Senate debates

Wednesday, 8 August 2007


Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee; Reference

6:45 pm

Photo of Kerry NettleKerry Nettle (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That the following matter be referred to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee for inquiry and report by 15 October 2007:All aspects of the detention and release of Dr Mohamed Haneef, including:(a) the source and veracity of information upon which decisions were made;(b) the actions of the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship (Mr Andrews), including his overriding of the Brisbane Magistrate’s Court decision to grant bail to Dr Haneef;(c) the role of other ministers, including the Attorney-General (Mr Ruddock) and the Prime Minister (Mr Howard);(d) the investigation by the Australian Federal Police and other agencies;(e) the decisions taken by the Director of Public Prosecutions;(f) the international impact on Australia of the Government’s handling of the case; and(g) any future decisions to be made in relation to Dr Haneef.

This is a Greens motion to set up an inquiry into the detention and subsequent release of Dr Mohamed Haneef. Over the last few weeks we have all been watching the case of Dr Haneef unfold. Many of us will remember the way in which this started with the horrendous events that occurred at Glasgow airport and in London. At the time everyone was focused on what had happened in London and, following on from that, we heard that part of the investigations included somebody in another country. That turned out to be Dr Haneef, the Gold Coast doctor. As people who were following this story in the media saw, there was a big splash in the way in which it started. I remember that in my home town of Sydney, the front page of the Daily Telegraph had a photograph of an Indian doctor who works at Gold Coast Hospital. It was not Dr Haneef but, I think, a Dr Asha, who had also been questioned. The headline over the photograph of this doctor said, ‘Evil’. That is how the case of Dr Haneef, which we have all been watching, really began—a big splash in the media following the events that occurred in London and Glasgow.

Many people have also been following with concern the comments made by various government ministers and officials throughout this entire process. I want to touch on a couple of those comments. Those comments fitted into the pattern of what we have seen from this government. The government has sought to use particular cases relating to terrorism for its own political advantage and has sought to use those cases to instil a sense of fear and uncertainty in the community. Many of us, particularly people who live or work in Western Sydney, have seen the impact that that government’s response has had in migrant communities and in particular in Muslim communities.

The comments that were made by government ministers and other officials focused very much on issues relating to terrorism. I did not hear—maybe someone could point them out to me—any comment by a government minister or official about the importance of civil liberties. I would be grateful if someone could point that out to me because I do not recall, in all of the commentary that has been made by government ministers and officials in the course of the Dr Haneef case, any comments about the importance of our civil liberties or the rule of law and the way in which it operates. But I do recall the comments that have been made about terrorism and the links to terrorism that this case brought forward.

At the outset of this case we saw the first occasion where the new powers that have been given to the Federal Police to hold people without charge were used. Dr Haneef was arrested at Brisbane airport on 12 July and 12 days later he was charged. In 2004, when the parliament debated the matter of allowing the Federal Police to hold people without charge, there was quite considerable debate. It was a matter of whether or not such extraordinary powers, such a reversal of the way in which our criminal justice system has operated in the past, were to occur. There was concern from members of parliament—from myself and others—and from members of the legal profession about how they would be used. We had a Senate inquiry into the matter and there was an opportunity in the chamber to ask questions. In that process there were suggestions that the law, as it is written, allows for somebody to be detained indefinitely without being charged. The law requires the court to approve each extension of time but there is no limit on how long somebody can be held before they are charged. Part of the public debate that occurred at the time was about what would be reasonable. What would a court consider to be a reasonable period of time to grant extensions under which people could be held?

In response to those questions, the then Assistant Secretary of the Criminal Law Branch of the Attorney-General’s Department, Mr Geoff McDonald, indicated to the Senate inquiry looking into this matter that the sort of timeframe that he thought a court would consider to be reasonable would be in the order of 16 hours. There was a case in the Victorian courts where the court had determined that that was a reasonable period of time to hold somebody. Professor George Williams was one of the people commenting on this issue and he said that somebody could be held for up to 24 hours. Mr McDonald said that it would be an extraordinary circumstance in which somebody might be held for 24 hours. But what happened in the first instance of this legislation being used?

Debate interrupted.


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