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Wednesday, 18 March 2015
Page: 2746


Mr SIMPKINS (Cowan) (12:30): I welcome this opportunity to speak today on this bill, the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014. It was very long time ago that I was a member of the Australian Federal Police and at that time, in the mid-eighties, there was not a whole lot of talk about metadata or digital communication. The sum of the high-tech investigations at the time was in the early days of credit cards: where a card was put under a three-ply sheet of paper, the swiping machine was run across it, and then people had to sign it. And when they had signed that piece of paper, they put their thumb on the corner of it and pulled out their copy—from the middle of that three-ply piece of paper. The reason I am talking about this is that lots of people who were up to no good—with credit card fraud, and things like that—were subsequently caught, because that piece of paper offered a brilliant thumbprint of the person who had used the credit card. Those were the high-tech days of the past! But of course, time has moved on—with credit cards now, you pretty much just type in your four-digit PIN, and that is all you have got. But in those days there was no concept of metadata or of digital communication. Obviously, things have changed a lot.

More needs to be done. There are serious circumstances now: we have terrorism; we have child exploitation, and crimes against children in general—and so many of the most serious crimes in society around the world are now directly linked through the internet and through digital communication. We need to step forward and look for other ways of investigating, and it is through metadata and through looking at digital communication that this action takes place—and many serious investigations now use metadata that already exists.

Before I turn to the bill—and I do not intend to speak for a long time on this bill; I do not intend to go through each minute detail of the bill or anything like that, because that has already been covered on so many other occasions. But, after listening to the member for Fremantle, I would make the observation—and I know that she has passionate views about this and I respect passion—that it is amazing how she could speak for 15 minutes about the problems—according to her—with the bill, and then at the end of the day say, 'we will nevertheless support the bill'. I sometimes wonder about the courage of our convictions in this place: if you stand up here and you disagree with something, have the courage of your convictions to vote against it. But, of course, there are problems on the other side with that technicality.

This bill is all about data retention, and about how the retention of data can assist law enforcement and the security agencies of Australia in their investigations. This bill is not about keeping more data, but about retaining the data for longer. Through this bill, if passed, the carriers and the internet service providers will be required to keep a prescribed set of telecommunications data for a period of two years. The situation is concerning—and I am not talking about this bill but the reasons why we need this bill. There is a threat; there are those that are planning terrorist attacks. The opportunity to access metadata up to two years after it was generated is essential. There has been a lot of misinformation over the last year about this metadata. It would seem that the opportunity for the police and the national security agencies to access metadata is somehow a new concept. This is wrong, of course; they have that opportunity now, and they will have that opportunity in the future.

Metadata is, in the most basic sense, a communication, but not the actual content of the communication. As the Prime Minister and other ministers have said, metadata is a vital investigative tool in police investigations of serious matters; not just in the investigation of terrorist activity and planning but also in the identification and investigation of child abuse crimes and organised crime. Clearly the need is for ASIO and our police to be able to access metadata so that crime in many areas can be attacked and dealt with. The trouble is, with increasing technology, the telecommunications companies can conduct so much of their business without retaining metadata for long periods. This means that government must now act to ensure that the investigative asset which is metadata is not lost as a result of these technological advances. This bill sets the time frame as two years.

The main issue of opposition to these laws is—as I said before—the false belief that metadata access is somehow new, but obviously it is not. The second issue of interest that has been raised is protection for journalists, or rather, protection of sources, because no-one would really suspect that journalists would be likely to be involved in any of the crimes we have spoken about. Interestingly, metadata can currently be obtained without a warrant, even with regard to journalists. It is only through this process and through the recommendations of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security that the need for a warrant in the case of journalists has been added. So this is a good thing; it will improve the freedom of the press. I say again: this requirement is not currently there. There should therefore be greater support for this bill, because it adds more protections.

As I said before, it is not merely my intention to restate the details of the bill that the minister has already laid down in his second reading speech and that others have also talked about. I would like to pursue a related matter—a matter for the future, perhaps. It is well known that one of the great challenges to our efforts to combat the Daesh extremists in Australia is the slick social media that they put out. It is also true that the tweets and the Facebook posts are encouraged by Daesh, and that influence reaches to the smartphones and out into the homes of Australia. They might influence those that might be tempted by what these murderous extremists offer. The sadism, the paedophilic tendencies and the other evil the lurks in the deep darkness of the souls of some people can be attracted to what Daesh offers. It is bizarre that the worst in human nature and the incomprehensible for most of us can actually inspire others.

To combat this, I believe that it should be a criminal offence to share F acebook posts or tweets , or other social media , of those that are part of a prescribed terrorist organisation or those that support or promote such an organisation. By this, I mean that if a person is a F acebook friend with a person that disp lays an IS flag, or is in Syria or Iraq with IS or a l-Nusra, or with Hamas in Gaza, or with other such terrorist groups, and they receive a post, to share that post sh ould be an offence. To retw eet a tweet from such a person sh ould also be an offence. That is what I would propose. Obviously , a defence to such an offence would be where the social media is forwarded to the police or an Australian security agency.

Again, it is not my intention to merely restate what has been stated already about the detail s of the b ill. But , in co nclusion, I will say that this b ill is about preserving our security and law enforcement capa cities . It is also about requiring that existing and accessible metadata b e retained for two years. This b ill initiates protection for journalists that does not currently exist and ensures that metadata is strictly and properly controlled. As someone who believes in every aspect of this bill and in every aspect of the need for this bill, I completely and utterly endorse the bill as it is and I look forward to its passage through the parliament.