House debates

Tuesday, 23 May 2023


National Security Legislation Amendment (Comprehensive Review and Other Measures No. 2) Bill 2023; Second Reading

12:34 pm

Photo of Andrew HastieAndrew Hastie (Canning, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Defence) Share this | Hansard source

The coalition cannot support this bill as currently drafted. And while the majority of proposed amendments in the bill are sensible reforms following the Richardson review that the coalition government commissioned back in 2018, Labor has unfortunately decided to play legislative games by adding an additional amendment to change the composition of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security without appropriate consultation. The bipartisan consultation and collaboration of this committee is the kind that the Australian people have come to expect on these matters, and now the government is trying to rush this legislation through, hoping no-one will notice.

The National Security Legislation Amendment (Comprehensive Review and Other Measures No. 2) Bill 2023, implementing a number of recommendations of the Richardson review, proposes amendments to 13 related Commonwealth acts to support enhancement of the legislative framework for the national intelligence community. The bill also proposes to amend the Intelligence Services Act to clarify the level of detail required to describe activities issued under ministerial direction for ASIS.

The opposition supports sensible changes to support the work of our intelligence agencies, which is why we agreed to all the relevant recommendations in the government response to the Richardson review in December 2020. Our sole point of contention is the proposal to increase the size of the PJCIS from 11 to 13 members and change the required representation from each chamber of parliament. The coalition was not consulted on these changes. Senator James Paterson, shadow minister for home affairs, submitted a question on notice to the Attorney-General's Department to clarify whether shadow ministers, crossbenchers and Commonwealth officials had been consulted on this change. In response, the Attorney-General's Department disclosed:

The Attorney-General's Department did not consult with or advise non-government parliamentarians on the proposed changes to the membership and composition of the Committee.

This measure was a recommendation of Government.

What is clear here is that Labor is trying to rush what is an incredibly significant reform. The PJCIS was only given a month to complete its inquiry on this bill and only opened submissions for one week. No justification was given for this extremely short time frame. There is also no evidence which suggests this change is required. In fact, Labor needs to explain where it came from. Does the government intend to appoint a crossbencher or minor party member to the committee as a result of these changes, as the Gillard government did during the minority parliament? I think this would significantly and detrimentally change the character and culture of the committee, which has otherwise been for the parties of government. Adding a crossbencher or minor party member risks undermining the vitally important bipartisan consensus on critical national security issues which has long been a feature of the PJCIS and has served our nation's security well.

I spent four years as the chair of that committee, and I must say that it is a very useful institution for having rigorous, robust national security debates that we want to keep out of the eyes of our strategic adversaries and doing so in a constructive manner. When the bill enters the committee, we go through our inquiry process, we have our debates and, when the bill comes back out, we step out into this place and the other place united. I think that's a really important part of the PJCIS, and I'm concerned that that won't continue. I worked very closely for four years with the now Attorney-General. It was a lot of phone calls, a lot of face-to-face time, a lot of patience on my part—and his, I suppose. It was an important part of delivering good legislation, and the former coalition government delivered a lot of national security legislation with the support of the then Labor opposition.

The addition of two more committee members also increases the risk of classified material being leaked, either intentionally or inadvertently, as the Director-General of Security stated in his oral evidence to the PJCIS. This need not be a personal reflection on any member or senator, but it is the concern of the intelligence leadership.

Could the proposed changes to the composition of the PJCIS be the result of internal politics within the government? I think this is a question that needs to be answered by the Prime Minister. After the May 2022 election, the government was not able to resolve its committee membership for three months. Despite the PJCIS being widely recognised as the most important committee of the parliament, it could not be reconvened until 6 September 2022. The committee's important work should never be held hostage by any party's internal machinations or deliberations.

The government has tacked on these proposed reforms to a bill the contents of which are not time sensitive. The former and current governments have been working their way through the comprehensive review's 203 recommendations since December 2019. That is why, with considerable regret, the opposition was compelled to provide a dissenting report in the PJCIS inquiry on this bill.

This is the first time in 17 years that the committee has not reached consensus on its recommendations. I learnt the game of brinkmanship by negotiating with the Attorney-General over four years. We went close to dissenting reports from the Labor opposition a few times, but we always managed to reach an agreement and a consensus. For some reason, this time they were immovable. I think that's a real disappointment. We do not do this lightly. In fact, not since the committee's report on the review of the original terrorist listing of the Kurdistan Workers Party has there been a dissenting report from an opposition in this committee.

We are ready and willing to welcome engagement from the government on this bill to remove or amend the provisions affecting the size and composition of the PJCIS. In the opposition's dissenting report we recommended the following:

That Part 3 of Schedule 1 of the Bill be amended to ensure that:

        That Part 3 of Schedule 1 of the Bill be omitted and the issue of the composition of the Committee referred to a further, broader inquiry into the operations of the Committee itself as dictated by the Intelligence Services Act (2001); consistent with the unanimous and bipartisan recommendation of the Committee in its annual report in 2020-21; or

            It's not often that we part company on national security bills—in fact, it's very rare—so it is disappointing that the Albanese government has not reached across the aisle and sought to find a position of consensus. But we are acting in the best interests of this country because we believe that the current committee in its current form delivers the best outcomes for our national security as a nation. That's why we will be opposing this bill.

            Debate adjourned.


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