Thursday, 26 March 2015
Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2015; Third Reading
It would be ungracious of me not to acknowledge the fulsome nature of this debate, the generally civil nature of this debate. We even managed to throw in cultural references to the Mikado, Britney Spears, Taylor Swift, the Dead Kennedys and the Sex Pistols. We weaved it all in there. It was a debate that was not gagged and not truncated, and I think that that says something about the institution of this place and the manner in which we conduct debate on some very important issues. I also want to acknowledge the role of the opposition, in particular Senator Collins, in respect of this, and I want to thank my colleagues Senator Leyonhjelm and Senator Ludlam. In terms of our respective political beliefs, we are a pretty disparate and motley bunch, but we were bound together by a genuine concern about what impact this will have on our democracy and on free speech.
I just want to make this observation: we live in difficult and dangerous times. There is a need to combat terrorism. Of course there is a need to do all we can to combat paedophilia and to stamp that out to bring those predators to justice. But my concern is that, with our intelligence agencies having more and more power—as this bill does give another increase in the power of our intelligence agencies—we do not have the same level of scrutiny as some of our closest allies such as the United States. We do not have the level of parliamentary oversight that the German parliament has, in respect of our intelligence services. I think it is important that we do so, and that is something that we cannot ignore.
I also do not understand, and I hope that Roger Gyles, in his assessment as Independent National Security Legislation Monitor, will consider the issue of allowing the public interest advocate to consult with journalists and media organisations before their metadata is accessed, as is the general practice in the United States, following rulings by Eric Holder, their Attorney General. So, finally, my great fear, which is based on an emotion, but is based on the very text of this bill, is that this legislation will, like a python, further put the squeeze on investigative journalism and whistleblowers in this country. This, in turn, will have a suffocating effect on press freedom, and that is bad for our democracy.