Thursday, 6 December 2018
Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018. The week started well. I have to say it started surprisingly well because, for the first time in many, many years, it seemed that the ALP were finally behaving like an opposition when it came to matters of so-called national security. It was the first time that I can remember that we finally saw the Labor Party acknowledge that their job, as the opposition, was to scrutinise, criticise and amend legislation that erodes civil liberties in order to save civil liberties. We're told it is very important that this legislation exists to protect our freedoms, and yet, of course, what we see is the gradual erosion of our freedom to protect our freedoms.
While over many years there has been practically a cigarette paper of difference between the government and the Labor opposition, we did see at the start of this week the Labor Party acknowledge the fundamental problems with the legislation that was being proposed. We saw the Labor Party acknowledge that they would be opposing what many people have described as draconian national security legislation. When the Labor Party were talking about it at the start of the week, they understood that this legislation would, rather than prevent crime, open a gate to corporate and state espionage, that it would make us less safe, that it would force our software industry and talented IT entrepreneurs offshore, that it would compromise the privacy of Australians, that it would weaken the cybersecurity of Australian companies and the government and that it would hand over even more powers to an unaccountable secret intelligence network. So it was a good start to the week—a surprising one, yet a good one—because, finally, we were starting to see the Labor Party acknowledge that it was time for them to do their job.
Yet, here we are, at the end of the week, and after a couple of days of protest from the government we've now seen the Labor Party roll over so that Peter Dutton can give them a little tickle on their belly, a little scratch. That's where we are right now. Labor are too afraid to do their job and stand up and recognise that, as an opposition, we can't hand over powers continually to a government, to unaccountable intelligence agencies, that would have the effect of compromising the privacy of Australians and skewer our software industry and IT industry.
So here we are, and this is where things get interesting. The Labor Party acknowledged that it was necessary to amend the piece of legislation that we have before us. Through their response to the report of the joint standing committee on intelligence matters, the Labor Party acknowledged many of the problems with this piece of legislation. The Labor Party recommended that, with the support of the government, there should be significant changes made—that the committee should inquire into this bill in 2019 and that there should be a separate statutory review undertaken by the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor within 18 months of the legislation coming into effect. They said: 'These were very important changes. They will help resolve the ongoing concerns we had with the bill.' And now we have a set of amendments proposed by the ALP to this legislation. We thought they might oppose this legislation, which is the right thing to do, but now they've said that they will amend it.
We think they should oppose it. We think they should oppose it because, as I said, it hands over enormous power to unaccountable intelligence agencies. It opens the gate to corporate and state espionage. It erodes the privacy of all Australians. On that basis, we think they should oppose it. We know that a number of people within this space, including the digital rights and civil liberty groups who contributed to the various inquiries into this legislation and, for example, the UN, the EU, tech companies and Defence contractors—a range of people impacted by this legislation—said it should not be passed. At the start of the week, the Labor Party expressed those concerns, but at the end of the week they said, 'Well, we're going to pass this legislation with amendments.' There is another twist that I'll get to in a moment.
What we saw was the Labor Party roll over and give their support with a proposal to amend the legislation. We're about 15 minutes away from an order that says we need to vote on this bill. To the great shame of the Labor Party, they will vote for it. But the Labor Party were only going to vote for it on the basis of a number of amendments they proposed. As of a few minutes ago, we've learnt that they might not even support their own amendments to the legislation—just think about that! At the start of this week, the Labor Party stood up and said, 'We're really worried about this bill and we're not going to offer our support for it.' We've listened to the civil liberties groups, we've listened to the digital rights community, we've listened to the IT community and to the defence contractors, we've listened to the software industry, and we understand that this bill is a bridge too far. Rather than keeping us safe, what it does is open the floodgates to more corporate crime and, worse still, to the involvement of other state actors in our national security debate. What we are doing is opening the possibilities for other state actors as well as non-state actors—like other corporate players—to basically have access to information that, without changes to this legislation, remains the property of each individual in Australia, remains private property, remains the domain of those individuals who choose to share that information with whomever they choose to share it with.
The Labor Party said, based on some criticism from the government, 'We don't want to look weak on national security, so what we're going to do is reluctantly accept this but with some very significant changes.' As of five minutes ago, we've learnt that they may not even support their own amendments. It's remarkable that we are here on the last day of parliament for the year, 15 minutes before we are about to conclude the business of the parliament for 2018, and Labor's final act is to not even back their own amendments. Can you believe that you have a party that, four days ago, said it would not support the bill but now, four days later, won't even support its own amendments? It is remarkable!
The Labor Party are going to sacrifice an IT industry, an export market estimated by Austrade to be worth $3 billion, because they're such cowards. They don't want to stand up to the government and make an argument about why we need to improve the privacy of Australians rather than give it up in the name of looking strong on national security. Look at this mob—stand up to them! They are weak as the proverbial. All the Labor Party need to do is show a bit of ticker, stand up to them and, rather than selling out the IT industry and giving up the privacy of Australians, recognise that they have an opportunity to lead, not to cave in. It reminds me a bit of climate change. It reminds me a bit of the debate—