Thursday, 1 August 2019
Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Amendment (Sunsetting of Special Powers Relating to Terrorism Offences) Bill 2019; Second Reading
I rise to sum up the debate on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Amendment (Sunsetting of Special Powers Relating to Terrorism Offences) Bill 2019. In making some brief comments, as I sum up the debate, I just want to set the scene with three points. Australia's current national terrorism threat level is probable. Since September 2014, when the national terrorism threat level was raised, there have been 16 major disruption operations in relation to imminent attack planning. The Director-General of security has said that it is important to temporarily extend the provisions in the current legislation to ensure there is no capability gap, whilst the parliament considers a new bill.
This government will never apologise for making national security a fundamental priority. Keeping Australian communities safe, protecting Australia and Australians from those who seek to do us harm is and will continue to be the government's No. 1 priority. An important way the government achieves this is by ensuring that our national security agencies have the powers they need to do this important job. The government has introduced the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Amendment (Sunsetting of Special Powers Relating to Terrorism Offences) Bill 2019 to ensure ASIO retains key counterterrorism powers whilst broader reforms are progressed. ASIO's current questioning and detention powers are due to sunset—that is, come to an end—on 7 September 2019. These powers themselves are rarely used, but they are crucial. The powers enable ASIO to detain and question persons of counterterrorism interest. I'll just say that again, so that everybody understands what these powers enable ASIO to do: to detain and question persons of counterterrorism interest. The powers themselves have been used in the past to prevent terrorism in Australia. I'll just say that again, to make it clear to the chamber what we are talking about: the powers have been used in the past to prevent terrorism in Australia.
What this bill will do—and it's a very simple bill—is ensure that ASIO retains its strong counterterrorism capabilities while the government progresses more-detailed reforms to ASIO's questioning and detention powers. As the chamber would know, this follows reviews by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security and the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor. The passage of this bill does a very, very simple—but important—thing. It will extend the sunset date—that is, the finishing date—of ASIO's questioning and detention powers by 12 months, as I've said, until 7 September 2020. The bill does not amend ASIO's existing powers in any way, and the powers that we are extending by 12 months will continue to be subject to the strong safeguards and oversight mechanisms.
The committee has reviewed these powers extensively, tabling its report in May 2018. The committee itself recommended that the sunset date be extended by 12 months to enable the committee adequate time to consider a reformed compulsory questioning framework. While the government accepted this recommendation in principle, it has always been clear that reforms to ASIO's coercive powers require careful thought and extensive stakeholder consultation to ensure that the reformed framework is appropriate, adapted and fit for purpose and that it can adequately address both current and future security threats.
Extension of the sunsetting provision will ensure that the legislation will not be rushed and that ASIO will continue to have these coercive powers available should they need to be exercised. Extension of the sunsetting provision will also ensure that, once the government brings these reforms before parliament, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security will have sufficient time to scrutinise the proposed reforms. This is consistent with the committee report in May 2018, in which the committee itself was clear that it would need a considerable amount of time to consider reforms to ASIO's questioning powers.
To conclude, the bill will ensure that ASIO continues to have the powers required to address the ongoing threat of terrorism and keep Australians safe. It will also ensure that reforms to these powers recommended by the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security are introduced into the parliament in time for adequate consultation through the committee process. Again, the Morrison government and in particular our minister, Peter Dutton, make no excuse for protecting Australia and Australians—for keeping Australian communities safe from those who would seek to do us harm. That is and will continue to be the government's No. 1 priority. I therefore commend this bill to the Senate.