Wednesday, 5 December 2018
Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018; Report from Committee
by leave—I will start, on behalf of the Labor members of the committee, by thanking the chair for his stewardship of this inquiry into one of the most complex and difficult bills and reports that have ever been contemplated in this House. On a bipartisan basis, unlike what is the case with some members of the government, I wish to thank him in particular. I'm sure the member for Eden-Monaro would second my sentiments. So thank you, Chair, for your steadfast commitment to bipartisanship, which is essential to keep this parliament and this committee working. And we'll stop the Leader of the House from speaking, which I think probably some people on his own side would like too!
Speaking on behalf of Labor in terms of our additional comments, the fundamental responsibility of any government is to ensure the safety of the nation and its people. It is the foundation upon which all other policy aspirations necessarily rest. As a party of government, it's a responsibility that Labor has always upheld. Meeting this responsibility requires coordinated action by parliament and the executive. This has never been truer than over the past two decades, when Australia has faced a diverse range of serious and evolving threats. During this time, the parliament has considered a number of bills that increased the powers and capabilities of our security agencies. With a few limited exceptions, these bills responded to advice from the agencies about the tools they needed to keep Australia safe. Labor has always taken the advice from the security agencies seriously. In line with this, the parliament has passed security legislation in an appropriately considered and expeditious way. The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, for those that don't think this, is not a brake on this process; it is an essential part of it.
A government's ability to respond to new and evolving threats relies on the public's ongoing faith that our national security laws are appropriate, are proportional and are adapted to the circumstances that we face. The committee's work builds that faith. The public process of authorising and re-authorising laws which the committee undertakes is an essential exercise in democratic accountability. It is an acknowledgement of the potential for new powers to impinge on the fundamental rights and values of Australians. It is also an opportunity to ensure that the resources and powers provided to the agencies are as effective as is possible given the nature of the threat environment. The committee has undertaken this work in a deliberate, sensible and bipartisan way through changing circumstances, governments and Prime Ministers for decades. The work of the committee, I regret to say, has not been assisted by the government's approach to this debate over recent weeks. Labor members are concerned to avoid a continuation of this conduct. It jeopardises the fundamental function the committee serves in our national security apparatus.
Labor members, particularly the member for Eden-Monaro and I, would like to thank the Acting Minister for Home Affairs, the Attorney-General—he sets a standard for what consultation should be about rather than what we've seen more recently—for the cooperative and constructive approach he has taken to discussions. We're pleased that the government has acknowledged and responded to a number of serious concerns raised by Labor members of the committee and by the opposition more broadly. Labor members welcome the amendments that have been proposed in the committee's report, including enhancing the oversight provisions, narrowing the range of offences to which the bill applies, defining key terms relating to systemic weakness and vulnerabilities, and adopting enhanced scrutiny and authorisation processes. These amendments make the bill better and they make Australians safer. However, we do not consider that these amendments address all of the problems in this bill.
Labor members have moved to progress this bill despite our concerns because of the evidence from law enforcement and security agencies that there is a need for these powers over the Christmas period and because proposed amendments deliver adequate oversight and safeguards to prevent unintended consequences whilst ongoing work continues. We are prepared to take this course of action because of the government's undertaking; we're only prepared to do so because the committee will conduct its inquiry into the bill in 2019, and a separate statutory review will be undertaken by the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor within 18 months of the legislation coming into effect. These separate processes provide an opportunity to resolve our ongoing concerns about the bill, with assistance of industry and with the assistance of experts and civil liberties groups, whilst upholding our responsibility to keep Australians safe. This compromise is emblematic of the balancing exercise this committee has undertaken in all of its work over the decades. The government should not walk away from that again.
House adjourned at 20:00