Thursday, 30 March 2006
Telecommunications (Interception) Amendment Bill 2006
Firstly, I will advise the committee that I have some answers to Senator Milne’s questions. It is pertinent that I raise these now, at the point of the Greens’ proposal being discussed in the committee. Senator Milne asked whether it was white-collar crime that attracted a penalty of seven years or more. It clearly is, and there are a number of offences. Senator Milne asked also whether ASIC or the Australian Taxation Office could use B-party warrants to investigate white-collar crime. I point out that the interception powers, including B-party warrants, are strictly limited to police, anticorruption and national security agencies. As such, that does not apply to ASIC or the Australian Taxation Office. That is quite clear. White-collar crimes that are subject to the interception regime would be such things as major fraud and tax evasion. They are limited to the agencies of police, anticorruption and national security that I have mentioned. I think the issues that Senator Milne raised are not really of the concern that was indicated.
Senator Milne also asked: does this apply to members of parliament? Clearly, it does. All interception warrants apply to members of parliament. I make no apology for that. They should. The law and the investigative tools at the disposal of our law enforcement agencies across Australia should be able to be used in the investigation of all Australians. We made this very clear yesterday. We do not believe that politicians should be exempt. What I do say is that the courts can determine whether any evidence garnered from those interception warrants and which is the subject of court proceedings is admissible or not. In particular, I point to section 16 of the Parliamentary Privileges Act, which has specific relevance to parliamentary privilege. I point to O’Chee’s case, which went on appeal and which I think is one of the seminal cases on parliamentary privilege and the admissibility or otherwise of evidence in proceedings before a court. But that is for the court to determine.
When you are investigating an offence, all Australians are equal before the law and all Australians should be subject to the same powers of investigation without exception. We totally reject the idea that politicians should be in any way exempt from this regime. I think that covers the questions that I was asked by Senator Milne. In relation to this proposal, we believe that the B-party warrant regime is a very important part of the bill and we would oppose any moves to delete it.