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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 571

Senator LUDLAM (10:10 AM) —I rise at very little notice to add some comments on behalf of the Australian Greens to the Telecommunications Interception and Intelligence Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2010. You always know that something is up when a committee recommends changes to an explanatory memorandum. That is always a bit of a red flag to me. The Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs looked into this bill. Many submitters to the inquiry, including the Law Council—and I will read into the record some of their comments—made very clear their substantial concerns about this bill, which were that it substantially broadens the scope of what ASIO and its agencies will be able to do on their own motion and the kind of information that they will be able to share with other agencies and also that ASIO will be able to be brought in on the request of any other Commonwealth agency to investigate, as far as I can tell, virtually anything at all. The Law Council describes what we are doing here as ‘setting up a mercenary force’. That is reasonably strong language. I think we need to be very careful about where this bill takes us.

ASIO operates under very, very strict circumstances that have been laid down over a very long period of time. There are reasons why we put such constraints on the operation of an agency that operates under conditions of, as ASIO argues, necessary secrecy. I have had the good fortune to speak to the Director-General of ASIO in estimates committees a couple of times. ASIO is extraordinarily circumspect about what it will put on the public record. This agency operates under the cloak of darkness. ASIO argues that that is entirely necessary for the kind of work it does, and it is for that reason that we do not want to expand the reach or mandate of ASIO into areas like tax law, welfare law or any of the other areas which the Law Council and other submitters put on the record as being of extreme concern.

The legal and constitutional affairs committee heard those concerns loud and clear and, in response, all they proposed was that some changes be made to the explanatory memorandum—which really gives us cause for concern—to provide greater clarification. In fact, it is not just clarification that we need; this bill needs wholesale repair. The key concerns are that the bill proposes to relax the restrictions on where ASIO can share information with other agencies. I think there is a case to be made in the case of other intelligence agencies that ASIO should be able to share information more effectively; we do not want our intelligence communities fire-walled.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.