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Thursday, 27 June 2013
Page: 4373

Senator HUMPHRIES (Australian Capital Territory) (20:09): I can only pick up on the comments made just a moment ago by Senator Boyce about the unsatisfactory nature of this process. Once again we have had significant legislation presented to the Senate with an extraordinary degree of haste and a level of abuse of due process such that one has to wonder whether, at the end of the day, we as a parliament and, in particular, the Senate as a house of review, are doing our job properly in examining the implications of legislation of this kind.

The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Law Enforcement Integrity, Vulnerable Witness Protection and Other Measures) Bill 2013 was presented to the House of Representatives by the Attorney-General on 29 May. On 18 June, three weeks or so later, it was referred by the Senate to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. The committee was initially meant to report on 20 August, which would have been a respectable kind of reporting interval, but it was then of course indicated to the committee that the bill was to be considered in the Senate this week. As a result, it was necessary to bring the reporting date forward to 25 June. So on 18 June the bill was sent to the committee and on 25 June the committee was meant to report. Needless to say, what transpired in terms of the work of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee was something which could best be described as a travesty of its normal rigorous process of examination of legislation.

The committee contacted the sorts of organisations that it thought might be interested in providing evidence. Advertising in the usual fashion was not possible. The committee contacted a number of organisations, but of course the general public in that situation has almost no chance of contributing to the debate and to the consideration of such issues. As we know from previous inquiries—of course, Madam Acting Deputy President Crossin, I am preaching to the converted in your case as the chair of that committee—there are often large numbers of individuals in the community with a variety of backgrounds who can make very useful comments to Senate inquiries about what is going on with these matters. They could easily have added to the wealth of knowledge about this issue, but the opportunity was not provided to them.

Not surprisingly, having written to over 90 organisations and individuals and inviting submissions to be made within a ridiculously short period of time—48 hours at most—we received just six submissions. Those six submissions pretty well all made reference to the inability of organisations like them to be able to deal properly with the issues in this bill. I will quote from only one, that of the Australian Lawyers for Human Rights, who in their submission said:

The fact that submissions are required in less than 40 hours destroys any notion of accountability and public scrutiny which is sought to be provided by public involvement in the committee process.

They went on to say:

However because of the time period the Parliament has chosen to allocate for submissions, ALHR are unable to assess and respond on these matters. We would like the Committee to note our concern and opposition to such a short time being made for submissions.

This is an organisation with a background in this area. It would have been useful for the committee and in turn the Senate to be able to receive evidence from it in the course of the inquiry, considering the raft of issues contained in this legislation. Here we have a key group saying to the Senate:

The fact that submissions are required in less than 40 hours destroys any notion of accountability and public scrutiny …

Destroys any notion of accountability and public scrutiny!

Yet this is not the only example that the Senate has had to deal with, in the space of this week, of the proper processes of the Senate being trampled underfoot in the undue haste to rush through, in the dying days of the parliament, a whole raft of legislation which this chaotic and dysfunctional government happens to think should be pushed through while it still has the numbers. I particularly single out for that criticism the Australian Greens, who made such a song and dance of the issues of use of the guillotine and rushing legislation when they were on this side of the chamber facing the Howard government, and now have not only accepted these premises as the basis on which to pass legislation through this place but have also actually accelerated the rate at which these sorts of abuses of process are occurring. We are now passing legislation through the parliament with the use of guillotines at a rate three to four times the rate that was happening under the Howard government. That is absolutely disgraceful, and the Greens should be asking themselves what kind of accountability they are engineering in this parliament when they are prepared to cooperate with these sorts of travesties of due process.

Turning to the provisions of the legislation itself: again, in the extremely short period of time that the committee have had to examine these matters, it is difficult to identify whether these measures are, in their totality, appropriate or not. It appears, on the face of it, as if there is some basis for the myriad of provisions which the legislation contains. But, again, I certainly do not provide any warranty that the legislation will meet the requirements that have been set for it. Indeed, I have to say that I am concerned that some of these things have been given far too little weight for the gravity of what is required.

Senator Boyce mentioned the provision to exclude the use of wrist X-rays as an age assessment tool, and it was pointed out to the inquiry that the accuracy of wrist X-rays as an assessment tool with respect to age has been largely discredited, that variations in skeletal maturity based on environmental and ethnic factors led to wide variations in what a wrist X-ray would actually tell somebody about the age of a person, and that there were ethical concerns about non-medical uses of such a technology. For a variety of reasons, the suggestion was I think taken seriously that wrist X-rays could not be properly employed.

Similarly, the legislation picked up, in this case, on a recommendation of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, when it examined an earlier bill, that there should be an express placing of the onus of proof on the prosecution for the proof of age of a person subject to criminal proceedings in relation to immigration matters in particular, and that the prosecution, therefore, bears the burden of establishing that a person was an adult at the time of a relevant offence. That, in fact, was the references committee's recommendation arising out of its inquiry into the detention of Indonesian minors in Australia.

However, the point remains that the reason for these provisions being considered at all is that the government is facing a veritable flood of people arriving in this country on boats who are overwhelming Australia's immigration system's ability to properly process them, and of course the more this is happening the more experience people smugglers are getting of what they are encountering with the process, and the more sophisticated their operations are becoming. They have discovered that if people declare that they are children when in fact they are not then their chances of escaping the consequences of the law are somewhat greater. So we are finding remarkably large numbers of people fronting our immigration system who are making that declaration when, on most assessments, one would to have to be seriously in doubt that these people are actually children—and in fact many of these people are declaring, after being acquitted of offences, or I understand that they are saying, that they are in fact not children at all.

Again, that is a consequence of a government in free fall—a consequence of a government not able to manage its business in an appropriate way—having to rush legislation through here to deal with a crisis which is very much of its own making. We have here a government quite unable to deal with these issues appropriately, and the proper processes of the Senate bear the brunt of that mismanagement. It is a sad day when we have to go through this kind of process. But, once again, we have no choice in this matter because of the conspiracy of the Greens in this exercise.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Crossin ): Order! The time allotted for the remaining stages of the bill has expired. The question is that the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Law Enforcement Integrity, Vulnerable Witness Protection and Other Measures) Bill 2013 be now read a second time.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.