Monday, 24 November 2014
Telecommunications; Order for the Production of Documents
I ask leave to make a short statement in relation to general business notice of motion No. 517, which relates to an order for the production of documents concerning a PricewaterhouseCoopers financial study into the cost of the government's data retention policy.
For those who are not aware of what this relates to, Mr Malcolm Turnbull recently introduced a bill for a mandatory data retention proposal which would force telecommunications providers—many of them very unwillingly, I should say—to warehouse huge volumes of private data effectively belonging to all of us, from young children to High Court judges to diplomats to ordinary Australians right across the country. Every man, woman and child, every device in the country, and that is going to be extremely costly. It amounts to little more than a surveillance tax—one that was not announced before the election. Industry presumably will pass on some of these costs to users, and the rest will be picked up by taxpayers. The PwC report has been commissioned to find out how much it will cost. I think it is imperative that the government puts that report into the public domain so that we know what the cost will be.
The government will not be supporting this motion. The consultancy report was created for the purpose of informing cabinet. It contains commercially confidential and potentially market-sensitive information provided by key participants in the telecommunications industry. The government undertook to engage with industry in good faith and on the understanding that the information they would provide the government via PricewaterhouseCoopers would be kept confidential. To disclose their confidential information in this way would be a flagrant breach of that understanding. Senators will understand that, when stakeholders on that basis provide information to the government, it would be unethical for the government to violate their confidence. The government has been transparent and open about the policy and legislative matters on this issue and is committed to ongoing engagement with all stakeholders.
That the Senate—
(a) notes that:
(i) the Attorney-General's Department is reported to have contracted PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct a financial study into the cost of the Government's data retention policy, and
(ii) the Government has not stated what the cost to the Australian public and to the telecommunications industry of its data retention policy will be; and
(b) orders that there be laid on the table by the Attorney-General (Senator Brandis), no later than noon on Tuesday, 25 November 2014 the:
(i) terms of reference for the PricewaterhouseCoopers study, and
(ii) any report provided by PricewaterhouseCoopers in the calendar year 2014 to the Government concerning the cost of data retention.