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Monday, 26 October 2009
Page: 10836


Mr SIMPKINS (12:23 PM) —As a former member of the Australian Federal Police I have some background in the area of interception of telecommunications, not from a technical perspective but from a hands-on involvement in monitoring communications and listening devices. It is in that area that I had some experience. In 1987 I undertook some work in the eastern suburbs of Sydney listening in on a suspected drug trafficker as a precursor to searches that would later take place. While the language used in most of the recordings was Cantonese, so an interpreter was required, we nevertheless had the responsibility of listening in for any English language information that could be obtained and, via a hidden camera, we were also observing the premises for suspicious activities. Spending a number of eight-hour shifts continually listening and watching gave me a great appreciation of some of the less interesting but nevertheless necessary jobs that had to be done by the Australian Federal Police.

I would also say that, having had discussions with a number of my constituents about these and related matters, I know that the vast majority of Australians adopt the supportive line that these sorts of laws, properly authorised in warrants, are necessary to protect the law-abiding citizens of this nation. The typical Australian would say, ‘If you’re not doing anything wrong you shouldn’t object.’ That is pretty much the standard attitude towards telecommunications intercepts and a range of police capabilities that are described by typical Australians as good and by a noisy but peripheral minority as an infringement of human rights. So I am confident in saying that the majority of Australians appreciate the safety provided by law enforcement agencies with effective capabilities as outlined in these sorts of laws.

In recent times we have had our law enforcement agencies intercept information that has resulted in arrests and trials of terrorism suspects. It seems there are some in this country that seem so keen on protecting the rights of terrorists that they are willing to weaken our defences and risk the lives of innocent people in this country. Without the ability to intercept communications, collect intelligence and ultimately evidence, this country would be seriously weakened. There are two problems with those who oppose these sorts of capabilities. They labour under the serious misconception that those who seek to wreak havoc, destruction and death across this country can be reasoned with, and that is one problem. The second problem is somewhat ironic, that they have the freedom to protest these laws under the protection and freedoms that are provided by these laws and others related to them.

Moving away from those that oppose these laws, I think it is also very sad that there are some people in this country that have taken up citizenship and seek to change this country in a fundamental way. By that I mean that those who have recently been convicted in the Sydney terrorist trial are from families that have come to this country and used the superior freedoms and liberties of this country while finding fault with this country and seeking to change it with their extremism and fundamentalism. I think it is all very well that we have the ability to grant citizenship, but what we should have is the ability to withdraw that citizenship from those who seek to betray this nation with acts of murder and terror. These are the reasons why the need exists to have strong laws to support the technologies available for interception and accessing telecommunications.

Turning to the specifics of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment Bill 2009, it is the nature of this modern age that important information is vulnerable when it is held electronically. With the benefits of easy access to electronic information in departments and agencies and the systems of other organisations also comes the vulnerability that it could be illegally accessed. Damage to that information, the altering of that information or the stealing of that information may realise a benefit for those responsible and will result in a cost in physical terms and in terms of the standing of the organisation. These are the threats we are faced with.

On 12 December this year the interim measures that had been put in place for network protection activities will cease. This bill is now required to provide a permanent and comprehensive basis upon which public and private sector organisations can access communications on their own networks and protect their computer networks. The amendments provided for in this bill include: to allow computer network owners and operators to operate, maintain and protect them; to enable agencies to take steps to ensure their networks are being used appropriately; and to limit the secondary use and disclosure of information through network protection activities, including reporting illegal behaviour and taking disciplinary action. This will result in organisations in the public and private sectors being able to check the actions of employees when they access the organisations’ networks. The emphasis will be on appropriate use of those networks, or in other words that access to any files had a legitimate reason surrounding it.

These amendments have created concern in some areas; however, the warning is there now for all those who may wish to go beyond appropriate use of public and private sector networks. While these amendments appear reasonable, I understand that a Senate committee is still looking at this bill, and issues with the bill will no doubt be taken up in the Senate when the committee reports by 16 November this year. With that consideration, amendments may result in the Senate.

I reiterate that we should always look towards strengthening laws that make this nation safer and that reduce the threats that would undermine our institutions. While the issue of inappropriate use of networks may not seem on the surface to be dramatic in its effect, the integrity of information held by government agencies is vital and may in certain circumstances have national applications, and even information held by other organisations could threaten the future of those organisations, with implications for employment and downstream negative economic outcomes. I support the intent of this bill and, barring possible amendments in the Senate, look forward to its passing.