Committees: Selection of Bills Committee - Report
Senator Patrick: I just want to make sure the chamber understands what we're doing in relation to the Selection of Bills Committee this morning, and that is that we are allowing for a bill which has entered the parliament only this week and entered the Senate only in the last few hours. It is a bill that allows for coercive powers to be used on people—on Australian citizens. At the moment the police services can instigate a special investigation where these coercive powers may be necessary. However, what one of the bills before the chamber is allowing to happen is for those coercive powers to be introduced 'when it's in the public interest', which is such a subjective test that it pretty much means we're going to give carte blanche coercive powers to our police forces. These coercive powers allow for phones to be tapped without warrants. They allow for people to be questioned and it does not give them a right to not incriminate themselves. So they are coercive, and they extend not just to the suspect; they can also affect journalists. A journalist can be called before the commission and compelled to give answers if they happen to know information. I understood the Labor Party was not going to allow this sort of legislation to pass through the Senate.
This piece of legislation also allows for retrospectivity, and there are constitutional questions that need to be raised in respect of this. It's never a good idea to have retrospectivity in relation to legislation, particularly around criminal trials. In actual fact, the reason the government wants this legislation rushed through is that we had our police services conducting operations that were not lawful. What it's really doing is trying to retrospectively fix that up. That's a really bad precedent. Parliaments are supposed to deal with general laws that cover general circumstances, and courts are supposed to deal with specific cases and specific circumstances. We are going to be asked later today to vote on a piece of legislation that is targeted at one particular case that is before the High Court at this present moment, and that is not what we are supposed to do.
Once again, there are other issues associated with the retrospective nature of this legislation, and we should be referring it to a committee. If this report gets adopted, the referrals, as they are, will be a tragedy in terms of the way in which this parliament has conducted this legislation. We are introducing a bill today, we are not allowing it to go to committee and it will be voted on this afternoon, and that is very, very disappointing.