House debates

Monday, 18 March 2024


Intelligence and Security Joint Committee; Report

12:41 pm

Photo of Peter KhalilPeter Khalil (Wills, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, I present the committee's Advisory report on the Defence Amendment (Safeguarding Australia's Military Secrets) Bill 2023.

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

by leave—On behalf of the PJCIS, I present the committee's Advisory report on the Defence Amendment (Safeguarding Australia's Military Secrets) Bill 2023.

This bill is aimed to strengthen Australia's existing legislative provisions to control and prevent the export and transfer of sensitive Defence information to foreign militaries. It achieves this by creating an authorisation framework that regulates work performed by former Defence staff members—including both former ADF members and Defence Australian Public Service employees.

The bill will also apply to all Australian citizens or permanent residents seeking to provide training to foreign militaries or foreign government entities in relation to goods, software and technologies in part 1 of the Defence and Strategic Goods List; or training in relation to military tactics, techniques and procedures.

As part of its evidence to the committee, Defence provided the committee with a number of case studies that stated:

This Bill is an important step towards ensuring foreign actors cannot collect Defence secrets through the employment of former Defence personnel, or Australians with knowledge of and access to sensitive technology and military information.

Defence informed the committee that the bill complemented the Defence Trade Controls Amendment Bill to further strengthen Australia's export control framework by enhancing the protections around the supply of controlled goods and technology within and outside of Australia. The SAMS bill, as it's known in the acronym, also supports the export licence free environment between AUKUS partners, unlocking defence trade, innovation and collaboration. Together with the Defence Trade Controls Amendment Bill, the safeguarding Australia's military secrets bill—the SAMS bill—will meet the requirement to implement a standard of controls comparable to those of the United States to access the national exemption from US export control licensing requirements of the US Arms Export Control Act.

ASIO gave the committee its assessment of the threats to the Australian community in the area of Defence secrets, stating:

Hostile foreign states and their intelligence services are aggressively seeking secrets about Australia's defence capabilities, government decision-making, political parties, foreign policy, critical infrastructure, space technologies, academic and think tank research, medical advances, key export industries and personal information.

The committee's unanimous report recommended that the bill pass, and it made four recommendations for the government's consideration, including:

… assess the existing legislation and procedures and whether they sufficiently cover working or training for paramilitary organisations and militias by former defence personnel—

which is somewhat of a grey area—

… provide the Minister for Defence with the ability to determine by legislative instrument classes or categories of non-former Defence members that are not required to apply for an authorisation—for example, in cases where a company has been approved to provide goods under the Defence Export Control (DEC) arrangements …

…   …   …

… assess how existing legislation and procedures covering former National Intelligence Community officers and their work for foreign governments should be strengthened, and address the need for further legislation—

if necessary. Once passed, this bill will deal with the potential for former Defence staff members to reveal sensitive defence information and place Australia's national security at risk. In addition, it provide our allies with more confidence that securing sensitive military information is at the forefront of the Australian government's national security thinking and practice.

On behalf of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, I extend my thanks to those who participated in the inquiry by providing submissions and appearing at public hearings. I thank my colleagues, including the deputy chair, and all the members of the committee for their work on this particular report. It's extremely sensitive and extremely important, and the committee worked around the clock, given the time sensitivities and time constraints we were facing with respect to the need to introduce this bill to the parliament before the April recess. I extend my thanks to all committee members for their fine and hard work on this, and to the secretariat staff, who always work so hard and diligently under extreme circumstances—particularly with the PJCIS, with so many reports; there are some 14 inquiries we've got underway at the same time. There's an enormous amount of pressure on the secretariat as well as the committee members. I am very grateful for their efforts, and I thank them. I commend this report to the House.

12:47 pm

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I echo the remarks of the chair of the committee. The committee does very important work, and, as the chair indicated, it has an extremely high workload—one that I've not experienced in my eight years in this place. Without giving the chair too much support, he does a reasonable job in that position; it's a very trying job. This report is really important. I don't often rise as the deputy chair when there are matters of agreement on these reports, but I want to make some comments.

It is incredibly important that we have a regime, like what will ultimately become the SAMS act, that protects intellectual property and the knowledge men and women have gained of tactics, procedure and methods whilst they've been in the ADF. When they discharge, those tactics, methods and procedures could be used against this country by a foreign adversary. It's very important that this bill, when it comes before the parliament—which is very shortly; today, I believe—is passed at least this week. I encourage the Department of Defence, who will be charged with the responsibility of ensuring as best they can that private industry is not adversely impacted—it's very important, particularly at the moment, where defence industry in this country is doing it very tough, that the defence industry is not bound up with unnecessary regulatory red tape. I'm not suggesting that the SAMS bill will provide unnecessary red tape, but it's really important that companies, businesses and individuals do not get unnecessarily delayed in their applications to the department. It is incredibly important, at a difficult time when we have cost-of-living pressures on every Australian, but particularly the defence industry. We need to be relying on defence industry in this country like no other time since 1945. We live in the most geopolitically, geostrategically difficult time since 1945. We need to be working government and industry hand in glove, so I implore the Department of Defence to do everything they can to ensure that applications by individuals are treated as expeditiously as humanly possible.

I support the report, I support the recommendations, as does the coalition, and the coalition will be supporting the bill when it comes before the House.