Thursday, 17 July 2014
Questions without Notice
Thank you, Senator Reynolds, for that question. Can I acknowledge your interest in this area of policy as a former brigadier in the Australian Army who has served her country. As Senator Reynolds would know, intelligence is at the forefront of Australia's national security capability and our intelligence agencies serve us well.
Senator Reynolds might be interested to know that four planned terrorist attacks on Australian soil have been disrupted since the enactment of Australia's counter-terrorism laws in 2002. Twenty-three people have been convicted of terrorism offences under those laws, including eight individuals who returned from war fighting in Afghanistan. Most prosecutions have made significant use of intelligence information. It is, however, imperative that the statutory framework governing our agencies keep pace with contemporary evolving events and developments in modern technology.
As the parliament is aware, the activities in Syria and Northern Iraq have led to an increase in the number of individuals travelling to participate in those conflicts. Among them are, regrettably, a number of Australians, including some who have fought or trained with terrorist organisations. The threat posed by returning foreign jihadists is the most significant risk to Australia's domestic security that we have faced for decades. To equip our agencies with powers that enable them to function effectively in this environment, the bill I introduced into the Senate yesterday contains measures—in most cases identified by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security in its bipartisan report tabled last year—which will address practical limitations in the current legislation.
The National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014 will strengthen the legislative framework governing the activities of the Australian intelligence community by implementing measures including measures to: improve in limited circumstances information sharing between ASIS and ASIO about Australians of security interest overseas; modernise ASIO's warrant-based intelligence collection powers; and strengthen ASIO's ability to conduct covert intelligence operations, always subject to rigorous safeguards. These measures will provide the agencies with a significant boost in their capacity to fight terrorism and other national security threats. Importantly, increased security and safeguards for individual rights do not have to be mutually exclusive. I announced yesterday that the government will appoint a new Independent National Security Legislation Monitor and consider boosting resources for the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security to achieve both of those objectives.
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the Attorney-General advise the Senate whether the government is planning any further changes to enhance the powers of our intelligence and security agencies to protect Australians?
This bill is a significant contribution towards ensuring the future capability of Australia's intelligence agencies. However, it is just a first step in the government's commitment to improving Australia's already strong national security laws. The government is undertaking a comprehensive review of those laws, including the terrorism provisions of the Commonwealth Criminal Code, and it is responding to recent reviews, addressing any gaps in the current legislation to ensure our agencies can respond effectively to emerging security threats.
The government's No. 1 priority is keeping Australians safe and protecting Australians and our interests from those who would do us harm. Importantly, Australians can have confidence that this government will make the changes to national security laws in a measured and considered way. I thank the opposition for its bipartisanship on this issue.