Wednesday, 24 November 2021
Independent National Security Legislation Monitor Amendment Bill 2021; In Committee
I want to refresh people as to what the amendment is about. We have had a series of reports coming from INSLM, whether it be the former Senator Rennick SC, the one prior to that, basically suggesting it is no good having INSLM conduct a review, do a report, it goes to government and government doesn't respond. There needs to be a continuous feedback process such that we have a progression in respect of his recommendations.
What my amendment does is require the government simply to respond within a timely period, and it gives the mechanism for the government to respond in a classified way, and also in an unclassified way back through the parliament. Those are the fundamentals of my amendment. It seems quite absurd to have a situation where the government receives a report and then sits on it and does nothing. If you go back through all the previous annual reports of INSLM, it's a request by INSLM to have their reports dealt with by a government response, and it is proper for the parliament to see those responses, accepting that there may be the need for a classified version. I commend my amendment to the chamber.
Labor will not be supporting Senator Patrick's amendment to the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor Amendment Bill 2021. It's very important that reports by the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor are considered and responded to by governments. Far too often, the current government has not responded to reports and recommendations by the monitor, either not in a timely manner or, sometimes, not at all. The monitor has been tasked by this parliament with reviewing the operation, effectiveness, and implications of Australia's counterterrorism and national security legislation, so when the monitor makes a recommendation it is no small thing and it warrants a response. In his Comprehensive review of the legal framework of the national intelligence community, former ASIO director-general Dennis Richardson recommended that:
As a matter of good practice, the Government should provide a publicly available response to the INSLM’s recommendations within 12 months of the INSLM’s report being tabled in Parliament.
However, it is important to note that Mr Richardson fell short of recommending that this requirement be legislated.
While Labor has a lot of sympathy for Senator Patrick's amendment, we are not persuaded that the departure from Mr Richardson's recommendation is warranted. I should also add that the government has indicated that it does not support Senator Patrick's amendment. What that means is that even if this amendment were to pass the Senate today it would be rejected by the House of Representatives, and the passage of this important bill would be further delayed. Labor supports this bill and the government's amendments, all of which were suggested by Labor and, following negotiations, agreed to by the government. We would like to see the bill passed as soon as possible.
The government doesn't support the amendments to the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor Amendment Bill 2021 that have been circulated by Senator Patrick. The government endeavours to respond to reports and recommendations made by the monitor as soon as it is practicable to do so. Reports of the monitor can raise really complex policy and legal questions that require and, indeed, deserve detailed consideration, consultation and review. Where that's the case, it often takes more than 12 months for the government to formally work through and respond to those matters, given that recommendations can affect agencies right across the national intelligence community and their portfolio departments. It's not a small thing to do, but even done with diligence that can take some time.
This position is consistent with that taken in response to recommendations made by the former monitor in his annual reports and also by the Comprehensive review of the legal framework of the national intelligence community. That said, the government does appreciate the intent of these amendments and will continue to advise parliament of its response to recommendations that are made by the monitor as soon as possible. We will also continue to review formal reporting time frames into the future to make sure that this is something in which we are always driving for better and better performance.
I'm quite disappointed, particularly with Labor, for not supporting this. You say that Dennis Richardson has recommended against this and therefore you're not going to support it. Let me tell you, Dennis Richardson has also suggested that the PJCIS not look into operational matters, but you've got a bill in place that suggests that ought to happen. And I support that. It's just duplicitous. You stand up and say, 'We are sympathetic to the view,' but this is not my view; this is the view of the monitor. It's the persistent view of the monitor. In fact, the Law Council basically started off with this recommendation, because they could see problems with it. And again we see the Labor Party standing up and saying, 'We're not going to support this, because it's going to go back to the other place, they won't support it there and then it will have to come back.' You know what? When it comes back we'll reject it. If the government really care about national security, they'll end up supporting the motion. It's that classic game that the Liberal Party play with the Labor Party: it is called chicken, and Labor always swerves. It just shows you exactly what not being a strong opposition is all about.
I think you're probably going to get elected, but it's not going to be through your strength; it's going to be because, on the other side of the chamber, things are just so much worse. And that may well be your strategy. But the Labor Party ought to stand up and recognise this. You say you're sympathetic to it. It is a recommendation of the monitor himself. It's just very disappointing. That's all I can say.