Tuesday, 28 March 2006
Telecommunications (Interception) Amendment Bill 2006
The Australian Democrats will be supporting the amendments moved on behalf of the Australian Labor Party by Senator Ludwig. He is quite right to point out that there was a supplementary report with ‘additional dissenting comments’, which I think was the long-worded title of the Australian Democrats’ report. I wish to emphasise the fact that we did do a report to that committee—that we were involved in that committee process albeit with a truncated time line. Nonetheless, I think it was—as it always is—a worthwhile process to allow people to provide submissions, both in writing and verbally, and to hear from and question the department, which, as always, is keen to present to the committee and I think is usually extremely helpful in answering our questions.
I think there are, though, very good reasons for a review of this legislation and in particular—dealing with the first amendment of the Labor Party—the proposed sunset clause. Predictably, I would argue that a five-year period is insufficient, but it is better than the bill in its current form. Senator Ludwig has, of course, referred to the recommendations of the committee, and the Democrats actually support the recommendations of that majority committee report. We think that they should have gone further, hence the additional recommendations contained in my report. Nonetheless, the committee view in relation to a sunset clause and independent review is a recommendation that we endorse. The actual committee report says:
The Committee considers a sunset clause to be appropriate for the B-party interception warrant provisions; it would serve as a catalyst for a review of the whole telecommunications interception structure, and in the light of advancing technology would offer an opportunity to assess the adequacy or otherwise of this regime.
So, in light of this recommendation that has strong support from those of us who were involved in the committee process, but also support from members of the government because, as Senator Ludwig has quite rightly pointed out, this is a majority recommendation from a majority committee report—the chair’s report—I would hope that the government would consider it. I do not think this is a particularly scary amendment. I think it is an accountable amendment that makes a lot of sense and I would hope that the government would support it and, if not, would outline specifically what the problem is with this particular amendment.
It would be better if we were dealing with a time frame of, say, three years. Anything sooner—when you are dealing with such fundamental, such significant legislation—I think is good. I think we should recognise the Blunn report recommendations in relation to a three-year period in order to, if nothing else, keep up to date with evolving technology—so it is not even from the perspective of guarding rights or protections or understanding how the act is operating or whether there are infringements or issues. From the perspective of the technology and the rapid advancement of that technology, surely there is a very strong argument for regular review and, indeed, update. I think it provides a good opportunity to address whether or not the specifics of the warrant regime are working and are appropriate.
In relation to amendment (19), while that deals specifically with the B-party warrants, I think the arguments apply to both. I think certainly there is a strong case for independent review, as has been proposed. The Australian Democrats strongly support any kind of public accountability provision. Obviously, there is built into this amendment the idea of the tabling of that particular report or review in both houses of parliament, which is a stipulation that we would always make. So, with some proviso, there is certainly support from the Australian Democrats for this amendment—in fact, for both amendments.