Senate debates

Thursday, 30 March 2006

Telecommunications (Interception) Amendment Bill 2006

In Committee

9:31 am

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

It might be worth a short recap of where we have got to in relation to the Telecommunications (Interception) Amendment Bill 2006. This process has stretched over a couple of days because the program, unfortunately, has unravelled through the week. We are progressing through the amendments to the Telecommunications (Interception) Amendment Bill 2006 and are now dealing with a range of government amendments to what is ordinarily referred to as the TI bill.

One of the problems with the government amendments is that the Attorney-General in truth has been lazy in looking at the committee recommendations. The committee provided its report on Monday and that committee report put forward a range of recommendations. The Attorney-General came back with a number of amendments, a few of them addressing the committee’s recommendations. Some of the government’s amendments do not even address the committee’s recommendations but are other amendments and additions. The work of the committee in providing those recommendations did not in truth get substantive attention from the Attorney-General and, as a consequence, the privacy protections that could have been afforded during this debate and agreed to by the government have not been picked up. That is a disappointment for the opposition, but it is a greater disappointment to people in the community who expect this government to ensure that the legislation does have adequate safeguards attached and, given the type of bill this is, that those safeguards do strike the right balance between the privacy concerns of persons while enabling law enforcement agencies to get on and do their work.

As for the amendments that are being addressed, Labor have indicated that we will support them. They deal in part with the Spam Act, and that is probably a good example which came to light during the committee work. It does underscore the committee work. A submitter came along from another government agency and said, ‘By the way, if you proceed with this legislation, it may impact upon our ability to stop spam.’ It becomes a bit by pythonesque—and some old enough to recall know what I mean. You could then be in the difficult position where the Spam Act might be prevented from stopping spam, which is a completely unacceptable position.

So Labor has indicated that it will support these amendments. It is another demonstration of how sloppy the work of government has been in providing this bill to the parliament. It is not because of the Parliamentary Counsel—they obviously do their work. The real work has to be done by the Attorney-General’s Department in consultation with their agencies and their own departments, listening to submitters and then reviewing the submitters’ work, and finalising all that and bringing forward a bill after consideration by the Attorney-General. This would then take up a lot of the concerns. It is fortunate that in this instance at least the Attorney-General has picked up a submitter’s point that there would be a problem if this was not addressed in the legislation.

It does beg the question whether this legislation might have other unintended consequences, but time will tell. The answer that the Attorney-General has provided in respect of that is that they will continue to review it. That is not really good enough. We are here now debating a bill that will pass today, I suspect. The government do have the numbers and they will ensure that it passes today. It is not good enough to have such a truncated process. But as Labor have indicated during the last couple of days, we are doing our best to ensure that there are sufficient privacy protections and that the government continues to have the opportunity to pick up those privacy protections and put them in the bill.

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