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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 569

Senator McEWEN (10:04 AM) —I think I can offer a few words about this bill, and I understand that Senator Ludlam is also on the list to speak and has been approached to come to the chamber to give his contribution.

I would like to speak briefly to the Telecommunications Interception and Intelligence Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2010. This bill reintroduces measures contained in the bill which was introduced in the House on 24 June 2010 and lapsed when the parliament was prorogued. The bill amends three acts to facilitate greater cooperation between law enforcement and intelligence agencies and removes legislative barriers to information sharing within Australia’s national security community. Considering events in the Middle East and elsewhere over the last few weeks, we know how important it is to have integrity in Australia’s security systems so that our law enforcement agencies can work cooperatively to be assured of what is happening in the rest of the world and also to ensure that Australia is well placed to address the issues that are happening at the moment or may happen in the future.

This government has a proud record of continually reviewing Australia’s law enforcement and intelligence legislation to take cognisance of developments in this field internationally and nationally. I have to say that in most cases these initiatives are done with bipartisan support because all of us here understand that it is a fundamental role of the parliament to ensure that there is integrity in the law enforcement area, particularly with regard to interception and intelligence. We know that sometimes those areas are very controversial. We have to get a good balance between the right of people to communicate as they need to and the need to be cognisant of the fact that at times the parliament has to have oversight of areas of legislation which can sometimes be controversial.

Currently, under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act, law enforcement agencies can seek the assistance of other law enforcement agencies in exercising an interception warrant, and that ability has enabled smaller agencies with limited interception capacity to rely on larger agencies to intercept on their behalf. However, we understand that ASIO does not fall within the group of agencies from whom assistance can be sought. The bill will amend the interception act to enable ASIO to intercept on behalf of other agencies and therefore ensure that ASIO itself has more flexibility to support the whole-of-government initiative to protect our communities from the threats that are real now or that may become an issue in the future. In assisting other law enforcement agencies, we are also well aware that ASIO will continue—and it is important that ASIO will continue—to be subject to existing legislative requirements set out in the interception act. The bill will ensure that that happens.

Other aspects of this bill contain amendments to the ASIO Act and the Intelligence Services Act to enable intelligence agencies to cooperate more closely and to provide assistance to one another in a wider range of circumstances than is possible under the existing legislative framework. The bill makes several amendments to the interception act that will improve the operation of that act. Carriers and carrier service providers will be required to inform the Communications Access Co-ordinator of proposed changes such as maintenance and support that could significantly affect their ability to comply with their statutory obligation to assist interception agencies.

Those are just some aspects of the bill that I am pleased to acknowledge on behalf of the government. As I said, in a time when our nation is alerted to happenings elsewhere in the world that could affect our own security, it is timely that the parliament considers this legislation. I commend the legislation to the Senate.