THE Law Council of Australia has welcomed the release of a Senate report which supports calls for an independent person to review the nation’s anti-terror laws.
The report, released yesterday by the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee into the National Security Legislation Monitor Bill 2009, unequivocally affirms the need for a dedicated role for an independent reviewer of Australia’s national security legislation.
The Committee received evidence from a variety of organisations, which generally welcomed the monitor. The Gilbert + Tobin Centre of Public Law said: "We welcome the National Security Legislation Monitor Bill 2009 as an initiative to establish ongoing, holistic and independent review of Australia's anti-terrorism laws."
Some highlighted the increase in the amount of legislation concerning terrorism and national security as a key reason for supporting the monitor. The International Commission of Jurists (Australia), said: "The role of the monitor is particularly important in light of the fact that over the past nine years there has been a proliferation of legislative activity concerning terrorism and national security."
Law Council president, John Corcoran, today welcomed the Senate report, which was released last night: “Since 2002, we have been calling for the Government to establish such a role.”
The Senate Committee report recommends several important amendments to the Bill, which aim to strengthen the independence of the role and improve transparency.
“The Law Council is particularly pleased to see recommendations that the monitor should be able to initiate their own inquiries rather than being reliant or referrals from the Prime Minister only, and that the monitor should report to Parliament, not just the Prime Minister,” Corcoran said.
The Senate report shows that the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law had argued that the departments and agencies examined as part of the monitor's work may often be part of the executive government.
As a result, it said: "Unless that statutory independence is established and made unambiguous, there would be an inevitable tension, both a legal tension and a practical operational tension, if the monitor were called upon to undertake a review of the activities of those departments or agencies. So we think there could be improvements in the wording of the bill to make that independence clear."
The reports notes that the Government has sought to clarify the independent status of the monitor on several occasions.
When the Monitor was first announced in December 2008, the Attorney-General, the Hon Robert McClelland said: "The Government will establish a National Security Legislation Monitor to review the practical operation of counter-terrorism legislation on an annual basis. The Monitor will be an independent statutory office within the Prime Minister’s portfolio and will report to Parliament."
Corcoran also welcomed the recommendation by the Committee that the Government actively and regularly assess the adequacy of the resources and staff allocated to the monitor.
“Unless the monitor has sufficient resources, they will not be able to perform the role properly.”
He said the Law Council hoped that the Government will accept the Senate Committee’s recommendations, move to amend the Bill as suggested and ensure its swift passage through Parliament.
“The Australian community has waited long enough for a mechanism for ongoing, comprehensive and independent review of our national security laws. It is now time for the Government to act,” Corcoran said.