House debates

Wednesday, 4 December 2019


Intelligence and Security Joint Committee; Report

11:20 am

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

On behalf of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, I present the following reports: Annual report of committee activities 2018-2019 and Review of the renunciation by conduct and cessation provisions in the Australian Citizenship Act 2007.

Reports made parliamentary papers in accordance with standing order 39(e).

by leave—Firstly, I will speak to theannual report. Each year the committee provides the Australian parliament with an annual report describing activities undertaken during the financial year in recognition of the importance of operating as transparently as possible.

The 2018-19 financial year was a very demanding one for the committee. Aside from undertaking our annual oversight of the national intelligence community, the committee reviewed several important national security bills as they passed through the Australian parliament.

This included:

        These reviews provided a classified and collaborative opportunity for members from both sides of the chamber to examine draft national security legislation in a detailed manner. My colleagues and I worked cooperatively to ensure that these bills struck the right balance between protecting civil liberties and empowering intelligence and enforcement agencies to keep Australians safe. I thank members for their diligence throughout the year on what was a demanding work program.

        The 2018-19 financial year also encompassed the 30th anniversary of the committee's operation. Our annual report reflects on the evolution of the committee and looks forward to possible future developments.

        The committee's role and place within the national security architecture has changed considerably since the first Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation was appointed in 1988 to provide oversight of ASIO.

        Since then the committee's oversight responsibilities have expanded across the Australian intelligence community.

        We now examine the administration and expenditure of intelligence agencies annually. These reviews provide an important transparency mechanism; ensuring that agencies remain accountable to the Australian parliament.

        We have also developed substantial responsibilities in refining national security legislation to build bipartisan consensus in the Australian national interest.

        The committee anticipates further evolution of its role and responsibilities over the coming parliaments as the recommendations of the Independent Intelligence Review and the Richardson Review of the Legal Framework Governing the National Intelligence Community are implemented.

        Secondly, I also present the Review of the renunciation by conduct and cessation provisions in the Australian Citizenship Act 2007. This report covers the committee's review of the operation, effectiveness and implications of sections 33AA, 35, 35AA and 35A of the Australian Citizenship Act 2007.

        In 2015, the coalition government introduced amendments to the Citizenship Act via the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015. The legislative changes broadened the powers of the minister relating to the cessation of Australian citizenship for individuals engaging in terrorism and for those who are a serious threat to Australia and Australian interests.

        The Intelligence Services Act 2001 requires the committee to undertake a statutory review of these citizenship cessation provisions, examining their operation and effectiveness and any further implications of their functioning.

        In terms of the effectiveness of the provision, the committee notes evidence from ASIO that it is 'too early to determine any direct deterrent effects or other security outcomes among the individuals whose citizenship has ceased pursuant to sections 33AA and 35'. While noting that citizenship cessation is a useful counterterrorism tool in some circumstances, the committee also accepts that the use of such a tool may have unintended consequences and so must be subject to limitations and safeguards, and be regularly reviewed.

        The committee found that, as the conduct provisions currently operate, the minister's role is effectively limited to restoring a person's citizenship after it has been lost or exempting a person from the effect of those provisions, which is due to the provisions' automatic nature.

        Following an in-depth and considered review the committee found that the current 'operation of law' model, whereby a dual-national's Australian citizenship is automatically renounced through their actions, should be replaced by a ministerial decision-making model. Such a model would allow the minister to take into account a broader range of considerations in determining whether to cease an individual's citizenship. This determination was founded on advice from national security agencies which advised the committee that further flexibility was required to make use of citizenship cessation to maximum effect.

        I note that the government has proposed such a ministerial decision-making model in the upcoming Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Cessation) Bill 2019. The committee is currently finalising its report on the bill, ensuring that the proposed amendments operate as effectively as possible.

        With respect to reporting requirements under section 51C of the Australian Citizenship Act 2007, the committee found that further information in this area should be provided to it, especially regarding information contained in ASIO's qualified security assessments. The committee expects that, subject to particular sensitivities, ASIO's qualified security assessments will be provided to the committee to further enable regular oversight and ensure that the reporting requirements under the Citizenship Act are being fulfilled. I commend these reports to the House. Thank you.

        11:26 am

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

        by leave—In 2018 the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security celebrated 30 years of operation. As set out in this annual report of the committee's activities in 2018-19, the committee's role and place within the national security architecture has changed considerably over that 30-year period. Today the work of the committee is more important than ever.

        The year 2018-19 was one in which bipartisanship on national security issues showed visible signs of fraying. For the first time since the election of the Abbott government in 2013, the Liberal government failed to implement in full unanimous recommendations made by Labor and Liberal members of the intelligence and security committee. That was in relation to the assistance and access bill. For the first time since the election of the Abbott government in 2013, Labor members of the intelligence and security committee broke with our Liberal colleagues to issue a minority report. That was in respect of the strengthening the citizenship loss provisions bill, a bill that has not been proceeded with. Notably, both of these events occurred after the current Prime Minister assumed office.

        In his valedictory speech, the former Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis, listed three reasons why our domestic national security policy had been successful during his time as Attorney-General. The second reason he listed was bipartisanship. Referring to eight national security bills introduced by the Abbott and Turnbull governments and supported by Labor, Senator Brandis said this:

        All eight tranches of legislation were passed with the opposition's support after scrutiny by the PJCIS. It was a fine example of government and parliament working hand in hand to protect the national interest. I have heard some powerful voices argue that the coalition should open a political front against the Labor Party on the issue of domestic national security. I could not disagree more strongly. One of the main reasons why the government has earned the confidence of the public on national security policy is there has never been a credible suggestion that political motives have intruded. Were they to do so, confidence not just in the government's handling of national security but in the agencies themselves would be damaged and their capacity to do their work compromised. Nothing could be more irresponsible than to hazard the safety of the public by creating a confected dispute for political advantage.

        I disagreed with Senator Brandis on many matters, but on this issue he was absolutely correct. When politicians seek to use national security as a political weapon it's bad for our country, it's bad for our security agencies and, ultimately, it's bad for our national security. I would ask that the current Prime Minister and the Minister for Home Affairs reflect carefully on those comments by Senator Brandis over the Christmas break.

        The intelligence and security committee had a busy year in 2018-19. It held over 53 hours of meetings, undertook 16 inquiries and finalised 11 reports. Critically, the committee made dozens of bipartisan recommendations to significantly improve national security legislation. All of those recommendations were accepted by the government, though, regrettably, not all of them have been fully implemented.

        The numbers only tell some of the story. On 1 July 2018 the Department of Home Affairs was barely six months old. Until its establishment the Attorney-General's Department was responsible for most national security policy and legislation, and ASIO, the AFP and a number of other national security agencies sat within the Attorney-General's portfolio. The upshot of this relatively new state of affairs was that the Department of Home Affairs, not the Attorney-General's Department, had responsibility for most of the new national security bills reviewed by the committee during 2018-19.

        It has not all been smooth sailing. Regrettably, under the leadership of the Minister for Home Affairs, the quality of the new department's engagement with the intelligence and security committee in 2018-19 often fell well below the standard that one would expect from the department tasked with safeguarding Australia's national security. The department regularly produced threadbare submissions on significant national security bills which provided very little, if any, assistance to the committee. The department rarely, if ever, responded promptly to questions on notice and often failed to provide direct responses to basic questions.

        Over the course of 2018-19, the committee also heard disturbing evidence about the lack of coordination between the Department of Home Affairs and key agencies in relation to the development of national security legislation. The department learned, for example, that the first time that the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security and the Commonwealth Ombudsman saw the final draft of the Assistance and Access Bill was after it was introduced into the parliament. That is no way to develop national security legislation. It was also deeply iconic, given the primary rationale for the establishment of Home Affairs was to improve coordination between agencies.

        To be fair to the department, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security recently told Senate estimates that coordination between her office and the Department of Home Affairs has 'improved significantly since the beginning of this year'. That was very heartening to hear. I commend the department for the work it has clearly done to improve its relationship with the inspector-general. Closer coordination between the department and the office of the inspector-general can only result in improvements to the quality of national security legislation and that can only be a good thing for the parliament and for the country. I hope to see the department make a similar effort to improve the quality of its engagement with the intelligence and security committee over the course of 2019-20.

        I will conclude by touching on some positives from 2018-19. Generally speaking, and I think I can say this on behalf of my colleagues, committee members have been impressed by the level of assistance that the AFP, ASIO and other security agencies have provided to the committee. Those agencies have provided the committee with regular and detailed briefings, produced helpful submissions and responded promptly to questions from committee members.

        The current government exerted an extraordinary amount of pressure on the committee in 2018-19, and much of that pressure was borne with grace and professionalism by the staff of the secretariat. I acknowledge and thank staff members of the secretariat for their work and support they provided, and continue to provide, to committee members.

        Finally, I would like to acknowledge the work done by my colleagues on the committee over the course of 2018-19, Labor and Liberal. In many ways it was a difficult year. The committee dealt with very complex and highly contentious legislation in a highly charged and highly partisan political environment. In particular, I would like to thank my friend and colleague the member for Holt for the work that he did, and the work that he continues to do, as deputy chair of the committee. I'd also like to commend the member for Canning for the way in which he conducted himself as chair of the committee over the course of 2018-19. He and I have had our fair share of disagreements, but even in the face of enormous pressure from senior members of the executive government I have always found him to be a professional, fair and principled chair of this committee.