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Thursday, 12 May 2011
Page: 3931

Mr McCLELLAND (BartonAttorney-General) (10:52): At the outset, before thanking honourable members for their contributions, I will just clarify some facts about the resourcing of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and the assertion that this government has reduced resourcing to that organisation. Before giving those figures, I will just put things in their context. Since 2001, over the budget cycle—this budget cycle taking it out to 2014 and 2015—the change in resourcing of ASIO will go from $62.7 million per annum to $415 million per annum in 2014-15. On those figures, that is $352.4 million—a 562 per cent increase, in resourcing of ASIO over the decade. Just in terms of the period of this government, over the budget period there will be an increase in resourcing of $123.6 million, or a 42.4 per cent increase in resourcing. So those are the facts.

When there has been such an exponential—and I would think unprecedented in Australia's history—increase in resourcing of a security organisation, it is appropriate to take stock. Any business would do that. Any organisation would do that, particularly in circumstances where Australian taxpayers are spending so much money—and appropriately so, given the information I receive on a daily basis on the very important work done by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. They are entitled to know that their resources are being used as effectively and as efficiently as possible. On that basis, ASIO, in consultation with the department, has looked at and recalibrated some programs.

Those savings make sense and they do not affect, in any way, shape or form, the front-line operational capacity of ASIO. Essentially, they relate to re-phasing of funding concerning the operating costs of the new central office which is being built in Canberra. They relate to the improved targeting of protective security assessments, so that the highly qualified ASIO officers are undertaking assessments on those who require that particular expertise; improved targeting for organisation training and overseas liaison activity; and, indeed, cost recovery. The money is not being lost to ASIO, but the cost-recovery measures are being adopted in respect to the ASIC and MSICsecurity assessments—that is, the aviation and maritime security assessments.

So, far from there being a diminution or reduction in resourcing of ASIO under this government over the budget cycle, the record shows that there will be a 42.4 per cent increase under this government, and that is in the context of an exponential increase that has already occurred. It would be irresponsible of any organisation to continue that exponential growth without taking stock and analysing programs as to where efficiencies could be obtained, and ASIO has done precisely that and, I reiterate, without affecting in any way, shape or form its front-line capacities.

To deal with the bill: the bill makes a number of important amendments to improve the operation of the ASIO Act, the Intelligence Services Act and the Criminal Code. The amendments to the definition of 'foreign intelligence' will ensure a consistent approach to the collection of foreign intelligence under the ASIO Act, the Intelligence Services Act and the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979. They will do this by aligning the collection of foreign intelligence. The amendments will mean that ASIO's foreign intelligence role is more effectively able to complement the foreign intelligence agencies by covering the same range of intelligence information. The amendments to the ASIO computer access warrants will clarify that these warrants can authorise access to data held in the target computer at any time while the warrant is in force. This amendment is not intended to change the law but rather to clarify the intent of the provision and to ensure consistent language is used throughout the provision.

Excluding the communication of information relating to employment within the intelligence community from the operation of the security assessment provisions in the ASIO Act will put ASIO on the same footing as other intelligence agencies when it comes to communicating such information within the intelligence community. Providing the Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation, DIGO, as it is known, with a function to specifically allow DIGO to cooperate with and provide assistance to the Australian Defence Force will provide clear recognition that such cooperation is a core function of DIGO. This is not an extension of the functions of DIGO and it is consistent with similar functions of the Defence Signals Directorate.

The new ground for obtaining a ministerial authorisation for producing intelligence about Australian persons will cover intelligence regarding activities relating to the contravention of United Nations sanctions. It will complement the existing ground that covers activities relating to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or the movement of goods listed on the Defence and Strategic Goods List and ensure the government's intelligence needs in relation to breaches of UN sanctions can be met. The amendments to the immunity provisions in the Intelligence Services Actand the Criminal Code computer offence provisions will make it clear that these limited immunity provisions can only be overridden by express legislative intent. This will ensure that those provisions are not vulnerable to being inadvertently overridden by legislation passed subsequently. Finally, the bill contains amendments relating to the status of certain instruments under the Legislative Instruments Act 2003. Consistent with the government's commitments to clearer laws, the bill moves existing exemptions from the legislative instruments regulations to make these exemptions express on the face of the Intelligence Services Act.

The government remains committed to ensuring that our national security agencies have the necessary tools and resources to undertake their important functions in a changing and dynamic environment. Part of this responsibility includes keeping relevant legislation under constant review to ensure that it continues to be appropriate for the dynamic national security environment. This bill is an example of the government taking steps to improve the operation of that legislation, and it is an important step in the government's ongoing review of national security legislation. I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that this bill be reported to the House without amendment.