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New espionage laws introduced.



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NEWS

RELEASE

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ATTORNEY- GENERAL ___________________________________________________

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THE HON DARYL WILLIAMS AM QC MP ___________________________________________________

27 September 2001 1053

NEW ESPIONAGE LAWS INTRODUCED

I have today introduced into the Parliament tough new espionage laws.

Under the Criminal Code Amendment (Espionage and Related Offences) Bill 2001, the maximum penalty for espionage will be increased from seven years to 25 years jail.

This new penalty is appropriate given that an act of espionage has the potential to place the lives of individuals, and the security of the nation, in danger. That is why espionage offences in the UK, Canada and New Zealand attract penalties of up to 14 years imprisonment, while in the US the maximum penalty for espionage is death.

The new espionage laws will also prohibit and punish conduct that is not currently prohibited but that has the potential to seriously damage national security. The revised espionage offences will now cover: • Disclosing information about Australia’s security (rather than safety) or defence with

the intention to prejudice Australia’s security or defence; • Disclosing information about the security or defence of another country that is in Australia’s possession or control; and • Disclosing information about Australia’s security or defence, without authorisation,

to advantage the security or defence of another country. Previously there was no provision in Australian legislation, unlike that of many of our key intelligence partners, which made it an offence to disclose information that may advantage the security or defence of another country.

These offences will apply regardless of whether or not the conduct occurs in Australia.

As a result of this Bill, Australia will have in place stronger espionage laws with higher penalties to deter those who would commit the ultimate betrayal of their country. The Bill will give protection to a wider range of material. Australia will therefore be better placed to protect its own information, as well as that generated by other countries - allowing us to further assure our information exchange partners that the Howard Government is committed to protecting sensitive information and considers it a high priority for action.

The Bill will repeal provisions in Part VII of the Crimes Act dealing with Espionage and Official Secrets and put in place a new chapter in the Criminal Code titled ‘The Integrity and Security of the Commonwealth’. In addition to strengthening our anti-spy laws, the Bill will modernise provisions in relation to disclosure of official secrets and repeal some out-of-date offences.

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This legislation is a response to the 1991 Gibbs report and the 2000 report of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. In introducing this Bill, the Howard Government has acted to protect the national interest, where Labor failed.

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