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Monday, 18 August 2003
Page: 18762


Mr LINDSAY (6:29 PM) —I would like to articulate the context in which the Communications Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2003 comes before the parliament tonight and the importance to our country of bills such as this being favourably considered by the Australian parliament. Over the last 7½ years of the Howard government we have endeavoured to implement policies and to construct a vision of Australia's future based on three great goals. Those goals are: firstly, to provide our nation with the essential ingredient and the first obligation that any government must provide, and that is national security; secondly, to give our nation economic strength so that it can not only take its place in the world but also, through the generation of wealth, care for those in our own midst who through no fault of their own are deserving of a helping hand; and, finally, to provide our nation with a sense of social stability so that we may relate to one another as fellow Australians in a context of respect, harmony, tolerance and inclusiveness. In summary, the three goals of the government are national security, economic strength and social stability.

There is no doubt that the challenge of national security is uppermost in the minds of all Australians. All members of the Australian parliament will recognise that. Over the last year or so we have seen the terrible tragedy of Bali and more recently the explosion at the Marriott hotel in Jakarta. We have also seen—worryingly—plans to do things in the future. That threat exists all around the world. Who knows where the next terrorist attack or incident might occur? Our nation, along with the other nations of the world, has to be prepared.

The Australian government has taken action recently to prevent the Solomon Islands from becoming a failed state. If that situation had been allowed to occur, who knows what might have been established in the Solomon Islands, what kind of a threat to our homeland security there might have been and how that might have impacted in relation to the provisions of this bill tonight. Australia accepts its leadership role in the region. We will pursue that with all of the resources available to us.

The link to this bill from these three great goals of the Howard government is national security and the increasing likelihood that telecommunications will be used to assist with the commission of terrorist acts. The Australian public knows and understands how the telecommunications system might be used and the need for Australia to protect its telecommunications system against use by those who have thoughts of committing a terrorist act in this country.

This is prudent legislation. It is timely legislation. I am pleased to hear that the Australian Labor Party is, by and large, supporting the legislation and I look forward to the legislation passing through both houses of the parliament in an appropriate short space of time so that we can get on with the job of protecting the nation's security.

There are three major points in the bill. The first one everyone will understand. The Australian Communications Authority, which in fact licenses carriers—and `carriers' are people who provide physical infrastructure in telecommunications—is required under this bill to consult with national security agency coordinators in the Attorney-General's Department to take into account any views expressed by the agency coordinator as to whether a carrier licence should be granted. That is pretty straightforward; it is commonsense. It is something that I do not think will cause anybody any difficulty whatsoever.

Secondly, the bill is going to allow a situation where the ACA can be directed to refuse the grant of a carrier licence. That direction would come from the Attorney-General in consultation with the Prime Minister and the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. So the agency can be directed by that group not to grant a carrier licence where that group feels that the grant of a licence would be detrimental to national security. Again, it is a commonsense provision in the bill.

Thirdly—and this, too, is prudent and important—carriers can be directed to cease supplying particular services. If intelligence information comes through—and is assessed as being legitimate—that a particular person or group of persons are using the telecommunications services for the purposes of planning terrorism activities or threats to our national security then whoever is providing their telecommunications services can be directed to cut them off, basically. That again is a straightforward matter and it is something that is prudent and timely.

There are some subsections in the bill. When I say `subsections' I mean further minor amendments. They are largely technical in nature, but they are practical as well. They include things like requiring carriers to have an interception plan and being able to intercept the use of their facilities. I think that the public would accept that particular amendment. All of this will apply to not only fixed services or terrestrial services—as we commonly understand the communications network—but also all mobile services that exist, all mobile carriers and satellite services where the carrier is based in Australia and Internet service providers where those services are hosted on infrastructure within Australia.

I see that the shadow spokesman has introduced a second reading amendment in relation to appeal mechanisms and the widespread accessing of individual's telephone call data by government officials without adequate safeguards. In relation to inadequate appeal mechanisms, the government welcomes a discussion on this and is prepared to articulate its view on those particular matters. That discussion, as the shadow minister has foreshadowed, will take place in the Australian Senate.

With regard to the widespread accessing of individual's telephone call data, yes, that does happen but it happens for very specific purposes. The data that is accessed is not what people say or do on the telephone; it is simply recordings of perhaps telephone numbers that were called and the time of day—that sort of information. There is no detailed information recorded. That data is used by departments such as the Australian Taxation Office and the Department of Family and Community Services—and it is used for proper purposes. It is used to assist the departments to identify people who do not do the right thing in this country and who perhaps use the telecommunications service to help them in what they are doing. Again, the government welcomes a discussion on that. I think it is proper that that should occur, but I think it will be found, when the discussion occurs, that there are adequate safeguards in relation to the ability to access telephone call data. I think that the opposition will be satisfied that that particular information is used in an entirely appropriate manner.

I was interested to hear that the shadow minister was concerned that at some time in the future trade unions and protest groups could be caught up under the ASIO Act. I think that is drawing a fairly long bow. Trade unions and protest groups have operated in this country for many years without being caught up under the ASIO Act in such a manner that it would impact on how this legislation would operate. Really, in practice, I do not think that the shadow minister needs to be concerned.

I certainly plead with the Australian Labor Party to not be soft on terrorism and to support the government. Terrorism and the prospect of terrorism affect the entire country. We all know, without actually having had a major terrorism event in decades in this country, how we are currently affected, even here in Parliament House, how the Defence Force is affected, how airline travel is affected and so it goes on. The Australian people expect their government and their opposition to act in the best interests of our national security. I give the House an assurance tonight that the Howard government will continue to do just that.