Thursday, 30 November 2023
National Security Legislation Amendment (Comprehensive Review and Other Measures No. 3) Bill 2023; Second Reading
That this bill be now read a second time.
In December 2020, the Comprehensive Review of the Legal Framework of the National Intelligence Community—led by Mr Dennis Richardson AC—released its final report with 203 recommendations.
This was the most significant review of intelligence legislation since the Hope royal commissions. Although the comprehensive review found that the legislative framework governing our intelligence agencies is largely fit for purpose, targeted reforms are required to ensure our laws keep pace with the ever-changing technological and security landscape.
Today, I am introducing the National Security Legislation Amendment (Comprehensive Review and Other Measures No. 3) Bill 2023. The bill supports our intelligence agencies by making changes to improve their ability to protect the identities of their employees, communicate information to other Commonwealth and state agencies, where appropriate, and clarify approval processes for various activities. The bill also promotes increased oversight of our intelligence agencies by promoting further oversight of ASIO's security assessment work, and making it clear that junior ministers are not able to exercise certain powers.
In making these changes, the bill would implement 12 recommendations of the comprehensive review. Importantly, the bill delivers on our firm commitment to implementing the recommendations of the comprehensive review as quickly as possible.
Much of the security conversation we've had as a nation over the past 20 years has been dominated by discussions about terrorism. That is appropriate, and it is always going to be a core focus of the Australian government. Threats to life are our priority. However, it is no secret that we face enormously significant and important challenges when we look beyond our borders.
In his 2023 Annual Threat Assessment, the Director-General of Security noted more Australians are being targeted for espionage and foreign interference than at any time in Australia's history. The Director-General of National Intelligence also noted in Senate estimates earlier this year that Australia is facing some of its most complex strategic circumstances since 1942. The importance of our intelligence agencies has never been greater.
Overview of the bill
The bill would implement 12 recommendations from the comprehensive review and make a range of other refinements to intelligence related legislation, including the AustralianSecurity Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 (ASIO Act) and the Intelligence Services Act 2001 (Intelligence Services Act).
Schedule 1 of the bill seeks to clarify and enhance the scope of the security assessment framework in part IV of the ASIO Act. The bill would achieve this by expanding the definition of prescribed administrative action and allowing for further decisions or action to be prescribed by regulations.
Schedule 1 would make clear that ASIO advice provided for the purposes of informing decisions by the Foreign Investment Review Board are not security assessments for the purposes of part IV of the ASIO Act. The bill would also enable ASIO to make a preliminary communication under part IV to a state, or authority of another state, in certain circumstances where the requirements of security make it reasonable to do so.
Schedule 1 would also introduce a requirement for ASIO to notify the IGIS where certain security assessments are not furnished within 12 months. This promotes accountability on the part of ASIO in respect of delayed security assessments.
The bill would improve and enable cover arrangements for ASIO, ASIS and ASD staff by enabling the respective directors-general to determine one or more authorities of the Commonwealth that may be identified as the employer or place of work for a current or former staff member. Schedule 2 will also strengthen identity protections for ASIO and ASIS staff and agents under the Archives Act.
Schedule 2 would consolidate the secrecy offences in the Intelligence Services Act. The scope of these offences would not be expanded.
Furthermore, schedule 2 would update and modernise the existing publication offence in the ASIO Act to take into account developments in technology and modern communications. Schedule 2 would introduce a new disclosure offence designed to strengthen protections for the identity of ASIO officers and affiliates, bringing them into closer alignment with those afforded to ASIS officers under section 41 of the Intelligence Services Act. These offences have been developed with reference to the principles for framing secrecy offences contained in the Commonwealth government's Review of secrecy provisions final report.
Schedule 3 of the bill would make amendments to provide greater legal certainty and clarity with regard to ministerial authorisations and warrants. Schedule 3 would also amend the sequencing of ministerial authorisations in the Intelligence Services Act to enable a more streamlined authorisations process..
Schedule 3 would also ensure that certain powers vested in the Attorney-General can only be exercised by the Attorney-General or a person acting as the Attorney-General.
Schedule 4 of the bill introduces additional oversight in relation to ASIO's security clearance work. The bill would introduce a requirement for ASIO to notify the IGIS where a security clearance decision or security clearance suitability assessment has taken more than 12 months to finalise.
Schedule 4 also amends the ASIO Act to enable the Director-General of Security to delegate their power to furnish non-prejudicial security clearance suitability assessments to an ASIO employee regardless of their position. It does not change the existing legislation relating to the furnishing of prejudicial security clearance suitability assessments.
The measures I have outlined in the bill would make targeted amendments to the legal framework governing our intelligence agencies. This is what was recommended by the comprehensive review. It will also make some related changes which will strengthen protections for the identity of ASIS, ASD and ASIO staff and clarify or refine elements of the Intelligence Services Act. These changes will support our intelligence agencies in the vital work they do for the Australian people, while also enhancing oversight in some specific areas.
The bill reflects the government's commitment to the continual improvement of Australia's strong national security laws to ensure that Australians are kept safe and our way of life is protected.
I commend the bill to the chamber.