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Thursday, 28 August 2008
Page: 4036

Senator STEPHENS (Parliamentary Secretary for Social Inclusion and the Voluntary Sector and Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Prime Minister for Social Inclusion) (1:19 PM) —I would like to thank the senators for their contributions to the debate on the Telecommunications Interception Legislation Amendment Bill 2008, and I particularly thank Senator Ludlam for his first contribution to a legislative debate. In terms of the issues that have been raised, can I advise Senator Ludlam that the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act has been the subject of extensive review in recent years—including most recently the Blunn review—and it incorporates considerable safeguards, including robust reporting and monitoring oversight. In advising him of that, I would like to acknowledge his privacy concerns but assure him that this government is not intent on unduly intervening in people’s privacy where that is not appropriate.

The bill is important in maintaining the effectiveness of the legal framework that underpins the lawful interception of telecommunications and surveillance activities. Replicating the existing authorisation powers in stand-alone provisions does not alter or expand any powers for security or law enforcement agencies under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act. The amendments to the references to the Victorian Office of Police Integrity will ensure that that office can continue to exercise its existing interception powers following the establishment of the office as a stand-alone agency under the Victorian Police Integrity Act 2008. The bill also removes redundant references to provisions in relation to communications carriers, reporting obligations that were repealed following the passage of the Telecommunications (Interception) Amendment Act in 2006. These technical amendments to the interception regime will improve, clarify and simplify the operation of the T(IA) Act. In doing so, the bill is a further step in the ongoing modernisation of Australia’s laws for accessing telecommunications information for law enforcement and other national security purposes.

In relation to the issue raised by Senator Brandis—well spotted, Senator Brandis!—the express powers issue was flagged during the drafting of the last TIA bill, and prior to this the relevance of the outcome in the Hong Kong Bank case had not been identified. Now that it has been, we have moved quickly to address the issue to maintain the effectiveness of the legal framework that underpins the lawful interception of telecommunications in surveillance activities. I commend legislation to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.