Senate debates

Tuesday, 28 March 2006

Telecommunications (Interception) Amendment Bill 2006

In Committee

10:20 pm

Photo of Joe LudwigJoe Ludwig (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

There are a couple of other matters that I also particularly want to get the government’s view on. I am going to start with another complaint—maybe I will get them out of the way earlier rather than later, during the substantive amendments. The government’s attitude is really quite surprising in respect of this process which we are now going to embark upon. Labor have sought to circulate in the chamber, albeit a little late, as best we could, amendments which give effect to many of the important recommendations contained in the committee report to ensure that the bill strikes the right balance between privacy and the requirements of law enforcement agencies—which is a difficult balancing act, may I say. But it is one that still has to be achieved. There is a legitimate role for law enforcement agencies to fight crime with the types of provisions contained in this bill.

There is also, of course, a responsibility on us to ensure that the right balance is struck, because it is important to ensure people’s individual privacy is respected and preserved. It is also important to ensure that the bill does not have any unintended consequences and that its provisions are clear and do not offend any laws unintentionally and people can operate under them in a way they can understand. But what we hear tonight is that the government will move through with the bill, then come back and continue to look at the recommendations to see how they might still be required. So some way down the track we may—or may not—find out whether it has subsequently been decided to pick up any of the recommendations. We may not even know when the government has decided not to pursue them. The legislation—as I think Blunn himself said—will still need review and, as the government has indicated, this is only part of the legislation.

What the government could do to alleviate a lot of the concerns—that even Senator Brown has—is move forward with the part of the legislation that is in fact a positive development from the status quo in relation to stored communications under section 3L of the Crimes Act, which allows agencies to access stored communications using what I refer to as ordinary search warrants. This is needed because it will improve privacy and ensure that there is an appropriate access regime. The amendments that the government have, to fix up some of the unintended consequences and some of the suggestions made by the committee, would produce an outcome that would be far superior to the present position.

We could leave schedule 2 for another time. We could continue with schedules 4, 5 and 6, which effectively are the matters that can be picked up. We know that schedule 3 relates to providing unique identifiers of handsets. That is a positive addition and does protect people’s privacy. The amendment of class 1 and class 2 in schedule 4 is a positive development. It indicates that the issuing authority has to take privacy into consideration, and therefore it is a substantial improvement to the law as it currently stands. Schedules 5 and 6 are helpful. They are procedural more than anything else and we can see the necessity for them.

That would be a way forward other than the way that the minister intends to proceed with tonight, but I do not think I am going to be able to convince the government to adopt it, although it would be a much better course. So I am going to have to deal with the matters as they arise. If the government could indicate whether or not it is keen to undertake that process, that would be helpful, but I will not hold my breath.

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