Senate debates

Thursday, 30 March 2006

Telecommunications (Interception) Amendment Bill 2006

In Committee

11:29 am

Photo of Chris EllisonChris Ellison (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Justice and Customs) Share this | Hansard source

For instance: ‘How many of the arrests made during the year are made on the basis of information obtained in accordance with a stored communications warrant?’ This is what I understand your amendment (17) relates to. There are a number of other items there about the number of arrests that were made on the basis of information. That involves some detail which has not been previously divulged. Also, when you look at the totality of it you see that it can give a picture to organised criminals of what law enforcement is relying on. We are very careful when we talk about what we do rely on. To give you an example, AUSTRAC was an agency which, up until a couple of years ago, was virtually unknown. Unfortunately in some respects, it is now a very well-known agency and people are a lot more careful about their financial transactions—and I refer to criminals in particular.

I guess we are saying here that there is a general education of people with mal-intent regarding what is available to law enforcement. They study the trends very closely, just as we find that people have sat in the back of courts listening to the evidence adduced. It is well known that that is something the IRA used to do in hearings. They would listen to the proceedings to find out how the police went about their methods of investigation. It is something which we are seeing with organised criminals today. People sit in the hearing and listen very closely to the trial. You cannot stop that, but I am telling you that it is an issue. We have picked up changes in the modus operandi of people who have seen a certain method employed by law enforcement—that is, it has been used as a means of arresting someone and then prosecuting them. The next thing you find is that criminals have changed their methods.

In relation to whether or not the information could be provided on an in camera basis, we have a parliamentary joint committee which oversees the Australian Crime Commission. I recall that it has dealt with evidence on an in camera basis. Rather than have this displayed for consumption at large, I think it is best to stay with the level of detail that we have in the reports that we give to the parliament. Of course, extensive questioning follows on from that. As I mentioned, we have the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission and we have the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee, which has the purview of estimates and legislation. The AFP, Customs and the ACC are no strangers to these committees. But I think that to institutionalise that level of detail could well result in a revelation of methods which could then be interpreted by organised crime. While it is important for us to have details available to the parliament, there are avenues of inquiry that can be employed without revealing the methods currently being used by law enforcement.

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