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Wednesday, 2 March 2011
Page: 909

Senator BARNETT (11:25 AM) —I stand to speak, like my colleague Senator Brandis, broadly in support of the Telecommunications Interception and Intelligence Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 and to make some observations as the Deputy Chair of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, which looked at this very bill. The committee reported in November 2010 and acknowledged that that was a unanimous report. We were provided with a reference on 30 September, so it was a reasonably quick effort. We reported on 24 November 2010. We deliberated and came to a common conclusion that the government’s intent was certainly supported but that in terms of dotting i’s and crossing t’s the effort was not good enough. We made two recommendations that I am advised have now been accepted by the government.

I think this confirms again the credibility and the efforts of Senate committees across the board and the good work that they do. I am pleased to stand here in this place and say that I am proud to have been part of that process of trying to make a difference in improving our laws wherever possible. Certainly in this case it has happened. There has been a significant improvement and the government has, at least to its credit, taken on board the suggestions and recommendations and have come back to us. I put on record my thanks particularly to the submitters and those who appeared before our inquiry, including in Canberra. I note that the Communications Alliance, particularly the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association, put forward some very thoughtful, inquiring and interesting points that have been reviewed and considered by our committee. Of course, as usual, the Law Council of Australia made submissions and put forward very comprehensive views. Again, I put on record my thanks and that of others in this place to the Law Council of Australia for their good work again and again when it comes to expressing views that are comprehensive and thorough. Those views are appreciated by the Senate and by the Senate committee process. Indeed, we had 16 submissions in all, and I thank them for doing that.

The committee came to a common understanding that Australia’s national security agencies and law enforcement agencies should have access to the best information available and the best technical expertise available and that that should then be acted on in the national interest and the public interest. Certainly the bill broadens security agencies’ powers, but that needs to be balanced with the public interest in law enforcement and in national security agencies sharing information to facilitate their legitimate activities and with the public interest in protecting the personal information of individuals. If there is a less intrusive way of achieving these objectives, then we should consider that seriously and try to implement it. There may be less intrusive ways of achieving a similar outcome, and those options always need to be considered. The Information Commissioner put evidence to our committee accordingly.

We made it very clear that in the view of our committee there was a lack of explanation by the department—by the government—in the explanatory memorandum to the bill. It is our view that much of the information provided in the department’s answers to questions on notice and supplementary material should have been included in the explanatory memorandum. We got it on one hand, but it was not provided in the explanatory memorandum, which of course is on the public record and should be attached and complement the bill and its various parts.

In conclusion, yes, we have made two recommendations—in fact, three, with the third one being that the previous two be accepted—and my understanding, and the coalition’s position, is based on Senator Brandis’s position put in this place, which is that the government has responded to our recommendations and has acted. It is appreciated. When we are dealing with national security and with what is in the national interest, it is a difficult issue to try to get the balance right so that the powers are not too intrusive. With the Telecommunications Interception and Intelligence Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 I think we are heading down the right track. But these things should remain under constant and careful review, and that is definitely supported.

(Quorum formed)