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Tuesday, 8 May 2018
Page: 2540

Australian Signals Directorate


Senator KITCHING (Victoria) (14:50): My question is to the Minister for Defence, Senator Payne. In an article entitled 'Let us spy on Aussies', The Daily Telegraph revealed that the Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs has proposed, in a letter to the secretary of Defence, expanding the powers of the Australian Signals Directorate to enable it to spy on Australian citizens. When asked about the report, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, said, 'There is no plan.' The Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, has said in relation to the proposal, 'There is a case to be made.' As the minister responsible for the Australian Signals Directorate, can the minister tell the Senate which position reflects the government's position: Minister Bishop's or Minister Dutton's?


Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:51): I thank Senator Kitching for her question. I can confirm, as has been stated on the public record, that there is no proposal before the government to expand the powers of the Australian Signals Directorate to enable it to collect intelligence on Australians or covertly access their private data. Indeed, in relation to the story, which contained a number of fallacious and incorrect pieces of material, the Secretary of the Department of Defence, the Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs and the Director of the Australian Signals Directorate issued a statement, on 29 April, very clearly outlining the position in regard to ASD's powers, and I think it is appropriate to put that on the record. They said:

In relation to today's media claim, there is no proposal to increase the ASD's powers to collect intelligence on Australians or to covertly access their private data.

ASD's cyber security function is being enhanced under reforms agreed by the Government last year in response to the 2017 Independent Intelligence Review.

The Parliament has already passed legislation establishing ASD as an independent statutory agency within the Defence portfolio on 28 March 2018 in response to this recommendation.

The cyber security function entails protecting Australians from cyber-enabled crime and cyber-attacks, and not collecting intelligence on Australians. These are two distinct functions, technically and operationally.

In the ever changing world of cyber security as officials we should explore all options to protect Australians and the Australian economy.

We would never provide advice to Government suggesting that ASD be allowed to have unchecked data collection on Australians - this can only ever occur within the law, and under very limited and controlled circumstances.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Kitching, a supplementary question.



Senator KITCHING (Victoria) (14:52): I take note of the minister's response to the primary question, but does the minister believe there is a case to be made for extending the power of the ASD?


Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:52): I think that those who are observers of this area of government policy would know that the broad and far-reaching Independent Intelligence Review considered the role of ASD. ASD, as a result of that process, has been established—and this will take effect from 1 July—as a statutory agency within the Department of Defence. That review addressed a number of ASD's roles and, indeed, a number of roles of intelligence agencies more broadly. I, certainly, and the government are satisfied with where that has landed and with the establishment of the Department of Home Affairs. Those matters were dealt with through the review.

The PRESIDENT: A final supplementary question, Senator Kitching.



Senator KITCHING (Victoria) (14:53): Can the minister rule out any changes which would see the remit of the Australian Signals Directorate broadened to allow increased spying on Australian citizens?


Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:53): I believe I've already done that, so: yes.