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Thursday, 27 September 2001
Page: 31631

Mr WILLIAMS (Attorney-General) (9:56 AM) —I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

In May 1999 an Australian citizen, Mr Jean-Philippe Wispelaere, was arrested in the United States and charged with a range of offences associated with the unauthorised disclosure of United States intelligence material.

At that time the government affirmed its commitment to protecting Australia's national security.

It announced a range of initiatives designed to further protect sensitive information held by government agencies.

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Mr Bill Blick, was commissioned by the Prime Minister to undertake a review of security procedures.

In 2000, the Inspector-General provided a comprehensive report to government in which he made more than 50 recommendations.

The recommendations were designed to enhance security arrangements on a Public Service wide basis and improve security practice in intelligence and security agencies.

The government adopted these measures in principle, and then proceeded to give effect to these measures.

The review of Australia's espionage laws had, in fact, begun before the Inspector-General made his recommendations.

In 1991, the Committee to Review Commonwealth Criminal Law, headed by the Rt Hon. Sir Harry Gibbs, recommended that espionage offences be rewritten in a simpler form using modern language.

Since then, the Inspector-General's report has confirmed the need for this government to strengthen Australia's espionage laws and impose tougher penalties on those who choose to break these laws.

This bill has evolved as a result of both the Gibbs and Blick reviews.

We have also conducted a separate review, and extensive consultation, to ensure that the offences in the bill establish an effective legal framework that both deters, and punishes, people who intend to betray Australia's security interests.

As part of our review we have considered such things as technological advances in information management and communication as well as international standards and experience.

As a result, the proposed offences are consistent with equivalent provisions in the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Canada.

This bill will strengthen Australia's espionage laws in a number of ways.

By referring to conduct that may prejudice Australia's security and defence, rather then safety and defence, and explicitly defining this term, we are affording protection to a range of material that may not be protected under the current laws.

In particular, the term will include the operations, capabilities and technologies of, and methods and sources used by, our intelligence and security agencies.

This term will apply to both the proposed espionage offence as well as the existing official secrets offences.

The type of activity that may constitute espionage has also been expanded.

A person may be guilty of an espionage offence if they disclose information concerning the Commonwealth's security or defence intending to prejudice the Commonwealth's security or defence.

They may also be guilty of an offence if they disclose information concerning the Commonwealth's security or defence, without authorisation, to advantage the security or defence of another country.

The latter will capture Wispelaere-type situations where the information that is compromised does not necessarily prejudice Australia's security or defence.

Instead, the compromise is designed to advantage the security or defence interests of another country.

Importantly, the new offences will also protect foreign sourced information belonging to Australia.

As a result, we can offer greater assurances to our information exchange partners that, when they provide information to us in confidence, we will protect that information in the same way that we protect our own sensitive information.

A person who compromises foreign information in our possession will face the same penalty as a person who compromises Australian generated information.

This penalty will be severe to reflect the seriousness of the offence.

As a result of this bill, the maximum penalty for a person convicted of espionage will be 25 years imprisonment.

The maximum penalty for espionage is currently only seven years imprisonment.

This government considers seven years imprisonment to be a grossly inadequate punishment for the more serious acts of espionage during peace.

Penalties in comparable countries for equivalent offences range from the death penalty in the United States to 14 years imprisonment in the UK, Canada and New Zealand.

We should regard espionage as seriously as these countries.

In addition to strengthening the offence provisions, the bill will also further support the process of bringing cases of espionage to trial.

The most important measure in this regard is to guarantee that only a judge of a state or territory Supreme Court decides the question of bail.

In addition, the Australian Federal Police commissioner will issue an order to all members of the AFP that, as a general policy, bail should be opposed in espionage cases.

The bill covers a wide range of matters, including the definition of prohibited places, initiation of prosecutions, holding hearings in camera and forfeiture of articles.

These provisions were originally enacted in the Crimes Act.

They have been substantially replicated in this bill except to the extent that the provisions have been modernised and repackaged for the purposes of moving them to the Criminal Code.

Combined, these recommendations send a clear message that this government regards espionage, and espionage related activities, very seriously.

I present the explanatory memorandum to the bill.

Debate (on motion by Mr Kerr) adjourned.