Wednesday, 17 June 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Attorney-General. Will the Attorney inform the House what Commonwealth laws exist in relation to surveillance devices? Are there any recent events that raise questions about these laws in relation to members of parliament? Is the Attorney aware of any alternative approaches?
I thank the member for her question, and it is a very good question. At a federal level, there are very strict rules about the use and authorised use of surveillance devices which, essentially, restrict that use to law enforcement agencies. As the member is aware, recently we also passed very important laws to counter the influence of or interference with members of parliament. Frankly, I think that everyone in this parliament would agree that the idea that a 'non-law-enforcement device', if you like, appeared to have been installed in the office of any member of this parliament is a serious concern. I think it's a matter also of some obviousness that the level of concern we might have, and whether that matter might require further inquiry, would turn very substantially on whether the member in question had themselves authorised or otherwise had knowledge of the installation of that device. That seems to be a very obvious and first question.
In fact, so obvious is that question that that obvious proposition was put to the opposition leader this morning by Neil Mitchell who said: 'He's a member of your backbench. He's right in the middle of this, and you haven't even spoken to him?' The answer was, 'Well, I haven't, because it's very clear that I wasn't aware of the member's office's involvement until much later on.'
On a point of order, I didn't rise to object to the question because the question was framed in the general. The Attorney-General now is going to specific matters that are under investigation. And, of all the portfolios in this House—
Honourable members interjecting—
Now that the Attorney-General has gone to the specific, he's referring to a situation which is under investigation by authorities. And, of all the portfolios, the Attorney-General is the one that ought not be doing that. There are serious rules and references in Practice to us avoiding reference where it could affect an investigation.
Mr Porter interjecting—
He is objecting. I know that there's a broad principle in favour of debate occurring, but the argument that the Attorney-General is going to is to actually argue that members should be interfering and taking a role with respect to the investigation.
I'm listening very carefully to the Attorney. The Manager of Opposition Business makes a reasonable point, which is why I'm listening very carefully. The Practice makes clear that debate shouldn't be curtailed, and there are a number of principles where that arises. When it comes to sub judice, there really is a staged approach, and I've been through this a number of times. Essentially, matters become serious if charges are laid or a jury has been appointed, and the Practice makes that very clear. So, whilst I'm listening very carefully to the Attorney-General, I think, for me to pull him up on what he said, would set new precedent or to try and pull him up because of what he might say would set new precedent, so I'm just going to allow him to continue.
It is further to the point of order of the Manager of Opposition Business, and it goes to the comments of the Attorney-General including the correct quote from me. The question that I was asked this morning went to whether I had made inquiries. The comment that he used indicated that—and if he looks further at the transcript he will see that I made the point—on Sunday night before the Premier of Victoria had initiated the police and IBAC inquiry, I was not aware that it was a member of parliament's office. I had no idea where that office was—
I'm giving the Leader of the Opposition a lot of latitude, but this is really an indulgence rather than a point of order. What I really need to do is hear from the Attorney-General and, if members feel they've been misrepresented, there's an opportunity for them to deal with that at the end. I've given latitude, given the nature of the question and the answer, but I really do need to hear from the Attorney.
That's precisely the point, because the Leader of the Opposition said, 'I didn't recognise the office.' So the Leader of the Opposition must be the only keen political observer in Australia who missed both the map of the federal division of Holt and missed the back of the election poster with the member's name on it in the relevant footage. And everyone in his office must have missed those. That does sound quite remarkable, don't you think, members?
The next question that was asked of the opposition leader was: if he hadn't satisfied himself that the recording was authorised or otherwise known to the member, given the member's very sensitive position on the intelligence committee and given that he had had his office bugged, would the opposition leader call in the Federal Police? And the opposition leader said, 'Well, they make their own decisions.' That has always been the government's view, but that is a remarkable turnaround in policy of the members opposite, because, of course, the Leader of the Opposition had at his disposal the greatest serial referrer to the AFP of these types of matters in the history of modern politics, the shadow Attorney-General, the member for Isaacs. This is the only one he doesn't seem to want to refer, which is quite strange. As to the prolific nature of his referring, the journalist Annika Smethurst, no less, wrote in her book:
… despite screaming for leniency when my house was raided. Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus wrote to then-Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull encouraging him to call in the police.
A simple question and answer, as a leader of your party, with your backbencher could clear this up. (Time expired)