Thursday, 5 December 2019
Parliament House: Security
Before we proceed, I have a statement to make and a motion I'm going to table, which the Leader of the House and the Manager of Opposition Business are aware of. It relates to the electronic access control system, EACS. For those of you focused on other things, that's the electronic swipe at your door and elsewhere around the building. As members would be well aware—well, certainly members who were here in the last parliament would be well aware—it was progressively installed through the last part of 2018, with a few teething problems. But it's obviously operating very smoothly for the new members; you don't know offices with a key. It was one of the many recommendations of the review that was done here in 2014. That was the security review following the raising of the threat level after the attack in the Canadian parliament in October of that year. It is a part of large security works that enable lockdown capabilities in the event of an emergency incident and also an enhanced system of identity verification to assist in mitigating the risk of unauthorised access to and within the private areas of Parliament House.
Obviously, it can also be used to investigate or respond to a security or emergency incident or breaches of the private area access policy. I'm tabling a motion that is already with the clerks and I will read that motion in a second. The reason for it simply is that, with the agreement of the Manager of Opposition Business and the Leader of the House, back then at the time and with information to members, we rolled this out so that we could ensure that the House had this capacity as soon as it possibly could. Obviously, in the future—it's been quite a period of time—there should be a code of practice that deals with all of these issues, and that's something we've been working with the Senate on, but the purpose of this motion simply is to state here in the House the important issues and protections around parliamentary privilege. I propose to read the motion, ask the Manager of Opposition Business to make a contribution—we've obviously worked closely on this on behalf of the House—and then put that resolution. The motion that is there at the table is:
That the House:
(a) the importance of ensuring that Australian Parliament House is a safe place to visit and work;
(b) longstanding security arrangements in Parliament House have evolved in recent years and that further changes are proposed, in particular the operation of Closed Circuit Television Systems (CCTV) and the new Electronic Access Control System (EACS);
(c) that these systems, like other security and information systems, are managed by the Department of Parliamentary Services, under the authority of the Presiding Officers, on behalf of the Parliament; and
(d) that, under the Parliamentary Precincts Act 1988, the powers of the Presiding Officers to manage and control the precincts apply subject to relevant orders of the Houses, which means that the administration of these security and information systems is constrained by the powers, privileges and immunities of the Houses and their members;
(2) affirm that the collection, management and dissemination of information about Members and their staff is to be managed such that parliamentary privilege is protected absolutely;
(3) in the absence of the House agreeing to alternative arrangements, consistent with paragraph (2), the release of CCTV and EACS material which may involve matters of privilege can only occur where the Speaker, having consulted the Clerk, then consults with the Leader of the House and the Manager of Opposition Business;
(4) also note an EACS and CCTV Code of Practice will be reviewed regularly and it is also timely that the Memorandum of Understanding between the Australian Federal Police and the Parliament be updated; and
(5) notwithstanding anything in this resolution, the powers, privileges and immunities of the House are maintained.
I call the Manager of Opposition Business before putting the motion.
Thanks, Mr Speaker. Most people think of your role in terms of the management of the chamber when debate takes place. This goes quite directly to your role, in fact, as one of the shared custodians of the building with the responsibility of keeping people who are here safe. We would all wish that security arrangements could be as they were when some of us first arrived, but, particularly given the events in some international parliaments, we needed to significantly improve the quality of security and that gave rise to new forms of security that, by definition of what they are, accumulate data. We need to make sure that the rules of privilege can be extended in different ways to that data.
I thank the Speaker for the engagement. It's been constructive. I know from conversations with the Leader of the House, it's been constructive for the government, and it's certainly been constructive for the opposition. I thank you for the engagement on how the new electronic access control system interacts with privilege. In the area of safety within the building, it really is vitally important to have bipartisan agreement, and we have that right now. There's nothing more important, in terms of making sure that this place can function, than parliamentary privilege remaining protected as well. The place doesn't work without it. It doesn't work without a few other things, but that's not for this speech.
The implementation of the system is a very important upgrade to the security capabilities in the building. As you've said, this motion reiterates the principles underpinning how the security system works, while making sure that it does not interfere with the important principle of privilege. The code of practice, which is pending, will give further clarification on how the system will operate and how it should be governed. The resolution, of course, also refers to the need to update the memorandum of understanding between the parliament and the Australian Federal Police. I welcome the resolutions being put to the House in this way. I thank you for your work.
I thank the Manager of Opposition Business. I will conclude by saying, very briefly, that the draft code of practice has been in contemplation between the houses for some time. The resolutions here, and there's been one in the Senate, are obviously important but, notwithstanding that, it's imperative that a code governing the management of EACS be agreed as quickly as possible. Members have agreed to enable this to be rolled out, trusting me with its administration. But, even so, it's not sustainable in the long term to not have a code. Without one, those with the responsibility of managing the system and the data collected by it really don't have a framework in which to make decisions. I stress the importance of the code. I am very hopeful we'll have a code within a few months, but I just give members the assurance, as Speaker, that my role is to act on your behalf. I do that by liaising with the Leader of the House and the Manager of Opposition Business. If, for some reason, there were a delay in that code, my intention would be for the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Appropriations and Administration, as the oversight committee, to work with me, the Manager of Opposition Business and the Leader of the House for a code as it applies to you as members. Without further ado, I put the motion in my name.
Question agreed to.