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Tuesday, 18 September 2001
Page: 30908

Mr BAIRD (9:43 PM) —I rise tonight to support the Intelligence Services Bill 2001. Obviously we can see that this is a highly important bill, given the events of last week. As we sift through the events leading up to the terrible tragedy last week, there is no doubt that questions are being asked about security in the United States, the role of the CIA, the role of the FBI, how these events occurred and whether there were deficiencies in the CIA in terms of its operations, and I am sure we will hear much more in regard to that over the coming months and, undoubtedly, years.

The absolute significance and importance of security organisations in our country were demonstrated graphically by the events last week in the United States. People take these organisations for granted. Comments are made and jokes are told, but in fact the very security on which the country is established depends on such organisations as ASIO and ASIS and the very fine job which they carry out by alerting us to terrorists' threats, investigating subversive organisations, reviewing those who want to come into the country, and protecting Australia's security in general forms.

So the reliance on high tech is highly significant, but infiltration of organisations and providing direct data access to ASIO and ASIS are also highly significant. There is no doubt that ASIO, ASIS and the National Crime Authority represent important underpinnings of Australia's democratic way of life, which we all value. Especially at times like this, we recognise how fortunate we are in this country to have the level of security and safeguards that we do, and we have to cherish our democratic traditions and heritage.

This bill provides worthwhile activities. The first is that it establishes a joint standing committee which will provide oversight of both ASIO and ASIS in an administrative sense, in the same way as the Joint Standing Committee on the National Crime Authority does—a committee which I currently chair and which my late colleague Peter Nugent chaired before me. Our role there is to oversee the administrative aspects of the organisation, to relate to the head and chairman of the organisation, to question them on what they are doing in general terms and to review their reports, et cetera. So this new committee will be appropriate. It will be a seven-man committee made up of people drawn from both the lower house and the Senate. That committee is important because it will provide appropriate parameters of both the regulatory framework and the degree of accountability, but it will also provide the flexibility that is needed to undertake the types of work that is required of both ASIO and ASIS. Striking the right balance is going to be an important consideration in this, and I believe the balance has been achieved in the bill before us.

On the one hand, nation states require intelligence information for their own wellbeing and security, and everything must be done to ensure that the organisations concerned have the appropriate powers to ensure that they are doing their job effectively. If they are too constrained, our ability to gather information about possible threats is weakened and our national security is endangered. On the other hand, these organisations cannot operate in a vacuum. They cannot be completely free from scrutiny or accountability to the very people they are put in place to protect. That is the difficulty faced by this legislation, and I think the people concerned should be congratulated for their excellent work in achieving such a balance.

The provisions in the bill are the result of developments dating back to before the Australian Security Intelligence Service, ASIS, was acknowledged by the government in 1977. They can be traced back to several years before that when Justice Hope brought down the confidential findings of his Hope royal commission. Indeed, one of the recommendations was that the government make some official recognition that ASIS existed. The initial Hope royal commission was followed up with a second one in 1983. More recently, we have seen the Samuels and Codd royal commission of 1994, which arose from increasing interest and scrutiny of our intelligence organisations.

Among other things, this bill provides that statutory basis. It deals specifically with ASIS and the Defence Signals Directorate, the DSD, and defines their roles. It sets out the legal requirements of their operation, delimits their spheres of activity and their immunities, establishes a joint parliamentary committee and makes a number of minor technical and consequential changes.

It is absolutely essential we look at the limitations and immunities that are set out in the bill. The bill provides a number of limitations to ASIS and DSD's activities, such as that ASIS must not plan for or undertake paramilitary actions; ASIS and DSD may only take actions that are in the interests of national security; and neither organisation may take part in any law enforcement manoeuvre. In terms of liability, proposed section 14 of the bill immunises staff and agents of the security organisations from personal liability when in the line of duty, and that is also appropriate.

The bill also moves to improve security of the organisations. It makes it illegal for any former member of the services to go public with their knowledge of the organisations' practices, operations and procedures. It is absolutely essential that we maintain the integrity and the security of the organisations. The maximum penalty provided for in the legislation is two years.

The bill also provides for the establishment of the joint committee, which I mentioned before. It is a seven-member committee, comprising four members from the House of Representatives and three from the Senate. ASIS itself has actually argued that a parliamentary committee would improve both public perception of the organisation and the overall level of scrutiny and how it is operated.

As well as this, this bill requires that the responsible ministers provide written rules to ensure that ASIS and DSD pay all due regard to Australians' right to privacy. The Attorney-General must be consulted in the development of these rules, and IGIS must regularly brief the joint committee on the rules and any changes to them. The right of Australians to privacy is one of the utmost important aspects of our considerations in introducing this bill.

The consequential bill makes a number of purely mechanical amendments to facilitate the establishment of the joint committee. The Intelligence Services Bill gives the Australian public a number of benefits. Firstly, it enhances the accountability of Australia's major intelligence agencies—and accountability is an important aspect in establishing such an organisation. Secondly, it gives increased assurance to the public in regard to the control and conduct of their agencies. Thirdly, it ensures the ongoing integrity of the product provided to our government by these agencies. Finally, it thereby makes a significant contribution to our national security and the security of individual citizens in a very worrying time.

It is appropriate that this bill is introduced at a time such as this, when we have seen unprecedented security concerns in this country. I commend those who have been responsible for developing and preparing the legislation. I believe it is appropriate and worthy that this bill should be implemented as soon as possible, and it is very good to see the bipartisan way in which it is supported. I commend the bill to the House.