House debates

Monday, 24 June 2013


Intelligence and Security Committee; Report

10:14 am

Photo of Philip RuddockPhilip Ruddock (Berowra, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I have some observations and comments on the outstanding leadership of the chair of the committee, the member for Holt. Committees work well only when leadership is offered and is present, and the leadership of the chair of this committee, Mr Byrne, has been greatly appreciated. I am glad he got to thanking our team: the committee secretariat and, may I add, particularly the specialist advisers that assisted us with what is in fact a very difficult area of public policy.

I do not intend to try to canvass all of the issues. I will go right to the nub of the matter. The nub of the matter is in recommendation 42, which deals with data retention. Data retention is a matter that the government has been asked to look at in the context of organisations losing their capacity to obtain intelligence information if required, because people will use the facilities where no data is kept and that opportunity to interrogate it would be lost. It is important to understand that, in the Australian context, no data is ever interrogated without a warrant. It requires a warrant either from the Attorney-General—in relation to the security agencies' access—or from law enforcement officers. I think it is very important to understand that, when these issues are discussed in terms of privacy, matters like these are examined only when the warrant system permits it.

I am sorry the Attorney, who was here for my colleague's speech, has left. For my own part, I think the handling of this issue by the government has been appalling. The government should have brought forward, as the chair mentioned, precise recommendations in the form of draft legislation that we could comment on in a meaningful way. The committee came to a view that it was not prepared to comment on it without the government going that extra step.

I want to speak about these issues in the context of some observations made by the shadow Attorney only this weekend. I have long been of the view that terrorism is something that will remain with us far longer than we would like, and I was very surprised when there was a statement by the Prime Minister about where we are, suggesting that 10 years after 9-11 circumstances had changed and the same urgency did not attach to terrorism. But, shortly after, we saw the events mentioned by the chair in Boston and the events in London, and I might add to that what is happening now in Syria. I am not blowing any secrets when I say that from newspaper reports there are suggestions that there are numbers of Australians who have gone abroad to participate in these activities in Syria, who are being trained and prepared in a way which would make them, on return to Australia, highly susceptible to engaging in terrorist activity here. All of the agencies, it is reported, believe that those are matters that they have to examine.

The committee's report has dealt with a lot of matters which, if the members had been given their druthers, they would have put off as well. But we have been able to obtain a remarkable degree of unison of view, which recommends reforms that should be progressed now to ensure that our agencies are able to deal with the threats that remain in a real and substantial way. I think these issues need to be looked at with regard to privacy questions but also with regard to the risks that are there. This matter will be addressed by a new government. I hope whoever is there will be able to deal with these matters, given this report, promptly and quickly and that the substantial reforms that the agencies need will be implemented.


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