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Wednesday, 13 February 2002
Page: 110


Mr RUDD (2:29 PM) —My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. Minister, can you advise the House what specific rules document the Defence Signals Directorate was subject to in the conduct of its operations during the period August-September 2001? Can the minister confirm that this rules document specifically prohibited the deliberate interception of communications between Australians in Australia, the dissemination of information relating to Australian persons gained accidentally through the course of routine collection of foreign communications, or the reporting or recording of the names of Australian persons mentioned in foreign communications?


Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —Mr Speaker, I do not have the exact words with me, but my recollection from looking at the document over the last couple of days is that the general tenor of the comments the honourable member made in his question is right, and this of course is the whole point. There were guidelines—they have been updated since the Intelligence Services Bill went through the parliament into the Intelligence Services Act, a piece of legislation introduced by this government to give the public still greater confidence in our intelligence agencies and, what is more, to set up a parliamentary committee with the role—albeit a limited role—of oversight over DSD as well as ASIS. It is very important that there is public confidence in these agencies and that there is transparency.

There are privacy provisions—there are now and there were back then, last year in the period the honourable member refers to, and of course way before that, back into the period of the Labor government. Off the top of my head—I could be wrong—I do not think those privacy provisions were changed by this government after 1996. I think the same or very nearly the same privacy provisions applied under the previous government. Absolutely, it is not the role of DSD to collect conversations between Australians, except in circumstances of dire national emergency or where there is a very direct threat to national security. We have made the point here, and it is an important point, that the DSD say that in this particular instance— and by `this particular instance' I mean during the period of time which the Daily Telegraph article referred to—there was an inadvertent error.

One does not want to just leave the point of the inadvertent error hanging there so people run away and think that this is a conversation between Paul Kelly of the Australian and the captain of the Tampa or something like that, or between a Labor member such as the member for Fremantle or whoever it may have been and the captain of the Tampa. By the way, whether she rang the captain of the Tampa or not, I do not know; I would not be surprised if she had, though.

The point of the inadvertent error, though, is that that is an error in relation to the guidelines the honourable member referred to. That is the point of `inadvertent error'. We will brief the Leader of the Opposition on what the inadvertent error is, so you can see that all this wild talk of spying on Australian politicians, on Australians and so on is, believe me, way over the top.