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Tuesday, 29 May 2012
Page: 6134

Mr SIMPKINS (Cowan) (16:16): As a former member of the Australian Federal Police and then later the military police as well, I do look for these sorts of opportunities to comment upon these sorts of bills. Some of my best days in the Federal Police were those great moments of driving around, conducting surveillance on people and conducting the searches of people involved with drug crimes. These were some of the great days. I particularly remember once being fully and legitimately authorised to drive across the Harbour Bridge at 130 kilometres an hour. Those were entertaining days. Obviously it was so long ago when you could actually do that in the early afternoon and be able to continue with those sort of speeds, but it is more of a struggle these days with the traffic. But they were all good times. At the reality end, I draw upon that quote from, I think, Greg Norman, who said that you drive for show and you putt for dough. The reality is that with all the really fun stuff in the Federal Police—the driving tasks and the searches and stuff like that—sometimes you actually have to get down to the point of a highly technical analysis and collection of information. I think that is where telecommunications interceptions really come into it.

On behalf of my peers at the time in the Australian Federal Police, I will say that we certainly did not appreciate those shifts that we had to pull. I remember spending a couple of weeks of shifts in an observation post in Randwick in Sydney, listening to people of Chinese origin who were conducting their discussions to do with their drug trade in Cantonese, I believe. It was not really that entertaining listening to people speaking Chinese and just having to record when they were in and when they were out on the sheet of paper. But the reality is that we have moved on. This country has moved on. The technical realities have moved on.

As I said before, as a former member of the Federal Police and now a member of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, I am very much interested in matters to do with telecommunications interception and the integrity and safeguarding of information generated through interception practices. I therefore welcome the opportunity to speak on the Telecommunications Interception and Other Legislation Amendment (State Bodies) Bill 2012. I confirm, as I believe the shadow minister did, that the coalition supports the bill. When we consider matters such as this, to do with interceptions and surveillance, we must remember the basic principle about such laws and what they are designed to do. In many ways, it is about the fundamental reason for the existence of government. By this I mean the protection of the people and safeguarding the safety of the public. Every Australian should feel safe in this country knowing that, if required, phone calls, emails and SMSs may be intercepted—of course, with due cause and appropriate controls.

In its many forms, interception surveillance also goes to the detection and action before, during or after the event against terrorism, murder, other violent crimes or crimes against property and stealing. It is about arrests and it is about the collection of evidence. It is about stopping crime, reducing the harm of crime to people in society and the acknowledgement that a little bit of privacy may need to be given up for a greater good. Deep down, we know that this is a trade-off that we must accept, and that is why we provide the powers not only to the state agencies covered in this bill but also to the federal agencies that also deal with the telecommunications interceptions.

It is well understood how important it is that agencies that deal with security and safety of Australians should be well supported—agencies such as ASIS, ASIO, ONA, the AFP and Customs. These are the agencies that, through the collection of intelligence and their activities, stand on the front line of keeping the people of our nation safe. We must arm them not only with laws such as the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act but with the resources in terms of money, facilities, equipment and, of course, staff that they require. However, the risks that we run by not providing such resources may not always be apparent or immediately obvious. Emerging problems may get missed either overseas or in our communities. Sometimes those problems may not translate into being a scary threat, but every piece of the puzzle needs to be collected to ensure that Australians are not at risk of violent or property crimes. Sometimes the lack of resources may be apparent in the reduction of services or less efficient services being delivered. By way of example, the $10.4 million cut by the government to Customs for airport passenger facilitation and processing results in extending cues for incoming arrivals, such as at Perth International Airport.

As I said before, this bill is about the regime and processes for telecommunication interceptions and related privacy requirements in the agencies in need of being declared under the act. As has already been stated by previous speakers, this bill provides for the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act to be amended in order to remove the Victorian Office of Police Integrity, an organisation being abolished, and to substitute as a declared agency the Victorian Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission, or IBAC. It also provides the mechanism for the IBAC's overseeing organisation, the Victorian Inspectorate, to also receive and use intercepted communications. In addition to these two agencies, the establishment of the Victorian Public Interest Monitor is supported by this bill. Its purpose is to represent public interests during applications for a range of covert warrants by Victorian agencies. The purpose of the primary act is absolutely to regulate the way in which declared agencies receive intercepted information and then how that information can be used and then communicated, all with regard to emphasis on privacy and integrity considerations.

When we speak of the Victorian Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission, the Victorian Inspectorate and the establishment of a Victorian Public Interest Monitor, they are state agencies and they are funded by the Victorian taxpayers. Federal agencies are funded collectively by Australian taxpayers, but with the allocation of funds and therefore the accountability for resources determined by this government. So a $42 million cut from ASIO's budget is a case where the government must accept responsibility for possible shortcomings of that agency's working future. As I said earlier, this is an area of great interest for me as a person that has in the past worked with monitoring interception equipment in a law enforcement setting. Now, through the Joint Committee, I am concerned with how integrity matters are dealt with given the value and the breadth of information that can be obtained from the equipment.

It is right that such legislation is passed in order to ensure that state agencies such as the IBAC, the Victorian Inspectorate and the Victorian Public Interest Monitor can make use of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act or oversee the application of their powers. It is good that the states are putting in place bodies such as IBAC to ensure that the people of Victoria can have confidence in the institutions that administer the applications of government and the public sector in the state of Victoria.

To conclude, I will say that I endorse and support this bill but, as someone that has always believed wholeheartedly in the safety of this nation and above all its people, I do not endorse the cuts to Customs, the AFP or ASIO that potentially place Australians at risk from criminals and terrorists, as well as the creation of inefficiency and stovepipes through cutbacks in passenger and cargo security handling and entry points about this nation.