Wednesday, 5 December 2018
Intelligence Services Amendment Bill 2018; Second Reading
That this bill be now read a second time.
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
The speech read as follows—
ASIS's operational successes are not heralded openly, and recognition of the individual achievements of the women and men who make up its ranks are necessarily discreet.
Nor is it possible to be completely candid about the circumstances in which those achievements come about, including the specific hazards officers have overcome in the course of their duties.
Nevertheless, it can be said much of ASIS's operational work overseas is necessarily conducted in hazardous environments, including in war-like zones and other high risk environments.
This reflects considerable change in the operating environments for ASIS officers since the original passage of the Intelligence Services Act in 2001.
The original form of the Act limited the ability of ASIS officers to act even in their own self-defence, reflecting the findings of the Second Hope Royal Commission in 1984.
By 2004, drawing on three years' practical experience immediately following the 9/11 attacks, and also drawing on ASIS's acknowledged role in direct support to the Australian Defence Force after 9/11, the Act was amended to allow ASIS officers, where authorised by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, to train in - and in certain circumstances use - weapons for self-defence.
Since the time of those amendments, successive governments have asked ASIS to do more in response to national security priorities and unfolding events, and to do so in new places and new circumstances unforeseen in 2001 or in 2004.
In the fifteen years since the last amendment related to ASIS's use of force, the world has indisputably become even more complex—and Australia has become more of an international terrorism and espionage target.
As a consequence, this Bill seeks to amend the Intelligence Services Act to:
Protection of Additional Persons
The first amendment proposed would enable the Minister for Foreign Affairs to specify additional persons outside Australia who may be protected by an ASIS staff member or agent under Schedule 2 of the Act.
This would be at Ministerial discretion and could potentially include a range of individuals or categories of persons as appropriate to each context.
Currently, Schedule 2 permits the use of weapons by ASIS staff members or agents for self-defence, to defend other ASIS staff members or agents or persons cooperating with ASIS under Division 2 of the Act, or for training purposes.
The proposed amendment will mean that ASIS officers will be able to use weapons to protect a broader range of persons.
This will address a legal uncertainty identified by the Australian Government Solicitor (AGS) in the ability of an ASIS staff member to be compliant with the Act when defending certain other persons including bystanders, and to train for the use of force in those circumstances.
Use of Reasonable Force
The second amendment proposed will enable the use of reasonable force by an ASIS staff member or agent in undertaking specified activities outside Australia in the proper performance of an ASIS function.
It is important to note that this does not solely refer to the use of firearms.
This amendment will address several grey areas in the use of force under the Intelligence Services Act, particularly the use of reasonable and limited force to restrain, detain or move an individual who may pose a risk of the compromise of an operation, or where a staff member anticipates a possible safety risk.
The ability to use force will only apply where there is a significant risk to the safety of a person (this would likely, but would not necessarily need to be, an Australian person), or where there was a significant threat to security or significant risk to the operational security of ASIS.
This ability to use force where reasonably necessary for the performance of the specified activity will be a change for ASIS officers given that, as noted, their ability to use force is currently constrained to situations of self-defence.
Before directing a specified activity, the Minister for Foreign Affairs will have to consult with the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General, the Minister for Defence and other relevant Ministers.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs would also need to be satisfied that arrangements are in place to ensure any actions taken by ASIS officers are necessary and reasonable, having regard to the purposes for which the direction is given.
It is important to note that any use of force will be proportionate – it will be the minimum reasonable force given the circumstances.
While lethal force may already be used in self-defence as a last resort to protect an officer or another protected person from serious harm or death, it is explicitly provided that in undertaking such an activity ASIS staff members or agents will not, and must not, engage in torture; cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment; sexual assault; or unlawful killings.
An example of the use of force under these circumstances could include the keeping safe of an uncooperative person from a source of immediate danger during an ASIS operation, including by removing them from the source of immediate danger, even if they are in shock or paralysed with fear.
Like the existing ability to use weapons for self-defence, the amendments for the use of force will be a Ministerially authorised exception to the general prohibitions in ASIS activities against the use of violence against the person.
Oversight arrangements for these amendments will be critical, and will include key roles played by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS). Importantly, the Inspector-General and her office were consulted in the development of this Bill.
Among other independent accountability and authorisation methods, the Inspector-General will need to be provided with copies of the ministerial approvals to undertake these specified activities and copies of ASIS's guidelines on the use of weapons and use of force.
Additionally, the Inspector-General, on receipt of the guidelines on the use of weapons and use of force, or changes to them, would be required to offer to brief the PJCIS on the content and the effect of the guidelines or the changes.
This would be consistent with the remit of the PJCIS in matters of ASIS's administration and would provide a means for the committee to be satisfied that there are appropriate settings for the use of weapons and use of force.
There is an additional accountability measure. The 2017 Independent Intelligence Review made a number of recommendations, including Recommendation 19: to delegate to the Director-General of ASIS certain authorisations, currently exercised by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, in relation to the training of ASIS officers in the use of weapons, and the deployment of such weapons.
This Recommendation will not be implemented by the Government.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs will retain the authorisation power in relation to the training of ASIS officers in the use of weapons, and the deployment of such weapons.
The amendments instead underline the continuing importance of the role of the Minister for Foreign Affairs in authorising the use of weapons by ASIS.
If this Bill is passed, the conduct of a specified activity by ASIS or its agents would require that the Minister for Foreign Affairs consult with the Attorney-General before authorising such an activity, and this provides an additional opportunity for legal concerns to be raised, if any. The Minister for Foreign Affairs will also be required to consult with the Prime Minister and any other relevant Minister.
If this Bill becomes law, the independent Inspector-General of Intelligence & Security will oversee compliance with the Bill to ensure that ASIS's conduct is consistent with the law and with the Australian public's expectations of propriety.
It is perhaps unavoidable that having an intelligence agency whose core task is to undertake covert activities gives rise to myths and misconceptions about its activities and the rules under which it operates. This is despite the advent of the Intelligence Services Act itself, and its clear articulation of ASIS's functions and oversight arrangements.
These amendments may precipitate a similar set of myths and misconceptions.
It is therefore important to articulate what these amendments do not allow – in addition to articulating what they do allow.
The first such misunderstanding may be a confusion between ASIS's modern mandate and authorisations, compared to ASIS's pre-1984 'Special Operations' function, which was ended after a recommendation of the Second Hope Royal Commission.
These proposed modern measures are in no way the same as ASIS's pre-1984 role: there is no need for ASIS to conduct special operations. Australia has an existing Special Forces capability within the Australian Defence Force.
While the amendments are directed towards self-defence, it is possible that some members of the public may equate this with para-military offensive action. Nothing could be further from reality.
ASIS does not have, nor is it seeking, an offensive armed capability.
Lethal force may currently only be used as a last resort to protect an ASIS officer or protected person from serious harm or death. This will not change.
The amendments allow this self-defence provision to be extended to those not directly part of an ASIS operational team, such as hostages being rescued, or bystanders who need to be kept safe from a source of immediate danger.
Further, to avoid any doubt, the amendments make explicit by law that which has always been understood through the action of other legislation and conventions: ASIS staff members or agents are specifically prohibited from engaging in torture; cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment; sexual assault; or unlawful killings.
ASIS has trained and deployed with weapons in certain situations since 2004. But, as noted at the beginning of this speech, challenges to Australia's national security require ASIS to more frequently operate in hazardous circumstances overseas – especially against increasingly sophisticated and ruthless armed terrorist groups.
The current provisions of the Act are leading to unintended and unsafe situations for ASIS officers, and others.
For example, under the current Act, an armed ASIS officer undertaking an operation overseas may only use a weapon in defence of another officer, agent or a limited category of person co-operating with ASIS. The Act currently prohibits an ASIS officer from using a weapon in defence of an innocent person who is threatened by a terrorist or kidnapper, even where this threat is present in front of the ASIS officer.
The proposed amendments will allow an ASIS officer confronted with this situation to act appropriately in defence of the innocent person.
Nevertheless, these amendments do not affect the existing prohibition in Section 6(4) of the Act that prevents ASIS officers from planning or undertaking paramilitary activities.
The need for action
Another recommendation of the 2017 Independent Intelligence Review was for a comprehensive review of national security legislation to be undertaken. Such a review has already been established under the leadership of eminent retired public servant, Mr Dennis Richardson AO.
The amendments in this Bill do not pre-empt the outcomes of Mr Richardson's Review. That review is not scheduled to complete its final report until the end of 2019.
Enhancing the protection of ASIS officers conducting operations in the name of Australia, including rectifying gaps and shortcomings, is required in the near term.
To conclude, each day the women and men of ASIS go about their work to protect and advance the Australian national interest. They are often called upon to do so covertly, at considerable personal risk and hazard, and in environments of significant danger.
As the world becomes more complex, it is clear that the legislation that governs ASIS operations also needs to evolve to ensure that staff members, and the agents who assist them, have the appropriate capacity for self-defence, as authorised by the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
I rise to speak on the Intelligence Services Amendment Bill 2018 on behalf of the opposition. I would like to say at the outset that Labor supports this bill. We support this bill because we recognise the need to modernise the legislative framework that governs the Australian Secret Intelligence Services, ASIS, to reflect the changing operational realities of the global environment and the nature of Australia's current national security challenges.
First, some background is helpful to contextualise the proposed amendments that the Intelligence Services Amendment Bill 2018 makes to the existing legal framework. The Intelligence Services Act has an explicit limitation that, in performing its functions, ASIS must not plan or undertake activities that involve paramilitary activities, violence against the person or the use of weapons. In 2004, parliament amended the Intelligence Services Act to permit ASIS staff members and agents to undertake training in, and to engage in the use of self-defence techniques and weapons for the purpose of protection when undertaking activities outside Australia. This is subject to ministerial approval.
The nature of the protection that an ASIS agent or staff member can be trained to engage is in interpreted consistently with common law principles of self-defence—in other words, a minimum force reasonably necessary in the circumstances as the staff member or agent perceives that it is required to protect life or to prevent serious injury to themselves or to another person. However, currently there are strict limitations on who may be protected by an ASIS staff member or agent acting in self-defence. The scope is limited to the individual ASIS member or agent themselves, other members or agents of ASIS or a person from another approved authority who is cooperating with ASIS. This is a narrower scope than those who may otherwise be protected by any other Australian person acting under the common law of self-defence. This means that, should an ASIS staff member or agent engage in the use of a weapon or self-defence technique to protect persons who are not within the limited scope defined by the legislation, their action may actually be permitted in accordance with common law, but they would be in breach of the Intelligence Services Act.
This bill would amend the Intelligence Services Act to: firstly, enable the minister to specify additional persons outside Australia who may be protected by an ASIS staff member or agent; and, secondly, provide that an ASIS staff member or agent performing specific activities outside Australia will be able to use reasonable and necessary force in the performance of an ASIS function. Additional persons could include officers from other agencies such as officers from a state or Commonwealth agency and from approved foreign agencies, hostages and other bystanders.
The amendments are also intended to address another current legal uncertainty as to whether the existing provisions that enable the use of a weapon or self-defence technique for protection also extend to the ability to apply pre-emptive force or threats of force to restrain, control or compel a person in a situation where the ASIS member or agent feels that, if they do not do so, the situation is likely to escalate to a situation where greater force is required. This use of pre-emptive force in this context would be limited to what could constitute reasonable and necessary force but could not result in physical harm or injury to the person that might exceed the threshold of actual bodily harm under Australian law.
Crucially, the proposed extended powers available to ASIS staff and agents to use weapons, self-defence techniques and reasonable force will be subject to appropriate oversight. Specifically, ministerial approval is required for an ASIS officer or agent to be provided with a weapon, to be provided with training in the use of force and to use force for the purposes of or in the course of specified activities. The minister must not give approval unless they have also consulted with the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General, the defence minister and any other minister who has responsibility for a matter that is likely to be significantly affected by an act that is to be approved. Approval must be provided in writing to the Director-General of ASIS and must specify any conditions that must be complied with and, if approved, the kind or class of weapon involved. In addition, the Director-General of ASIS must give a report to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, the IGIS, if a weapon or self-defence technique is used by an ASIS staff member or agent. The report must be given in writing as soon as practicable after the weapon or self-defence technique is used, and explain the circumstances under which the use occurred.
The bill also includes a new oversight mechanism whereby the IGIS must brief the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security regarding the content and effect of ASIS guidelines on matters related to the use of weapons and self-defence techniques if requested by the committee or if the guidelines change. This is intended to provide an additional layer of external scrutiny to the content and scope of guidance to ASIS staff members and agents in order to ensure that such rules governing the use of force remain appropriate.
This bill was introduced to the House of Representatives and then referred to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security for inquiry and report. Following inquiry, the committee was satisfied with the provisions contained in the bill and recommended that the Intelligence Services Amendment Bill 2018 be passed. Labor appreciates the non-partisan and consultative manner in which this bill has been dealt with, and the respect for the parliament and the importance of adequate oversight requirements. This should provide confidence to the parliament and to the public in regard to the additional powers conferred by this bill. Such an approach is an example of how national security legislation should be pursued. I recommend the bill to the Senate.
I rise to speak on the Intelligence Services Amendment Bill 2018 and to express some concerns that the Greens have about this legislation. The explanatory memorandum to this bill states:
The Bill will improve and modernise the legislative framework that governs the use of force by the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) to address key operational challenges and issues. The Bill will do this by amending the Intelligence Services Act 2001 (IS Act) to:
a. enable the Minister to specify additional persons outside Australia who may be protected by an ASIS staff member or agent; and
b. provide that an ASIS staff member or agent performing specified activities outside Australia will be able to use reasonable and necessary force in the performance of an ASIS function.
In short, additional persons or classes of persons will be permitted to use weapons, and ASIS staff members and agents will be permitted to use force, including the use of a weapon, against persons outside Australia.
It's fair to say that ASIS has a pretty chequered history when it comes to the use of weapons. The legislative framework governing ASIS's use of weapons was changed significantly in response to a recommendation of the Royal Commission on Australia's Security and Intelligence Agencies following what became known as the Sheraton Hotel incident, which took place in November 1983.
It's worth reminding ourselves of the circumstances of that incident. I'm relying here on a paper entitled Wayward governance: illegality and its control in the public sector, published by the Australian Institute of Criminology. In that paper the AIC wrote, in relation to the Sheraton Hotel incident, that, in that incident, staff of the hotel were confronted at a lift by a group of men:
Some were wearing masks, some were carrying weapons, ranging from Browning 9 mm automatic pistols to the formidable Heckler and Koch submachine gun. The intruders moved through the lobby into the kitchen, menacing the kitchen staff on the way, and departed in two getaway cars waiting outside a kitchen exit. One of the cars was stopped by … Victoria Police a short distance from the hotel and its occupants were taken into custody. … Hotel staff may have assumed that they were the victims of an armed robbery; in fact they were unwilling parties to … a resoundingly unsuccessful training exercise by officers of the … Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS).
The royal commission recommended that the use of weapons by ASIS be terminated and that ASIS's stocks of weapons, including explosives, be disposed of. The government of the time accepted and acted on those recommendations.
I have a personal recollection of this event, and I would imagine that many of the senators of my age—ranging from slightly younger to quite a bit older—in this place would also have a personal recollection of this event. It does call into memory some of the other shambolic so-called training exercises that have been held in Australia by our security and intelligence services, including one that was ultimately truncated on the streets of Melbourne a few years ago by the Australian Border Force. That particular event, the Sheraton Hotel incident, which took place in November 1983, did result in a significant change to the legislative framework regarding ASIS's use of weapons and the stocks of weapons that ASIS could maintain. It's also worth noting that, since then, in 2004 an amendment enabled ASIS staff members and agents to be trained in and equipped with weapons and techniques for the purposes of self-defence and the defence of fellow officers and others cooperating with ASIS under authorisation of the Minister for Home Affairs.
That's where the framework sits at the moment. ASIS agents and staff members can be trained in self-defence techniques and equipped with weapons for the purposes of self-defence and the defence of fellow officers and other people cooperating with ASIS. This amendment continues the mission creep that we so often see in this place. Again, it would, in effect, lower the threshold from where it currently sits with regard to self-defence and change that threshold by providing that an ASIS staff member or agent preforming specified activities outside Australia will be able to use reasonable and necessary force in the performance of an ASIS function. That's a significant lowering of the threshold that is being presented to us today.
It's been argued by the government that this is a minor increase in powers which is both necessary and proportionate, but, in the view of the Australian Greens, this is mission creep. This legislation joins the many hundreds of pieces of legislation that we've seen passed through state, territory and Commonwealth parliaments in the last 20 years that provide greater powers to our intelligence services and erode fundamental rights, freedoms and liberties in this place.
I want to say again that Australia is the only liberal democracy in the world that does not have some form of charter or bill of rights either constitutionally or legislatively enshrined. It's a matter that absolutely needs to be addressed by this parliament, and I remind members that the Greens have a motion that will be coming on later today to provide for a Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee inquiry into the form and function of a legislated charter of rights in this country. We urgently need a charter of rights in Australia because the LNP and the ALP, in zombie policy lock step, are sleepwalking Australia down the dangerous path to a police state.
We will see legislation that is far more significant than this come before the Senate in the next 36 hours or so, when there will be amendments around powers that intelligence agencies have in regard to backdoor entry to encrypted apps. That legislation will contain other, particularly disturbing, provisions, including a provision that some intelligence agencies may be able to remotely access the computer of anybody in this country for specific purposes in specific circumstances without the knowledge of the person whose computer it is and in some cases without a warrant. Disturbingly, the legislation provides that, even if on retrospective application a judicial authority or the AAT makes a determination that in fact a warrant should have been sought—that is, that the remote covert access to anyone's computer was made unlawfully—the intelligence agencies can actually keep the information that they unlawfully accessed from a private citizen's computer and use that information in their investigations.
We are seeing an erosion of fundamental rights and freedoms. It is not just civil and political freedoms, although those are being eroded in this country, and there is quite rightly significant concern about that, but other freedoms and rights, such as the right to privacy. This is all being done in the name of counterterrorism, and it's being done in deals stitched up behind the closed doors of the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and Security between the ALP and the LNP. I want to say how disappointing it is that the ALP has crumbled into a pathetic heap in regard to the encryption legislation.
I'll take that interjection. You know when someone is concerned, when you've hit a sore nerve, in this place, because the volume from the Labor benches arcs up. We are seeing again the zombie policy of the ALP and the LNP as they get together in lock step and erode fundamental rights and freedoms that they, particularly the Australian Labor Party, used to stand for in this place many years ago. I reckon Doc Evatt would be rolling in his grave at the moment at the way his party is conducting itself in this place.
On the legislation that is currently before us, it's probably worth pointing out that ASIS managed to illegally bug the Timor-Leste government in order to defraud Timor-Leste out of hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue from the Timor oil and gas fields that were rightly Timor-Leste's. It was defrauded out of those revenues—unlawfully—by the Australian government through ASIS's bugging of the Timor-Leste government deliberations on that matter. ASIS managed to do that quite successfully without an increase in their powers relating to how and in what circumstances they can use their weapons. That was one of the most shameful acts of any intelligence agency in our country's history—ripping off one of our impoverished neighbours of many hundreds of millions of dollars, at a minimum, that that country could have used to help lift its people out of poverty and provide essential medical and educational services to its people. That money was effectively stolen by the Commonwealth government, because they unlawfully bugged the cabinet deliberations of Timor-Leste and used the information they gathered through that unlawful bugging to, effectively, steal money from Timor-Leste. It is a shameful and highly embarrassing chapter in our country's history, and one which will continue to be spoken about in this place as the shameful trial of Mr Bernard Collaery and Witness K continues in the ACT legal system. I, for one, and I know colleagues Senator Patrick, Senator Storer and Mr Wilkie from the other place will continue to keep as close an eye as possible and continue to speak about it in this place, because that prosecution never should have been authorised by the Attorney-General in the first place.
So, when we hear assurances that additional powers given to our intelligence agencies will not be used in unintended ways, which is an assurance the government is trying to give us with regard to this legislation, I want to refer people back to metadata laws, again shamefully supported by the ALP and the LNP in their zombie policy lockstep and their slow sleepwalking into authoritarianism and a police state in this country. When those metadata laws were put before this parliament, the entire debate was framed by both of the major parties in this place as being about counterterrorism and national security. I invite the people who made those claims to go have a look at various reports from various agencies which actually disclose how access to metadata has occurred and why access to metadata has occurred. I refer them to the case of a local council in Queensland who accessed somebody's metadata in an attempt to find out whether they had an unregistered pet. That's the kind of mission creep that we're dealing with here, and history is replete with examples of laws being passed on a particular basis and then government authorities or agencies using those laws for something that was not contemplated by the policymakers at the time or at least not admitted to being contemplated by the policymakers at the time.
Again, it is mission creep. For readers of history, you should know that, when you give extra powers to intelligence agencies and allow those powers to be utilised by other government authorities, what we will see is mission creep and those powers being used for purposes that were not contemplated at the time that the powers were granted by this parliament. So we have very little faith when we hear assurances that additional powers will not be used in unintended ways, and that is the case also with this legislation.
I will make a few summing up observations on the Intelligence Services Amendment Bill 2018. I thank senators for their contributions to the debate. The work of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service is necessarily undertaken largely away from public view. Nevertheless, I can say in this place that much of ASIS's operational work overseas is necessarily conducted in hazardous environments, including in warlike zones and other high-risk environments. There has been considerable change in the environments where ASIS officers are deployed, and the risks—the threats—have increased greatly since the original package of the Intelligence Services Act in 2001.
The original form of the act limited the ability of ASIS officers to act even in their own self-defence, but by 2004, drawing on practical experience after the attacks of 9/11, the act was amended to allow ASIS officers, where authorised by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, to use weapons for self-defence in narrowly defined circumstances. Since the time of those amendments, successive governments have asked ASIS to do more in response to changing national security priorities and to unfolding events and to do so in new places and in circumstances unforeseen in 2001 or even in 2004. Fifteen years later, the government is of the view that it is time to amend the act to allow ASIS to more safely operate in a far more complex and dangerous world. This bill seeks to amend the Intelligence Services Act to enable ASIS to better protect its officers and other persons, when operating in hazardous environments overseas, through the defined use of force and to protect Australia's national security interests, especially in counterterrorism operations overseas.
There will be additional oversight mechanisms that come with these new and additional powers to use force under clearly defined conditions. The Minister for Foreign Affairs will need to be satisfied that arrangements are in place to ensure any actions taken by ASIS officers are both necessary and reasonable, having regard to the purposes for which the direction is given. While lethal force may already be used in self-defence as a last resort to protect an officer or another protected person from serious harm or death, it is explicitly provided that in undertaking such an activity ASIS staff members or agents will not, and must not, engage in torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, sexual assault or unlawful killings.
The amendments before the Senate underline the continuing importance of the role of the Minister for Foreign Affairs in authorising the use of weapons by ASIS. If this bill is passed, the conduct of a specified activity by ASIS or its agents would require the Minister for Foreign Affairs to consult with the Prime Minister and certain other ministers before authorising such an activity. If this is enacted, the independent Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security will oversee compliance with the bill to ensure that ASIS's conduct is consistent with the law and with the Australian public's expectations of propriety.
I note the contributions of both Senators Farrell and McKim on the bill. I thank Senator Farrell for his contribution. In relation to the observations made by Senator McKim: I note that, in an approach typical of the Australian Greens to protecting Australia's national security, Senator McKim has engaged in a spray about issues that are of concern to the Greens and which don't appear to include Australia's national security as such. In referring to the bill itself as 'mission creep', Senator McKim conveniently ignores all of the protections which I've just spoken about—the oversight mechanisms which I've just referred to, which are part of the bill and which Senator Farrell has already referred to in his remarks. Senator McKim ignored all of that, but that is unsurprising coming from the Australian Greens.
It is pertinent also to refer to the senator's observations in relation to the Hope royal commission and measures which came out of that. It is important to note that these measures are not the same and that the circumstances are most certainly different. I think it is most unfair, in fact, to characterise this particular bill as mission creep, given the great deal of consideration that has gone into its development and given the effluxion of time, indeed, since the last time the act itself was amended in this context.
There is now in Australia no need for ASIS to be in a role of undertaking special operations. Of course, we have an existing special operations capability as part of the ADF. As I noted in my remarks when the last amendments were made on these matters in 2004, ASIS has trained and deployed with weapons in certain situations since that time. But there have been challenges and changes to Australia's national security circumstances which, as I said in my opening statement, require ASIS to operate increasingly in hazardous circumstances overseas, especially when operating against terrorists, violent extremists and other threats.
The current provisions of the Intelligence Services Act are leading to absurd situations which would make little sense to the public. For example, we might see armed ASIS officers undertaking an operation overseas being prohibited by the current act from using weapons in defence of an innocent person other than another officer, an agent or a limited category of cooperating person who might be threatened by a terrorist or a kidnapper, even where this is occurring right in front of them. This includes both Australian and foreign national hostages. These amendments don't affect the prohibitions in section 6(4) of the Intelligence Services Act which, of course, prevent ASIS officers from planning or undertaking military activities.
A great deal of consultation has gone into this bill to ensure that it is transparent and that it is the most effective bill possible. The amendments, as I said, are not proposed lightly, nor are they excessive, nor are they an overreach. We believe in them, and the government supports them, because they are balanced, they are proportionate and, fundamentally, they are necessary.
To conclude, every day the women and the men of ASIS go about their work in protecting and advancing Australia's national interests. They are often called upon to do so covertly at considerable personal risk and hazard and in environments of significant danger, and I want to acknowledge them and their work. As the world has become more complex, it's clear that the legislation that governs ASIS operations also needs to evolve so that staff members and the agents who assist them have the appropriate capacity for self-defence as authorised by the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I commend the bill to the Senate.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.