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Wednesday, 8 December 2004
Page: 121

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) (6:01 PM) —Earlier today the House of Representatives passed the National Security Information (Criminal Proceedings) Bill 2004 subject to eight amendments, and Senator Greig has just canvassed those. These amendments further the policy objectives of the bill agreed to by the Senate last week without undermining its effectiveness. These amend-ments achieve two main goals. Firstly, they reinforce that there is only one criterion that should be considered by a court in deciding whether to give uncleared legal representatives access to security sensitive information—that is, whether such access would be likely to prejudice national security. Whether a lawyer has previous convictions or adverse findings in disciplinary proceedings of itself offers little insight into whether the lawyer is of security concern, although it may be something to which the court has regard in assessing the likely prejudice. Only an appropriate security clearance process can give us that assurance. Secondly, they ensure that a security cleared legal representative of the defendant can access the closed hearing transcript in a prescribed place and manner.

The amendments facilitate the work of the defendant's legal representative in a secure environment, ensuring both fairness to the defendant and the protection of sensitive information. In this way the bill strikes an appropriate balance between the competing public interests of open justice and national security. In the spirit of working collaboratively to combat the growing threat of terrorism, the House of Representatives decided to reach this compromise to facilitate the passage of this bill. A number of the amendments I have referred to are consequential on amendments which the opposition moved in the Senate and which were passed. I think an example of this was the substantial adverse effect, which Senator Greig pointed to in his speech and for which Senator Ludwig outlined the situation. I will not prolong matters unduly. Suffice to say these amendments are in line with the policy objectives of the bill. They are worth while. I commend the motion to the committee that it agrees to the amendments made by the House of Representatives.

Question agreed to.

Resolution reported; report adopted.