Second Reading SpeechMr Williams (Attorney-General)
That this bill be now read a second time.
The ability to be able to intercept telecommunications is an important tool for law enforcement agencies investigating crimes.
The Telecommunications Interception Legislation Amendment Bill 2002 effects amendments to both the Telecommunications (Interception) Act 1979 and the Customs Act 1901.
Importantly, the bill addresses the need for the use of interception by law enforcement agencies investigating terrorism, serious arson and child pornography offences.
I turn first to the amendments to the interception act.
First, the amendments clarify the application of the act to modern means of telecommunication, such as email services, SMS messaging and voicemail services.
The use of new technologies by targets of law enforcement and national security agencies has posed increasing operational difficulties for those agencies in the performance of their functions.
The events of 11 September 2001 and subsequent investigations highlighted these operational difficulties.
The amendments make clear that a communication will fall outside the definition of interception where it is stored on equipment and can be accessed using that equipment but without reference to the telecommunications network.
In these circumstances agencies will be able to access telecommunications pursuant to other appropriate means of lawful access, such as a search warrant authorising the operation of the equipment.
These amendments reflect a much needed clarification and will assist agencies in the performance of their functions.
Second, the bill contributes to the government's efforts to ensure we are well placed to respond to the new security environment in terms of our operational capabilities, infrastructure and legislative framework.
The bill includes conduct involving terrorist acts as offences in relation to which a telecommunications interception warrant may be sought.
These provisions, and other measures taken by the government, are designed to bolster our armoury in the war against terrorism and deliver on our commitment to enhance our ability to meet the challenges of the new terrorist environment.
The inclusion of terrorist offences as warrantable offences in their own right properly acknowledges the seriousness of all terrorist offences and will assist law enforcement agencies to avail themselves of this investigative tool in their investigations into such activity.
The bill also strengthens the act by ensuring the availability of telecommunications interception as an investigative tool in connection with the investigation of serious arson and child pornography related offences.
Telecommunications services such as Internet and email are increasingly employed in child pornography related offences.
Telecommunications interception will be an extremely valuable tool in the investigation of child pornography offences.
Similarly, telecommunications interception will be a valuable tool in the more effective investigation of serious arson offences.
To date, telecommunications interception has not been available in the investigation of such offences.
Consistent with the existing serious offence threshold provided in the act, a warrant authorising telecommunications interception can only be sought in relation to the arson and child pornography related offences where the relevant offence is punishable by seven years or more imprisonment.
The bill also amends the act to ensure that lawfully intercepted information can be used by and communicated to commissioners of the respective police services in connection with the possible dismissal of an officer of that service.
The amendments will therefore assist commissioners to more effectively manage their respective services by ensuring that they are able to receive and act upon any lawfully intercepted information that may give rise to a decision to dismiss an officer.
In particular, the amendments will ensure that commissioners are able to appropriately deal with corrupt conduct where evidence of that conduct is found in lawfully intercepted information.
The bill also amends the act to include the recently established Western Australian Royal Commission into Police Corruption as an eligible authority for the purposes of the act.
This will enable intercepting agencies to communicate relevant intercepted information to the royal commission, much as they were able to do in relation to the Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Service. The amendments will not, however, permit the commission to apply for warrants in its own right.
The bill also amends the act to permit intercepted information to be used in connection with the investigation of serious improper conduct by the Anti-Corruption Commission of Western Australia.
The amendment will permit the Anti-Corruption Commission to more effectively discharge its function of investigating allegations of corrupt conduct, criminal conduct, criminal involvement or serious improper conduct by police officers and other public officers.
The bill also effects a number of amendments to reflect the recent merger of the Queensland Crime Commission and Criminal Justice Commission to form the Crime and Misconduct Commission, clarify selected aspects of the act, and ensure the ongoing effective operation of the Australian telecommunications interception regime.
In addition to the amendments with respect to telecommunications interception, the bill also amends the Customs Act 1901.
The bill amends that act to permit a judge of a court created by parliament to consent to be nominated to issue listening device warrants under the act.
This amendment will have the effect of extending the class of persons who may consent to be nominated to include federal magistrates.
In this respect the amendments will bring the act into line with analogous provisions in the Australian Federal Police Act 1979.
This bill effects important amendments to the offences for which interception warrants may be sought.
These amendments are designed to assist the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate serious and heinous crimes such as terrorism, child pornography and serious arson offences.
The bill clarifies the application of the legislation to modern means of communication.
The bill also effects amendments to the agencies who may receive intercepted information and in what contexts, the purposes for which intercepted information may be used and other amendments designed to improve the operation of the legislation.
This bill was originally introduced prior to the last election.
Since that time, it has been amended to include offences constituted by conduct involving acts of terrorism as offences in relation to which a telecommunications interception warrant may be sought.
These changes are part of the package of counter-terrorism measures designed to bolster our armoury in the war against terrorism.
These measures demonstrate the Howard government's commitment to ensure we are in the best possible position to protect Australians against the evils of terrorism.
I commend the bill to the House, and I present the explanatory memorandum to the bill.
Debate (on motion by Mr Melham) adjourned.