House debates

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Questions without Notice

National Security

3:06 pm

Photo of Mark DreyfusMark Dreyfus (Isaacs, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Attorney General) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Attorney-General: clause 9(1) of schedule 1 of the Intelligence Services Act states that it is a criminal offence punishable by two years in prison to disclose a private submission of the intelligence committee unless that disclosure is authorised in writing by the relevant agency head. Has the Attorney-General been provided with any advice as to whether the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police gave a written authorisation to allow this private submission to be disclosed?

3:07 pm

Photo of Christian PorterChristian Porter (Pearce, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

It's not unlike the shadow Attorney-General to read only half the provision. 9(2) says:

Subclause (1) does not apply to the disclosure or publication by a person of a matter of which the person has become aware otherwise than because of the giving of any evidence before, or the production of any document to, the Committee.

I can send you a hard copy later. Yesterday we were asked by the shadow Attorney-General whether we were aware of a newspaper article that, in his words, appears to quote from what may or may not have been a confidential submission to the joint committee. Appearances are never more deceiving than when they are apparitions of the shadow A-G. Last night I did speak with the Commissioner of the AFP. Further, I also sought summary information around the prior circulation of the material that later came to be submitted in a letter by the commissioner to the joint committee. The commissioner confirmed that the submission was not potentially or operationally sensitive or security classified. The material contained in the letter was material that received circulation before it was produced as a document to the committee, so it would actually appear—

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Members on both sides: not only I but also the vast majority of members of this place are trying to hear the Attorney-General's answer. I'm trying to listen carefully. Members need to cease interjecting.

Photo of Christian PorterChristian Porter (Pearce, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

Despite how it appears to the shadow Attorney-General, it actually appears that, given the nature and prior circulation of the material in question, any subsequent dealings of it would never fall within the scope of prohibitions in the Intelligence Services Act or the Crimes Act, but if the shadow Attorney takes a different view, he can refer the matter if he feels fit. The larger question, I think, is how much more constructive could the shadow Attorney-General be if he put his considerable legal skills to reading the submissions, understanding what they say, acting on them appropriately and passing this counterencryption bill this week?