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Wednesday, 2 March 2011
Page: 908

Senator BRANDIS (11:21 AM) —The Telecommunications Interception and Intelligence Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 will enable ASIO, ASIS, the DSD and the Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation, DIGO, to cooperate more closely and to assist in the performance of each other’s functions to enable the sharing of information and to make consequential amendments to the telecommunications interception regime. The intention of the bill is to ensure that the various security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies can respond quickly to a threat, share information and cooperate within their defined roles in multi-agency teams.

The government recently announced the establishment of the Counter Terrorism Control Centre, which is the principal example of the interoperability sought to be facilitated by this bill. In particular, ASIO has expertise in areas that would assist law enforcement agencies to have access to information. The bill will enable ASIO to provide assistance to those agencies in relation to telecommunications interception, technical support, logistics and analytical assistance. In some circumstances telecommunications data may be obtained to find missing persons or to access stored communications of victims of crime whose consent cannot otherwise be obtained.

Each of the security and intelligence agencies has its charter or delimited areas of operation to ensure that powers entrusted to them are not abused. The intention of the bill is not to authorise operations outside the agencies’ charters but to permit cooperation for limited purposes so as to enhance interoperability and approved joint activities requiring information sharing.

The coalition has been briefed on this legislation by representatives of the Attorney-General’s Department and the security agencies. I am assured that the agencies do not intend to trespass outside their statutory limitations but rather seek to use their specialist skills towards a common purpose. There is no reason to doubt the desirability of that outcome or the integrity of the organisations and their offices. However, the legislation is somewhat densely drafted and, given the intrusive powers to which they refer, it is important to ensure that the established boundaries are maintained.

The bill was referred to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, and I am pleased to see that it has bipartisan support and that the committee’s recommendations have been adopted in the government’s amendments and adverted to in the replacement explanatory memorandum. There are also amendments to adjust the membership of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. The membership of that committee is to be expanded from nine to 11 to accommodate the member for Denison, who demanded a seat as part of the price for his support of this government. I make no observations on the appropriateness of that course other than to say that the amendment to maintain the representation of coalition members and senators has our support.

The coalition cannot support the amendments circulated by the Australian Greens. These amendments would require details of the assistance sought and rendered under the arrangements in this bill to be published in ASIO’s annual report. The coalition is concerned that these details may be highly sensitive. The joint committee is empowered to seek such information and to determine, on advice, whether publication would potentially compromise security. That, I think, is more appropriate than requiring publication in the annual report, and the coalition sees no reason to call into question the efficacy of the joint parliamentary committee process. Accordingly, the coalition supports the bill, together with the government amendments on sheet AF255.