Wednesday, 9 May 2018
Home Affairs and Integrity Agencies Legislation Amendment Bill 2017; In Committee
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, the PJCIS, plays a very important role in oversighting Australia's intelligence community. That role now includes oversight of some aspects of the new Department of Home Affairs. The issue of oversight was also canvassed in detail in the review of our intelligence services conducted last year by Mr L'Estrange and Mr Merchant. I have sought repeated assurance, since that report was published, from the government that further oversight measures in line with the recommendations of that review will be forthcoming. I'll say it again here: the opposition expects a meaningful and substantive response to the recommendations of that review in relation to oversight, and a response of that kind is still not available. The government's response should enable public examination of these important issues.
Labor has a longstanding commitment to modernising and improving the legislation setting out the powers of the PJCIS. I thank Senator Patrick for his acknowledgement of that in his remarks earlier. We drafted a bill to put our views about this into effect—that is, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security Amendment Bill 2015. That bill is presently on the Senate Notice Paper, and our Senate leader has asked me to have carriage of that bill.
Our general approach is this: as the powers and resources of the Australian intelligence community increase, so too must our capacity for scrutiny. That includes effective scrutiny by the parliament. We will always work to ensure that any new powers conferred on police and security agencies are accompanied by appropriate oversight and accountability mechanisms. This is important for a number of reasons: firstly, it helps to ensure that the new powers are exercised only for the reasons they are conferred and in the manner prescribed; secondly, oversight and accountability help to ensure that the Australian public has confidence and respect for the agencies that are protecting them. And that is a relationship with very practical consequences. A good relationship between the citizenry and our police and security agencies is actually essential to the flow of information that has proved so important to effective counterterrorism and law enforcement operations.
We are naturally supportive of much of the intent behind Senator Patrick's amendment. We are grateful for the opportunity that the amendment provided for the shadow Attorney-General to discuss the issues relating to oversight and the role of the PJCIS with Senator Patrick. We regret that because of their form—namely, an amendment to the current bill—Senator Patrick's proposals were not able to be fully considered and were not considered in the public hearings of the PJCIS. There has not been scope or time for proper consultation, nor for consideration of the operation and consequences of Senator Patrick's proposals. Given that, we are not able to support the amendment.
However, we do re-affirm our commitment to modernising and improving the operation of the PJCIS and ensuring that there are appropriate levels of parliamentary scrutiny for the operation of the AIC. We look forward to working with Senator Patrick and all members of the Senate in progressing the measures embodied in our bill and in Senator Patrick's amendment. We would welcome cooperation from the government in doing so.