Thursday, 30 March 2006
Telecommunications (Interception) Amendment Bill 2006
Consideration of Senate Message
In the other place, the government voted down Labor’s sensible suggested amendments and protections to the Telecommunications (Interception) Amendment Bill 2006, which were going to provide better protection for the B-party interceptions that are proposed under this regime. Labor recognises that the bill taken as a whole is an advance for privacy and for the scrutiny that will apply for these new interceptions. However, we were concerned that the B-party content of this bill was not time critical and not subject to the stored communication sunset clause which has caused this bill to be dealt with in great haste. In those circumstances, it seems to us that it would have been possible for the government to agree to our proposal to delay consideration of schedule 2, but this proposal from Labor has been refused.
Even when the debate on this matter was on in the other place, we were concerned that the government had not to date brought forward its legislation to establish a commission for law enforcement integrity. That legislation has now been introduced into the House after two years of the government promising that it would deliver it. On a number of occasions when we were required and requested to support this sort of legislation, Labor noted that we were concerned that the government was going to both broaden its powers and provide new powers to a number of agencies without this integrity commission being in place. We welcome the introduction of this legislation by the government. It is detailed legislation and we will be looking more closely to ensure that the oversight body does have the powers that it needs, including any relevant powers that it needs for overseeing the new TI regime and making sure that it is safe and effective from an anticorruption point of view.
As I say, the Labor Party has been concerned that the B-party interception provisions were not time critical, were not covered by the oversight of a federal anticorruption commission, were not covered by the reasonable safeguards that were recommended by an all-party Senate committee and were not covered by the safeguard amendments that Labor developed as a result of the committee recommendations and that it put forward in the other place. We are very disappointed that the government has chosen not to accept Labor’s proposals. Labor will, in government, pursue the safeguards that have been recommended by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation committee and that were moved as amendments in the other place.
At least Labor took the time to develop the amendments, which were based on those committee recommendations. We did this in less than 24 hours with the limited resources that are available to the opposition. The Attorney-General failed to even bother to develop amendments of his own to cover these matters, despite having the resources of an entire department at his disposal. I well know this, because, even in speaking on relatively minor legislation in the Main Committee, I have on a number of occasions in recent days counted seven or eight officials. But when it comes to something that is as significant as this, where detailed recommendations are made by a Senate committee, the government says that it does not have time to consider those properly and move amendments that would take account of those unanimous recommendations.
Instead of dealing with those recommendations while the bill is at hand, the government has given some sort of vague commitment that it will look at these in the future. But really, Minister, there is no excuse for having taken this amount of time. You could have looked at those recommendations when they were made on Monday. The way this chamber works to deal with matters expeditiously would have enabled the minister to move appropriate amendments, but he has taken a lazy approach and not bothered to do that. This reflects the contempt of this government, and particularly this minister, for the process in trying to get urgent legislation through. The result comes at a cost and there is a compromise: the government is not getting the best sort of legislation through, because it could improve it. It also shows a serious contempt for the minister’s own backbench members who wrote the recommendations of the Senate committee report and are after all trying to represent the Australian community and put forward the best piece of legislation possible. It is a lazy approach by the minister. He should motivate himself to actually look at the amendments that we moved in the other place and that would have fixed this weak piece of legislation. We urge the government to do so at the earliest opportunity. (Time expired)