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Monday, 18 August 2003
Page: 18774

Mr HARDGRAVE (Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs) (7:27 PM) —The interesting onset of paranoia from some speakers opposite in response to the Communications Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2003 is now on the public record. The member for Melbourne has moved an amendment which the government will not be accepting. We appreciate the opposition's support for this legislation and the telegraphing of some possible amendments in the Senate. This discussion has given all members of the House an opportunity to air a variety of views about what the government is trying to do.

This legislation is an important piece of government business that will enhance the overall security of Australia's telecommunications networks and services. The bill will also improve the telecommunications interception arrangements for law enforcement purposes. The circumstances which the mem--ber for Cunningham described in his con-tribution of course do not fit, because law-abiding people and people actively involved in the business of public debate in this country have nothing to fear under this legislation. This is most definitely a move by the government to fill holes and to update legislation in the area of telecommunications because of the environment in which we are operating.

It is a simple fact, as was shown in Jakarta just a week or so ago, that the telephone has become a tool for terrorists. The process of getting information about them—and information is, of course, the most guarded commodity for sale in the international market—and of attempting to circumvent the misuse of our telecommunications system by those who have no interest in the good conduct of society is at the heart of this legislation.

Under the current legislative arrangements there is absolutely no mechanism whereby national security issues can be considered in the context of issuing telecommunications carrier licences. In addition, there is no mechanism which can be used to stop the supply of a service in the interests of national security. So I am not certain why such paranoia has been expressed. There are gaps, and this legislation is about updating the communications legislation in this country to ensure that those who lawfully make use of telephones have nothing to fear and those who may want to misuse our communications infrastructure do have something to fear. This bill addresses the gaps in the current legislative framework. These are prudent amendments in the current environment of heightened concern about national security, and they are of course also prudent in light of the continuing new investment in telecommunications that is taking place in this country.

All communication carriers are treated completely the same, whether you are the smallest of carriers or access-facilitating organisations or the largest. From the smallest all the way through to Telstra, again this is the government showing that it is not by ownership that the telecommunications industry is regulated but by deliberate regulation through legislation. There is a consistent treatment of all sizes of carriers in this country. It is a fact that it is increasingly possible that modern telecommunication networks and services can be used in ways that are prejudicial to Australia's national security and this bill is all about stopping it.

For those who do have some concern about a misuse, there are a number of measures within this bill which contain very appropriate safeguards to make sure that these powers are used appropriately. It is worth reminding the House of them. In the first instance, the bill requires the Australian Communications Authority to consult with the agency coordinator in relation to any carrier licence application. It is anticipated that through this period of consultation many potential national security concerns will be addressed and a carrier licence will, naturally enough, be issued. Secondly, in making a decision not to grant a carrier licence or to direct a person to cease supplying a service, the Attorney-General will consult with the Prime Minister as well as the Minister for Communications, Information, Technology and the Arts. In reaching a decision, the Attorney-General is expected to have regard to a security assessment that would be conducted by ASIO. Any person who receives an adverse or qualified security assessment is entitled to have this reviewed by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Finally, people who receive adverse or qualified security assessments are also further able to appeal the decision in the Federal Court or High Court.

Taken together, these measures provide a reasonable balance between providing avenues of review for affected persons and enabling national security concerns to be adequately addressed. But if you listened to some of the contributions from the opposition tonight, including that of the member for Cunningham, you could be forgiven for believing that they were considering this legislation in the context of another country—a country that does not have the sort of vigorous democracy that we have in this nation, where the liberties of law-abiding citizens are upheld and are always exposed and questioned in the face of any attempt by the government of the day to do anything to deny liberties to law-abiding citizens. This government, however, do not believe that the liberties of terrorists or those who may want to support them should be supported without these sorts of checks. We believe that there are sufficient deficiencies within the communications legislation to make these changes and to put them to the House.

The other amendments in this bill are, on their face value, inconsequential. They deal with things such as the timing of submission of interception capability plans and the definition of a `senior officer'. However, these other amendments all improve the efficacy of existing telecommunications interception arrange-ments. Law enforcement agencies use the interception arrangements in the investigation of serious crime. These amendments improve the administrative operation of the interception framework for both law enforcement agencies and the telecommunications industry—a diverse industry which is bigger than just Telstra and which is much larger and much more complex than those opposite would like to pretend. These minor amendments contained within this legislation make sure that interception arrangements do not frustrate the ability of agencies to investigate serious crime right across the full spectrum of ownership arrangements. Again, it is regulation not ownership which organises the conduct of telecommunications in this country. All are treated equally. This package of amendments is designed to lead to Australia having more secure telecommunications networks and services and to make sure that Australia's national security interests can be appropriately considered within the telecommunications regulatory framework. They are sensible amendments. We welcome the agreement of the opposition to pass this legislation in this House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lindsay)—The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Melbourne has moved as an amendment that all words after `That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question now is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.

Question agreed to.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Administrator recommending appropriation announced.