Thursday, 25 September 2014
National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014; In Committee
by leave—I move government amendments (6), (7), (9) and (10) on sheet 7579 together. I also foreshadow that I will be speaking for amendment (8), even though I know those questions will need to be put separately.
(6) Schedule 6, items 1 and 2, page 81 (lines 4 to 13), to be opposed.
(7) Schedule 6, item 4, page 81 (line 16) to page 85 (line 25), to be opposed.
(9) Schedule 6, item 24, page 106 (lines 3 and 4), to be opposed.
(10) Schedule 6, item 26, page 106 (lines 9 to 11), to be opposed.
These amendments I suppose dovetail with the comments I made before about national security reporting and the criminalisation of what goes on behind the scenes. Nothing at all that I or any of the crossbenchers have discussed or debated tonight, or any of the amendments that we have put into the field, are intended to reduce the effectiveness of our covert intelligence agencies. Glenn Greenwald is the journalist who has reported on and was in receipt of the material that former NSA contractor Edward Snowden put to him more than a year ago now. Mr Greenwald conducted a fascinating interview with New Zealand television a week or two ago where the journalist asked him on his reporting. The journalist asked why he thought it was in the public interest to put this material into the field. His answer was quite instructive.
Effectively he said that if these powers were only being used to pursue terrorist networks, to pursue organised crime, to pursue entrenched corruption, which is what most people think and why most people support the existence of these coercive or intrusive powers, if they were only being used for those purposes, then we would not be having this conversation. The fact is that, more often than not, as The Guardian pointed out, we have quite a responsible culture, I would argue, of journalism in this country where people are not setting out to recklessly endanger our covert agents or intelligence operations. Rather national security reporting in this country and overseas, especially resulting from the Snowden revelations, is about disclosing massive wrongdoing. There are very few ways of going about that.
We rely on whistleblowers. Consider Mr Snowden, who is no effectively and excise we understand in Moscow, Chelsea Manning who is behind bars, and Julian Assange, who is effectively in exile and has been in a room not much bigger than the space occupied by two or three of these Senate wedges for a period of well over two years for disclosing not just wrongdoing but illegalities and very serious crimes. There is no other way of finding out about these things than from public interest whistleblowers putting material to journalists who then evaluate, redact when necessary to avoid harm being done to those who might be in the middle of the situation which is being reported and then putting this material into the public domain. We have sought to do is to oppose the new provisions in schedule 6 regarding protection of information, which effectively lift penalties for AMMA unauthorised disclosure from two years maximum penalty to 10 years. The explanatory memorandum gives the game away. It states in part:
The necessity for increasing the penalty has become apparent through recent domestic and international incidents involving the unauthorised disclosure of security intelligence-related information.
That is the reason these have been noted informally as the Snowden amendments. We are seeking to remove them from this legislation because nothing could be more important, particularly given the costs paid by those brave individuals who have come forward to expose not the identity of covert agencies but to expose criminality at the heart of some of these agencies because people are only human. When internal processes for whistleblowing fail, you do have to go public and we have quite a proud tradition of press freedom in this country. I would like to see a lot more of it but from what we do know protections for these people are absolutely essential. So these amendments go directly to that.
I suspect the Attorney-General will feel as though he has one or two options open to him. One is simply to not reply at all, as he has done a fair bit during the course of this debate. The other would be to jump up and accused Edward Snowden of being a traitor, as he has done in this chamber a number of times. Mr Snowdon just won a Swedish human rights prize for his work exposing state surveillance programs. He is one of the Right Livelihood Honorary Prize, which is often referred to as 'the alternate Nobel Prize', for showing courage and skill in revealing the unprecedented extent of state surveillance violating basic democratic processes and constitutional right. This prize is awarded annually to honour and support those offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today.
This extraordinarily brave young man has a very uncertain future. As I said, he is effectively living in exile in Russia and nobody knows how that situation is going to turn out, where he is going to end up. I want to emphasise that the reason for the Australian Greens putting these amendments to the chamber tonight is not to put the legitimate operations of our intelligence a agencies at risk but to assist in protecting those who come forward with material that does belong in the public domain, again after it has been through the hands of journalists. That is why I say that these amendments are linked to those we discussed before about national security reporting and the importance of not criminalising it in this country. These clauses have been criticised by the media organisations that Senator Xenophon and I catalogued at some length before and I commend strongly these amendments to the Senate.