Senate debates

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Laws Bill 2008 [No. 2]

Second Reading

12:41 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | Hansard source

I am fine with that. I just wanted that on the record. As I said, Senator Brandis was quoted in the Age newspaper as saying that Mr Georgiou had moved this bill ‘in his own capacity, not on behalf of the opposition.’ People can have their own views as to what Senator Brandis was intending to infer by that. I indicate that the government is committed to ensuring that counterterrorism laws are effective and accountable. We have concerns as to whether this bill is the best way of achieving this. While the aims of this bill are commendable, there are flaws in its approach. For example, the independent reviewer is given a general and non-specific mandate and is free to determine priorities as he or she thinks fit. In our view, this provides little certainty in terms of the reviewer’s responsibilities or purview. There are a number of questions that remain unanswered with the bill. For example, will the reviewer examine all new legislative proposals relating to terrorism and national security, and will he or she examine laws which have been used in each year?

A number of flaws in the bill were recognised by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which recommended extensive amendments. The government does believe that the issue of how our counterterrorism laws are to be monitored and reviewed needs careful and comprehensive consideration. Importantly, the establishment of an independent reviewer should be addressed in the context of other recommendations made by the reviews of the counterterrorism laws. It should be remembered that there are a number of outstanding reports which need to be considered: firstly, the one I referred to—the Sheller committee report; secondly, the report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security; and, thirdly, the report of the Australian Law Reform Commission. All of these reports contain numerous recommendations on various aspects of the counterterrorism legislation. As I have previously indicated, the action in response to those reports from the previous government was wanting.

As senators would be aware, the Rudd government has established an independent inquiry, to be headed by the Hon. John Clarke QC, into the case of Dr Mohamed Haneef. Mr Clarke’s terms of reference also include consideration of the counterterrorism legislation involved in that case. Mr Clarke is due to report in the near future, and the government will certainly be considering closely any recommendations he makes. The government has given and continues to give detailed consideration to the recommendations of the reviews of the counterterrorism legislation conducted by Sheller, the PJC and the Australian Law Reform Commission. The government does take these issues seriously. It is important that lessons learnt from the implementation of the laws, cases and investigations, as well as issues identified by reviews into the operation of the legislation, are acted upon to ensure Australia has an effective yet accountable counterterrorism regime.

Many of the aspects of the legislation which were identified by reviews as increasing the accountability of the operation of counterterrorism legislation were included in the legislation only due to efforts by Labor. Our approach, including in opposition, has always been to ensure that Australia has strong counterterrorism legislation that protects the values and freedoms that are part of Australia’s way of life. The government recognise that it is only through effective safeguards and review mechanisms that we are able to ensure this continues to be the case. In opposition we argued for the inclusion of important protections and appropriate safeguards within the counterterrorism legislation and moved amendments to improve safeguards such as greater judicial oversight of the operation of the laws, promoted shorter periods of time for sunset clauses and regular reviews of the operation of counterterrorism legislation. Labor also advocated greater oversight of the use of the counterterrorism laws by law enforcement and security agencies.

The Rudd government understand that is not sufficient to maintain a robust set of counterterrorism laws. We are also determined to ensure that our national security agencies work together as effectively as possible in enforcing those laws. As the Attorney-General has indicated, the AFP, ASIO and the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions are implementing practical recommendations made by the review of interoperability between the AFP and its national security partners, conducted by Sir Laurence Street. The recommendation covers four broad areas: operational decision making, joint task force arrangements, information sharing, and training and education. Significant progress has been made on implementation.

A regular forum has been established to provide the heads of ASIO, the AFP and the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions with an opportunity to regularly review strategic priorities and interoperability issues in national security operations. ASIO and the AFP have put in place a counterterrorism protocol to provide for regular and accountable exchange of national security information and ongoing high-level consultation and operations. ASIO, the AFP and the Commonwealth DPP have developed guidelines for counterterrorism prosecution to improve consultation and communication in the investigation and prosecution of terrorist offences. Other key measures include interagency training and secondment arrangements between the AFP and ASIO. The implementation of the Street review recommendations, as well as the report of the Clarke inquiry into Dr Haneef’s case, will ensure that the lessons learnt from counterterrorism investigations are identified and addressed.

In conclusion, Labor has a longstanding and demonstrated commitment to ensuring Australia’s counterterrorism laws contain adequate safeguards and fulsome review mechanisms. The government will continue this commitment by bringing forward a comprehensive response to the proposal for an independent review of counterterrorism laws and other review recommendations in the near future. We will ensure that there is ample opportunity to debate this issue at that time.

Question negatived.

Original question put:

That this bill be now read a second time.

A division having been called and the bells being rung—

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