Thursday, 30 March 2006
Telecommunications (Interception) Amendment Bill 2006
I will only speak for a couple of minutes in respect of this. The position we have now got to is that the government has voted down sensible amendments which came out of the committee process. It voted against its own backbench, voted against sensible amendments and voted against the committee’s process that provided for sensible amendments to be dealt with—in particular, sensible measures that would provide protection for B-party interception. It is recognised that the majority of this bill—schedules 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6—has merit and will provide an improved regime compared to the point where we have come from. There is no argument about that.
There is argument about the detail. We do not think you have got that detail or that balance right, and we moved amendments to give effect to that. But, in terms of the overall improvement to privacy, this bill achieves that—except for B-party intercepts. We made that point during the committee stage, during the second reading debate and in the Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee. The government’s own backbenchers made the point that this bill does not strike the right balance.
Labor recognises that the bill, taken as a whole, advances privacy. The B-party content of this bill, though, is not time critical and is not subject to the stored communications sunset clause which has caused this bill to be dealt with in great haste—the government cannot hide behind that. Further, the Howard government introduced only yesterday legislation which establishes the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity as promised some time ago—in fact, it was promised in the last federal budget. We understand that it was introduced yesterday and that the Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee will have an opportunity to look at it.
The majority of this bill, with the exception of B-party warrants, is reasonable. It is unfortunate that this government has not picked up the amendments that Labor has proposed, safeguards which would have struck the right balance. It really comes down to a lazy Attorney-General, who has not had the opportunity to look at the recommendations, to bring forward amendments and to argue for them in here. That is why this extended process has occurred: because of a lazy Attorney-General. There is no other way of putting it.
The government could have picked up our recommendations during this debate. They have not. Therefore, they have not struck the right balance. Privacy is not sufficiently protected so far as B-party intercept warrants are concerned. But the whole of the bill should not fail as a consequence of this government’s lazy attitude to dealing with legislation.