Thursday, 30 March 2006
Telecommunications (Interception) Amendment Bill 2006
Consideration of Senate Message
Our party room likes to be informed. It is informed by a backbench committee consideration, and they like to have the material before them as they do consider bills. I can assure the opposition that the consideration that is given is substantial and effects improvements to legislation quite frequently. That is the task that they like to undertake.
The Senate committee took some weeks. They would say that it was an expeditious consideration of this bill. But it was some weeks, and the committee report was tabled on Monday. I want to thank the Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee for their consideration and report. I have read it with interest. A number of amendments have been made to the Telecommunications (Interception) Amendment Bill 2006 in recognition of issues that were raised by our colleagues. Those government amendments that were moved took into account matters that were raised before the committee where we had to divine whether or not they would make recommendations. Many of the amendments that we proposed and that have been accepted by the Senate reflected that consideration.
The government has illustrated its commitment in this bill to ensure that security and law enforcement agencies are equipped with appropriate powers to combat and prevent serious crime, including terrorism. Specifically, the bill updates these powers to keep pace with technological developments that assist the suspects evading investigation. This bill represents the most substantial reforms to the interception regime since its inception. The bill continues to reflect the government’s consistent efforts to ensure that there are appropriate privacy provisions and protections for users of communications and that these protections are maintained alongside enhanced access powers for law enforcement and security agencies.
The implementation of the recommendations of the Blunn report on the regulation of access to communications provides greater certainty and clarity to those agencies, to telecommunication industry participants and to users of telecommunications systems. The new stored communication warrant regime does strike a careful balance—on the one hand creating a new prima facie protection for stored communications whilst on the other hand creating a defined regime to provide law enforcement agencies with appropriate access.
The bill also makes important amendments to the interception regime to assist agencies to counter measures adopted by persons suspected of serious criminal activity in evading interception. Interception under the new B-party interception provisions will only be used as an investigatory tool of last resort, it will be subject to strict controls and it will only be available for investigation of the most serious crimes. Strong safeguards which currently underpin the interception regime will continue to apply. These include restrictions on the use of any intercepted material as well as current requirements for independent oversight and annual reporting to parliament.
I conclude by saying that this bill is to deal with matters that would otherwise be the subject of a sunset clause dealing with stored communications. We did not want to see those important measures come to an end, and that is why the legislation has been progressed not in haste but to ensure that these issues have been dealt with before that sunset clause comes into effect. The government will continue to consider in detail the committee report and the recommendations as part of its ongoing commitment to ensuring the regime achieves an appropriate balance. If there are further amendments that are thought to be appropriate following the consideration of the committee report, we will propose further amendments in the spring session of parliament. That is as I think it should be. I commend the amendments to the House. I think the urgency is apparent.