Law Council President Dr Jacoba Brasch said there is a lack of safeguards and accountability measures in place. The information provided by gazetted agencies - such as foreign law enforcement bodies and other Australian agencies - can be used without the person knowing the information is being used or having a chance to respond to the information itself.
"While the Law Council accepts that there is a public interest in law enforcement and criminal intelligence agencies providing probative information to officials responsible for exercising character-related powers, the proposal to establish a Protected Information Framework must balance those interests against principles fundamental to a democratic legal system," Dr Brasch told the committee.
“These principles include the right to a fair hearing, effective judicial review, the proper administration of justice, and parliamentary and independent scrutiny of executive power.
"If passed, the amendments would apply to information provided by agencies determined by the Minister, without any parliamentary scrutiny; and of a kind which need not meet any statutory test as to its nature, sensitivity, veracity or the risks arising from disclosure."
The President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, emeritus professor Rosalind Croucher, said "the bill is a disproportionate response to this objective" of protecting information relating to Australia's national security and sensitive criminal investigations.
"This bill would allow agencies to keep secret a broad range of information of lesser significance and without a proper assessment of whether it would be in the public interest for it to be disclosed, when it is relied on as a basis for cancelling someone's visa," Professor Croucher said.
"All agencies, including security agencies make mistakes at times ... For people who have their visas cancelled on character grounds to properly and fairly test the basis for those cancellations, they should be provided with access to the material relied on by government to make those decisions.
"If there are legitimate public interest grounds for non-disclosure, they should be adjudicated on by an independent court, able to take into account the full range of relevant circumstances."