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Monday, 21 June 2004
Page: 30992


Mr HATTON (8:50 PM) —I am mindful of the hour and the minister's desire to expedite through the House the Telecommunications (Interception) Amendment (Stored Communications) Bill 2004, which we have before us now, so I do not want to delay the House for too long. This is one of those funny bills, where it is almost like a Shakespearean double negative. The intention, the way in which it is expressed, is to say that something that was previously prohibited is no longer prohibited. The fundamentals of interception, as they are found in the telecommunications bill, relate to the existing, plain old telephone system lines—the fact that it was possible to intercept a telecommunication wire essentially by physical means, by tapping into it, and to do that in a live way, because all telephone conversations were live. Generally under that regime it was necessary for the Australian Federal Police or the state police to get a warrant to be able to undertake interception.

We are faced with a bill where there have been a number of different attempts by the government to construct a way of approaching stored communications and bringing them under the aegis of the bill. There have been about three attempts so far and we have finally got something. In his second reading speech the minister quite sensibly pointed out two fundamental things. The first was that there is a 12-month provision in relation to the operation of this bill. As I understand it, this is the first go at trying to get access, without the need for a search warrant, to stored communications—in particular, short message service text and multimedia messaging service text—once they are stored in the memory of a mobile phone, on a card, or, alternatively, to get access to stored emails.

The minister has quite rightly pointed out that, whereas it has been difficult, definitionally, to get an agreement in relation to this in the past, we are now faced with a situation where all sides seem to have a rough agreement. Indeed, our shadow minister indicated that at present, in terms of the House of Representatives, we are willing for this second reading to go through. We think the bill should be looked at in the Senate.

The core problems, of course, relate to the interface between normal practice and the change into a much more complex world. In addition to the single telephone line there is a vast range of different ways for people to communicate. The greatest problem, of course, for the Australian Federal Police and other agencies seeking to protect the nation is to trawl through immense amounts of data. Even when they have identified persons of interest and seek to then take action, so far they have been prohibited from accessing areas of information which may be vital to the investigations that they have undertaken.

In an age which has changed over the past 10 years because of the war on terror and the actions of al-Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiah and others, this bill I think is necessary. It is an attempt to grapple with changes in technology and to change the law appropriately—even if here it needs a double negative to do it. So the opposition at this point in time has indicated its support here in the House. It has recommended that the bill go through a more thorough process in the Senate. Being mindful of the hour and the desire to get this through—and also being mindful of the fact that the member for Greenway is shortly to speak—I will leave my observations at that.