Thursday, 30 March 2006
Telecommunications (Interception) Amendment Bill 2006
I wish to briefly put on record on behalf of all the Democrats, given the comments that the minister has just made in relation to ensuring that there are checks and balances and in particular an external authority dealing with issues of corruption and safeguards, that it has long been a strong policy position of the Australian Democrats to support some kind of independent arbiter, if you like, in the form of a public interest monitor. I want to put this back into the debate for today as something that we hope the government will consider when dealing with reviews and assessments of this legislation and particularly the issuing of warrants generally.
We are all aware of the establishment of a public interest monitor in Queensland. I think that occurred in 2000. Over the years, the Democrats have put forward amendments to security legislation, the terrorism act, the suppression of the financing of terrorism, border security legislation and telecommunications interception legislation. We have repeatedly brought up the issue and sought to amend legislation to reflect public interest through the establishment of a public interest monitor that would in some way test the validity of applications and ensure that some third party provides an independent assessment for the Australian people. We believe that public interest is a huge factor in all legislation that we debate, but there are public interest elements in the bill before us today, particularly because of its impact on privacy.
We are strong supporters of a public interest monitor and we hope that the Attorney-General and, indeed, the Minister for Justice and Customs will consider the establishment of such a mechanism. It provides accountability mechanisms for Commonwealth law enforcement bodies. We believe that this would be a worthwhile investment that is effective and practical. The experience in Queensland suggests that this is the case. We believe that, given the design of our legal system, it reflects the view that justice is best served by having proceedings in which all interested parties are represented before an independent arbiter. It has been of concern to us for a long time that there is not that sort of external body.
People will reflect on the committee proceedings on this bill specifically. Submissions put forward the notion of a public interest monitor. Indeed, if I remember correctly, the submission from Electronic Frontiers Australia, when dealing with notification in relation to warrants, dealt with a couple of options, including one suggesting that kind of public interest monitor and/or ensuring notification in relation to warrants. I will not reflect on a vote of the Senate because I have already tried to ensure that people are notified of warrants being issued against them, particularly when the information that is obtained is not material to the investigation or it will not prejudice the investigation. I have dealt with that issue of notification, so I will not talk on that any longer. I want to get on record the strong support of the Australian Democrats over the years for, in the context of this debate, a position that may not be the same as but would be comparable to a public interest monitor. In relation to equipment based warrants, the Senate is aware of the views of the Democrats. I commend amendment (30) to the Senate.
That schedule 3 stand as printed.