House of Representatives

Law and Justice Legislation Amendment (Video Link Evidence and Other Measures) Bill 2005

Second Reading Speech

Mr Ruddock (Attorney-General)

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill demonstrates the government's ongoing commitment to combating terrorism.

We have worked hard to ensure that there is a strong legislative framework in place, with tough laws that target terrorist activity.

We are also making sure that our terrorism laws are enforceable.

It is becoming clear that, to successfully prosecute a terrorist, it will often be necessary to rely on evidence from witnesses who are living overseas. In some cases a witness may be unable to travel to Australia to give evidence. For example, the witness may be incarcerated overseas.

This bill will ensure that, in terrorism cases, so long as the defendant's right to a fair trial is not infringed, important evidence from overseas witnesses can be put before the court using video link technology.

The new video link provisions will apply to the prosecution of terrorism and related offences, and to proceeds of crime proceedings relating to a terrorism offence.

The provisions will require a court to allow a prosecution witness to give evidence by video link unless to do so would have a substantial adverse effect on the right the defendant to receive a fair hearing.

They will also allow a defence witness to give evidence by video link unless to do so would be inconsistent with the interests of justice.

The new video link evidence provisions strike a balance between facilitating the admission of video link evidence while ensuring that fundamental safeguards are maintained.

The court will be able to require that an independent observer is present at the point where the witness is giving the evidence by video link. This person will be able to report to the court on the physical circumstances under which the evidence is given. This is a safeguard that will ensure that the court is aware of everything that is occurring at the point where the witness is giving the evidence.

Another important feature of the new video link rules is that, if a court refuses to allow a witness to give evidence by video link, that decision will be capable of being appealed.

The bill will also make corresponding changes to the Foreign Evidence Act 1994 to facilitate the use of foreign material, such as video tapes and transcripts of examinations, as evidence in terrorism cases. This will be important in cases where it is not possible to use video link technology, perhaps because of the laws of another country.

These changes do not affect the rules of evidence, and the normal protections which apply under those rules will continue to apply to terrorism proceedings.

Although the major focus of the bill is on video link evidence, it also includes a number of other important legislative amendments.

The bill will amend section 4AAA of the Crimes Act 1914 to deal with a constitutional issue regarding the conferral of non-judicial powers and functions on judges of the Federal Court of Australia and federal magistrates.

The bill will also amend the Crimes Act 1914 to facilitate the sharing of DNA profiles between Australian law enforcement agencies over a national DNA database system.

The bill will also expand the definition of 'tape recording' in the Crimes Act 1914 to enable new technologies, such as digital audio recording technology, to be used by federal law enforcement agencies to record interviews.

The bill will also amend the Surveillance Devices Act 2004 so that, when a surveillance device has been installed under an authorisation, a warrant can be obtained to allow that surveillance device to be retrieved.

The bill also amends the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to ensure that third parties, such as the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, which carry out examinations for the Commonwealth can be paid out of the confiscated assets account. It will also address a technical problem which has cast doubt over the validity of a number of examinations that were conducted under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 after changes were made to the regulations authorising members of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to conduct examinations.

I commend the bill to the House and present the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr Bevis) adjourned.