the government is equally committed to a balanced approach to national security by ensuring that there are strong and rigorous oversight and accountability mechanisms in place and that our national security laws remain proportionate to the nature of the threat. The government has demonstrated its commitment to a balanced approach to national security in these two bills.

The National Security Legislation Amendment Bill contains amendments that implement the government’s response to recommendations from several independent and bipartisan reviews of Australian national security and counterterrorism legislation. The National Security Legislation Amendment Bill also contains amendments to expand and enhance the mandate of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security is a very important independent oversight mechanism for Australia’s security and intelligence agencies. The inspector-general has extensive powers to monitor and inquire into the actions of those agencies and ensure that they act lawfully, with propriety and with respect for human rights. The National Security Legislation Amendment Bill will enable the inspector-general’s inquiries to extend beyond the six security and intelligence agencies within its core functions so that the inspector-general may examine security and intelligence matters in full where those matters concern other Commonwealth agencies in appropriate circumstances.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement Bill is yet another demonstration of the government’s commitment to strong oversight and accountability. This bill implements the government’s commitment to having parliamentary oversight of the Australian Federal Police.

Finally, as senators will know, the government has passed legislation to establish the independent National Security Legislation Monitor to review the operation of Australia’s counterterrorism and national security legislation on an annual basis. The monitor will be a person of high standing with a sound understanding of Australia’s counterterrorism and national security legislation. A short list of preferred candidates is currently being actively considered by the Prime Minister and a decision on the appointment of the monitor is expected shortly. These two bills constitute a package of reforms to Australia’s national security and counterterrorism legislation aimed at ensuring our laws are appropriately targeted and accountable in their operation.

I thank the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for its detailed consideration of the bills. As indicated by the Attorney-General, the government has accepted or accepted in principle three of the committee’s five recommendations. In response to the first recommendation, the explanatory memorandum now clarifies the reasons for including the proposed urging violence offences in chapter 5 of the Criminal Code.

The government has accepted in principle the recommendation to encourage proactive reporting of matters to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement and the Attorney-General has indicated that he is committed to taking appropriate steps to ensure that this occurs. Once established, the committee may wish to actively engage with the agencies and outline the types of matters that the committee would like to be kept apprised of. It is open to the new committee, in accordance with the normal practices and procedures of parliamentary committees, to request regular briefings from the agencies or to make open or specific requests for written submissions from the agencies on matters concerning the performance of the agencies’ functions.

In response to recommendation 3 and in recognition of the importance of ensuring that the rights of suspects are properly preserved while ensuring that the forensic needs of law enforcement officers are met, the government is also committed to giving further consideration to a broader review of the precharge detention regime in due course once there has been further operational use of and experience with the provisions. As the Attorney-General has indicated, the government has not accepted the Senate committee’s recommendation to remove the good faith defence to the urging violence offences nor has it agreed to reduce the proposed cap on specified disregarded time for terrorism investigations under part IC of the Crimes Act. Repealing the good faith defence would remove an explicit legislative confirmation that the urging violence offences do not capture legitimate expression.

Reducing the cap on the period of specified disregarded time in the investigation of terrorism offences has not been accepted on the basis that the government believes that a maximum cap of seven days is reasonable and appropriate. Accepting these two recommendations would dilute the government’s policy objective of ensuring our national security laws are precise, are appropriately tailored and provide our law enforcement and security agencies with the investigative tools they need to counter terrorism.

In conclusion, our government is confident that the reforms contained in both bills deliver strong laws that protect our safety while preserving democratic rights and protecting our freedoms consistent with the principle of the rule of law. I extend the minister’s appreciation to the Senate committee for their report and to the community for their submissions on the bills, which have contributed to the development of a strong and effective package of reforms. I commend the bills to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bills read a second time.