House debates

Wednesday, 30 March 2022


Intelligence and Security Joint Committee; Report

9:57 am

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

On behalf of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security I present the following reports: advisory report on the Security Legislation Amendment (Critical Infrastructure Protection) Bill 2022; the report of the committee's inquiry into national security risks affecting the Australian higher education and research sector; advisory report on the National Security Legislation Amendment (Comprehensive Review and Other Measures No. 1) Bill 2021; and report by statement—a review of regulations listing Hezbollah and The Base as terrorist organisations under the Criminal Code Act 1995.

Report made a parliamentary paper in accordance with standing order 39(e)

by leave—The Intelligence and Security Committee is today tabling four reports. They are, as I have just noted: a review of regulations listing Hezbollah and The Base as terrorist organisations under the Criminal Code Act 1995; the report of the committee's inquiry into national security risks affecting the Australian higher education and research sector; the advisory report of the committee on the National Security Legislation Amendment (Comprehensive Review and Other Measures No. 1) Bill 2021; and the committee's advisory report on the Security Legislation Amendment (Critical Infrastructure Protection) Bill 2022.

All four of these reports are unanimous, bipartisan reports of all of the 11 members of the Intelligence and Security Committee. This unanimity continues a very long practice of Labor and coalition members of both houses of this parliament who have been members of the Intelligence and Security Committee since its establishment more than 20 years ago. Members of the Labor Party in this parliament and coalition members of this parliament, in seeking to reach unanimity on reports concerning our national security, on intelligence and security matters, are reflecting the long-held position of the Australian Labor Party and the long-held position of the coalition parties in this parliament that national security is important, that we have a very, very important task of keeping our communities safe and that unanimity between the party of government and the party of opposition is an important value in order to build confidence in the national security arrangements of our country.

In relation to the first report, which relates to the listings of Hezbollah and the Base as terrorist organisations, I echo the words of the chair of the committee, Senator James Paterson, who said, 'My Labor colleagues and I welcome the fact that the Morrison government has accepted the committee's earlier bipartisan recommendation to list the whole organisation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation.'

Previously, for many years, this listing was limited to Hezbollah's external security organisation, a suborganisation of Hezbollah operating under the military wing of that organisation. However, as I said in this place when I spoke on the tabling of the intelligence and security committee's previous report in relation to the government's desire to partially list only the external security organisation, this position was no longer tenable, if it ever was. The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and the Arab League all list the entirety of Hezbollah, including its military wing, as a terrorist organisation. This is because Hezbollah is a unitary organisation, and it cannot be realistically or reasonably subdivided into different parts, only one of which is said to be a listed terrorist organisation.

I mentioned last year when I spoke about the government's decision to relist Hezbollah's external security organisation as a terrorist organisation that I have visited the Asociacion Mutual Israelita Argentina, a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires, on more than one occasion. In 1994, a van loaded with explosives was driven into that building by a suicide bomber, killing 85 people and injuring hundreds more. All of the evidence from multiple inquiries points to Iran and Hezbollah being responsible for that bombing and the murder of 85 people, and I do not understand why it should matter what part of Hezbollah carried out this devastating attack against the Jewish community in Buenos Aires and against the Argentinian people.

In 2019, the United Kingdom moved from listing only the military wing of Hezbollah to the whole of the organisation. In announcing the decision in the House of Commons on 26 February 2019, the United Kingdom Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, said:

There have long been calls to ban the whole group, with the distinction between the two factions derided as smoke and mirrors. Hezbollah itself has laughed off the suggestion that there is a difference. I have carefully considered the evidence and I am satisfied that they are one and the same, with the entire organisation being linked to terrorism…

This Government have continued to call on Hezbollah to end its armed status; it has not listened. Indeed, its behaviour has escalated; the distinction between its political and military wings is now untenable. It is right that we act now to proscribe this entire organisation.

Those were the words of the United Kingdom Minister Sajid Javid in 2019, and they remain true today. It has taken the Australian government three years to reach the same conclusion, but I welcome the fact that it has done so. I commend my colleagues—all my colleagues: the six coalition members and the four Labor colleagues in addition to myself—on the Intelligence and Security Committee; I commend my colleagues for leading the government in this direction.

Coming to the next report, I've already spoken in this place on the critical infrastructure protection bill and, given the time constraints, I'll keep my remarks short. This is an important bill on an important subject. The Intelligence and Security Committee completed its review of the original version of the Security Legislation Amendment (Critical Infrastructure) Bill 2020 last year and recommended that the original bill be split into two. The committee recommended that the parts of the bill that had been identified as urgent pass the parliament without delay, and the other parts of the bill could be reconsidered and redrafted in light of the committee's comments and feedback from key stakeholders.

It was a very unusual position for the Intelligence and Security Committee to take on a government bill but shows the care with which the committee goes about its work. The parts of the Security Legislation Amendment (Critical Infrastructure) Bill 2020 that the Department of Home Affairs identified as urgent did pass the parliament last year with bipartisan support following a number of amendments that the government, quite properly, made to implement recommendations to the Intelligence and Security Committee.

The Security Legislation Amendment (Critical Infrastructure Protection) Bill 2022 consists of the remaining elements of the original bill. As will be evident to anyone who reads the committee's bipartisan report, the committee as a whole remains concerned about aspects of this bill. In particular, we remain concerned that the government has failed to consult adequately with critical infrastructure industry representatives, relevant employee representative bodies, and trade unions. It's particularly disappointing that there should have been such a failure of consultation when this is the government's second attempt to get this legislation right and much comment was made by the committee in its previous report when it recommended that the former singular bill be split into two on the need for consultation, given the fact that this legislation potentially affects hundreds or possibly thousands of commercial organisations and certainly thousands if not hundreds of thousands of workers across Australia.

But all the committee members also, right now, recognise the importance of the bill, and we agree that on balance it is better that the bill be passed in its current form now than be delayed until after the election. The regulation arrangements for the security of critical infrastructure is too important a matter to be left hanging, and that's why there will be bipartisan support for this bill. It is just a crying shame that the government has once again left something this important until the last minute, before an election, thus depriving the parliament and itself of the opportunity to work through the issues that have been identified in a careful and methodical way.

Significantly—and it's a very unusual recommendation—the Intelligence and Security Committee has recommended that the government commission an independent review of the operation of the Security of Critical Infrastructure Act 2018 after one year of operation after the bill receives royal assent. It is very unusual for the committee to recommend a review of legislation so soon after its passage. We've done so because the government has left this until the last minute and has clearly failed to address many of the concerns the committee expressed in its previous report about security of critical infrastructure and indeed—as was apparent from the hearing conducted by the committee and the many submissions the committee received on this bill—has failed to address a number of cogent concerns expressed by many interested people and interested organisations in the Australian community.

Turning into the inquiry into national security risks affecting the Australian higher education and research sector, the committee has made a number of unanimous, modest and sensible recommendations to address the existing, and, it must be said, evolving national security risks and threats to the Australian higher education and research sector. I commend the report to the parliament. I commend it, indeed, to the wider Australian community. It's a very important matter that is dealt with in this report. The committee acknowledges at some length the importance of the higher education and research sector, including international research and collaboration. At paragraphs 6.15 to 6.17 of the committee's report, for example, the report notes:

6.15 The Committee noted evidence highlighting the importance of the sector, its contributions to Australian society more broadly and the importance of international engagement by universities. International research and collaboration—within reason—is a critical part of the Australian economy and society.

6.16 The Committee believes the independence of the sector is critical. Australian universities and research institutions hold entrenched freedoms that allow high quality research and democratic debate of ideas. This is important for both staff and students within the sector. The Australian higher education system plays an important role in Australian public life. The importance of freedom of speech on campuses, international research relationships and collaboration is critical. This independence is at risk though as national security threats can erode it.

6.17 The Committee notes that the sector plays a critical role in Australian society both economically and intellectually. The Committee accepted evidence that national security and academic integrity are not zero sum concepts. National security and academic integrity are mutually reinforcing and critical for a prosperous Australian society. The sector indicated its acknowledgement of the importance of national security, and the national security bodies indicated their support for academic independence and freedom.

The committee has produced a relatively lengthy and thoughtful report, and I do commend it to the House.

In relation to the fourth and final of the reports that I am tabling today on behalf of the committee, the Advisory report on the National Security Legislation Amendment (Comprehensive Review and Other Measures No. 1) Bill 2021, that bill is listed for debate later today. I will reserve my comments until we debate the bill, save to say that this bill is an implementation of a small number of the recommendations made by the eminent Australian Dennis Richardson in his Comprehensive Review of the Legal Framework of the National Intelligence Community, delivered to the government in December 2020, and some of the recommendations made by the Independent Intelligence Review, conducted by Stephen Merchant and Michael L'Estrange, delivered to the government in 2017. There remain outstanding recommendations of the Merchant and L'Estrange review, and there were 203 recommendations made by Mr Richardson, and very, very many of them are still to be dealt with. This bill, as the committee's report makes clear, deals with some quite pressing legislative amendments that are needed to deal with a confined number of situations that potentially the intelligence agencies are faced with, and I will have more to say later in the debate on this bill.

Finally, could I thank the staff of the committee for the truly excellent work that they have carried out during the term of this parliament, producing very, very many high-quality reports of the intelligence and security committee. I thank all of my colleagues on the intelligence and security committee for their work over the term of this parliament and I thank both of the chairs of the committee during this term, Mr Andrew Hastie, the member for Canning, and Senator James Paterson, senator for Victoria, who took over as chair when Mr Hastie was elevated to the ministry. In particular, I would pay special tribute and thanks to Senator Paterson for the difficult task that he faced of taking over the chairing of a very, very busy committee with very many reports not yet completed on inquiries that he had not served on, and he has done a very good job over the balance of the term in landing a very large number of those uncompleted inquiries and reports.

Debate interrupted.