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Extradition and Mutual Assistance Bill Speech

Speeches in Parliament
Penny Wright 28 Feb 2012

Senator WRIGHT (South Australia):

I rise to speak on the Extradition and Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Amendment Bill 2011. The bill proposes a number of significant reforms to streamline and modernise Australia's laws on extradition and mutual assistance. It is the first major reform to these laws in over 20 years. There is no doubt that in this time the landscape within which international crime occurs has changed considerably. Over the last 20 years we have seen massive advances in technology, communications and travel, and criminal networks have adapted accordingly.

Our law enforcement agencies must be adequately equipped to effectively combat crime in this new era. Certainly the Australian Greens do not dispute that law reform in this area is warranted. However, I wish to place on the record some considerable concerns that I, as legal affairs spokesperson for the Australian Greens, have about certain aspects of the bill and to explain why we feel it is necessary to move the five groups of amendments that we will be moving when the debate resumes. Despite the imperative to act effectively and decisively against international crime, Australia must also ensure that our justice system at all times respects and safeguards the democratic freedoms and human rights of those it affects.

There are significant social and economic costs of crime, but we must be vigilant that in responding we do not unduly encroach on hard won and painstakingly developed fundamental legal principles or erode well-recognised universal human rights, which are the hallmark of fair and civilised societies. As everyone here would agree, we need to strike the right balance. The issue exercising my mind has been whether indeed the right balance has been struck in this bill. It is the hard but essential work of this parliament to confront difficult issues such as how best to combat international crime without eroding the principles of the rule of law in Australia. In the laws that it makes, this parliament must fully discharge our international human rights obligations both at home and abroad. In so doing we help to protect our own citizens against arbitrary and unfair action and extend that approach to citizens in the rest of the world.

I recognise that this bill seeks to streamline and modernise Australia's laws on extradition and mutual assistance while maintaining appropriate human rights safeguards. I recognise that in a number of cases the bill introduces important new safeguards to the existing extradition and mutual assistance regimes. But on close consideration the Australian Greens cannot sit back and say that the right balance has been struck. In saying that I do wish to acknowledge the extensive consultation undertaken by the government with respect to this bill. I also recognise that significant changes were made to the bill as a result of that consultation process. However, through the consultation process, dating back to 2006 when discussion papers canvassing these reforms were first released, serious reservations have been expressed by a number of Australia's peak legal and human rights bodies about a range of matters associated with this bill, some of which have not been addressed by the government. These bodies include the Law Council of Australia, the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Australian Lawyers Alliance and the Human Rights Law Centre.

We agree with legal and human rights organisations that the bill should go further in protecting the rights of those who are the subject of request for extradition or those whose rights are impacted by a request for mutual assistance. Accordingly, although I will not be moving amendments today in relation to all of the concerns raised by those organisations, I consider that some amendments are particularly important in order to achieve the right balance between international cooperation for effective law enforcement and fundamental protections of human rights.

The Greens have distilled those concerns into five key areas, and they are: firstly, expanding the existing grounds for refusing an extradition or mutual assistance request to include 'cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment'; secondly, expanding the existing grounds for refusing an extradition or mutual assistance request to include discrimination on the basis of gender identity; thirdly, removing the presumption against bail in the Extradition Act; fourthly, removing the discretion of the Attorney-General to provide mutual assistance in circumstances where the death penalty could apply; and, finally, maintaining double jeopardy as a mandatory ground of refusal for mutual assistance.

I would like to thank Minister Clare and his office for their efforts in recent weeks to address our concerns via amendments to the explanatory memorandum. However, unfortunately, despite good faith negotiations and a number of agreed changes, the amendments made to the explanatory memorandum do not adequately address our concerns to the point where it would be unnecessary for me to move the amendments I will be moving today. Thank you. 

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