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Thursday, 25 September 2014
Page: 7221


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Arts and Attorney-General) (19:04): The government accepts and supports the amendments moved by Senator Lazarus on behalf of the Palmer United Party. In saying that, might I take the opportunity to thank Senator Lazarus and his colleagues for their very constructive engagement with the government in relation to this legislation. We acknowledge the persuasive observation that the penalties applying to those offences are currently disproportionately low in comparison with the wrongdoing they seek to punish. The existing maximum penalties are unlikely to serve as a serious disincentive to such behaviour and we agree that it is appropriate to increase them.

The identify of our intelligence officers is highly sensitive information. Revealing their identifies can expose them to serious harm by making them targets for espionage or coercion. It could also involve exposing them to the risk of physical harm. The lives, safety and livelihoods of our intelligence professionals depends on maintaining absolute secrecy as to their identities. Australia's capacity to collect intelligence to protect its security and other national interests similarly depends on this. It is everyone's responsibility to keep this sensitive information confidential—and, particularly, to refrain from publishing it. A maximum ten years penalty will create a strong disincentive to such wrongful behaviour. It will, importantly, maintain parity with the penalty proposed to be applied to offences in schedule 6 of the bill concerning the unauthorised communication of intelligence related information. Indeed, the identity of intelligence officers could be seen as a form of intelligence related information. For those reasons, as I said at the outset, the government supports the Palmer United Party's amendments and thanks them for their foresight in moving them.