Bail Amendment Bill 2015; Terrorism (Police Powers) Amendment Bill 2015

22nd October 2015

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) [10.50 a.m.]: I too make a brief contribution to debate on the Bail Amendment Bill 2015 and Terrorism (Police Powers) Amendment Bill 2015, which are introduced in this House as cognate bills. With the Terrorism (Police Powers) Amendment Bill 2015 being an extension of existing and largely non-controversial legislation enacted in 2002, it is understandable that it is the Bail Amendment Bill 2015 that has attracted most attention. Therefore, I will make a few comments on that bill in particular. The bill seeks to introduce a more onerous test for the granting of bail in situations where the accused has been charged with a terrorism offence, has a previous terrorism conviction or is subject to a terrorism control order.

I state from the outset that I understand the Government's position of taking a hard line against anyone suspected of terrorist activity. I believe most in our community would also support that position. First and foremost, we have an obligation to protect our citizens from harm. But we also have an obligation to protect our freedoms and important principles such as the presumption of innocence, which is a fundamental principle and important pillar of our legal system. At times the immediacy of competing needs can mean that one or the other is compromised, at least in some people's eyes. When there is heightened fear—even hysteria—in the community, there is more scope for people to be wrongfully accused and unfairly victimised. We must be mindful of that in offering support for this legislation.

I note that some concerns have been expressed by groups within the legal community—notably the Law Society of New South Wales Criminal Law Committee and the Australian Lawyers Alliance—that the amendment is unnecessary and the current bail provisions deal adequately with the situations that this legislation addresses. There is, I believe, some merit in the cautionary arguments these groups make about reactive amendments chipping away at legislative frameworks—in this case, the Bail Act 2013—that were formulated in consultation with stakeholders. I said as much in opposing the Bail Amendment Bill 2014, and my overall view on that has not been changed. Realistically though, I imagine and certainly hope that the powers we are debating today will be used infrequently.

They are significant powers that can potentially encroach on civil liberties, so there is an inherent need for the Government to monitor the use of this provision to ensure that it is applied appropriately in line with the intent of the legislation, which is of course to protect the community from threat. As such, the legislation should be subject to appropriate review, and I understand that that will be the case. I acknowledge the Attorney General's comments about the extraordinary nature of the terrorism threat that we are now under, with its undefined enemy and its deliberate targeting of vulnerable young people. I agree that tough measures are required. Indeed, it was the indeterminate nature of this threat that originally brought the Terrorism (Police Powers) Act into being following the September 11 attacks in 2001 and the subsequent Bali bombings that so impacted on Australian citizens.

I understand why, in light of recent happenings, the Government is moving purposefully to develop further defences against such a threat. It is because of these extraordinary circumstances that I will support the bills, but that support is qualified on the basis of the cautionary comments I have made about the Bail Amendment Bill 2015. I acknowledge the hard work of the Attorney General and the Government in trying to address such a sensitive and important issue for the people of New South Wales, and indeed for the people of Australia, to keep them safe. We must always be mindful—and I am sure the Government has not just thrown them out—of the need to protect those underlying tenets of our protections in law as individuals.

Website: Read full Parliamentary debate

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