Thursday, 30 March 2006
Telecommunications (Interception) Amendment Bill 2006
I do not necessarily believe that this is telling people something they do not already know—that is, informing them about a warrants regime that exists. Even if it is, I think it is the right of members of parliament and the Australian people to know. With these amendments—just in case people are wondering whether I am requesting that we describe in infinitesimal detail what is going on—I am suggesting that we have the right to know how many of the proceedings described above resulted in a conviction. We are talking about working out whether or not the warrants regime is successful or is increasing the number of arrests that are made as a consequence of it. Amendment (17) reads, in part:
(d) how many of the arrests made during that year were made on the basis of information obtained in accordance with a stored communications warrant issued in relation to a serious offence; and
(e) how many of the arrests made during that year were made on the basis of information obtained in accordance with a stored communications warrant issued in relation to an offence, not being a serious offence, which is punishable by imprisonment; and
(f) how many of the arrests made during that year were made on the basis of information obtained in accordance with a stored communications warrant issued in relation to a civil contravention.
I think information about those distinct categories is important. I do not think it is going to be the criminal how-to guide 101. I think it is just giving some numeric detail as to the number of arrests that are made in accordance with warrants for those various categories—a serious offence, not being a serious offence punishable by imprisonment, and a civil contravention. To me, they are basic distinctions of which the parliament should be aware. The number of convictions that occur as a consequence of the warrants regime is important. We deserve some greater detail so that we can assess the effectiveness or otherwise of this regime.
These amendments are not intended to have an impact on operational matters—far from it. They are transparency and accountability measures that enable members of parliament and the public to know if this is working and working well. They are not about giving away secrets. I think it is very basic information. I do not see this as a particularly fretful measure that gives information to people or teaches them something or involves methods that people will learn from. I am assuming that most people will know that there is the opportunity for their conversations and/or stored communications in other forms to be accessed. This is about not only how many times it is happening but also what arrests took place as a consequence of this warrants regime and under what categories. I do not think that really teaches anyone anything particularly bad. In fact, if anything, I think it lifts the lid a little so that we can actually find out what is going on in the operation of this warrants regime. I think parliament needs more information. We are dealing with quite extraordinary law and powers here, and parliament needs this information.