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Wednesday, 28 February 2018
Page: 2251


Mr MARLES (Corio) (13:19): I rise to speak in support of the Intelligence Services Amendment (Establishment of the Australian Signals Directorate) Bill 2018, and, in doing so, want to make a brief contribution to support the contribution made by the member for Canberra.

Mr Snowdon: It was fine, wasn't it?

Mr MARLES: It was a fine contribution—indeed it was. I rise to speak in favour of this bill. The realm of cyber has been a transformative realm in respect of both the way in which military operations are conducted and the way in which we live our lives in the civilian world. The Australian Signals Directorate, which began its life as the Defence Signals Directorate, came out of the time of the Second World War. Cyberspace has grown into the Australian Signals Directorate's domain, and ASD is now responsible for this most transformative part of military operations and civilian operations. The world in which military conflict is conceived and planned is now dramatically different by virtue of cyberspace. The area of cyberspace is changing the thinking in military affairs as much as any area that is around.

The Australian Signals Directorate, therefore, has had to grow as much as any agency: in its scope, in what it seeks to be, and in how it seeks to perform its role. The Australian Signals Directorate is a huge national asset. The work it performs and the people who are working for it do our nation an enormous credit. These are some of the smartest and brightest minds that exist in Australia. And it is an asset that needs to be nurtured, protected and grown in the context of Australian public policy.

Part of the challenge in doing that is that the role that is being played by the Australian Signals Directorate, whilst it is fundamentally a role based in defence, is now broader than simply defence. That is a function of the way in which the cyber realm has changed the world in which we live. As a result of that, the Australian intelligence review recommended that the Australian Signals Directorate be moved from the Department of Defence and be established as a separate statutory agency. That is a proposition with which Labor agrees, and that is at the heart of the bill before the House right now. That is why we, very much, support this bill as it goes through the House today.

That it should become an independent statutory authority is a recognition of a much wider remit in terms of the work that the Australian Signals Directorate is now asked to perform. Crime, for example, is a space in which the Australian Signals Directorate needs to focus its attention, and that goes beyond matters of dealing with the defence of our nation. Because it deals with issues of crime, ASD has to be given, in a legislative sense, a wider remit.

It also means that the clients of ASD are broader than simply those within the defence space, such as the Defence Force or the Department of Defence. The clients of ASD, those to whom it gives advice and provides services, now stretch across the entire Public Service, but beyond that as well and into the private sector. ASD provides really useful advice to companies, for example, about how they can protect themselves in the cyber realm. Again, establishing ASD as an independent statutory authority gives it a proper legislative base to perform that work.

Finally, given that ASD is in that space, attracting the kinds of people that it needs in order to perform all that work requires ASD to be given a degree of flexibility for employment practices. Having ASD taken out of Department of Defence and made an independent statutory authority will give it greater flexibility with the employment of staff. All of that makes sense, and that is what this bill provides. In doing so, it will lift the ASD, if I can put it that way, to the same status as ASIO and other agencies within our intelligence community. That's appropriate as well. It would mean that the Director-General of the Australian Signals Directorate would be at the same level as the directors-general of ASIO and other intelligence agencies.

The oversight arrangements and the reporting arrangements which go with being an independent statutory authority, in our view, also reflect what are appropriate as oversight arrangements and reporting arrangements for a body like this, the Australian Signals Directorate. We welcome the fact that in this bill there will be greater reporting requirements—for example, an obligation to brief the Leader of the Opposition, which has been occurring but would now be a statutory obligation as a result of this bill.

The bill has been referred to a Senate inquiry. I think that's important in terms of just getting into the detail of exactly how that reporting and oversight regime ought to apply to the Australian Signals Directorate. It's possible that as a result of that inquiry there will be amendments that come forth out of that process. If they do, we'd consider them in the Senate in the usual way. But, as a matter of principle, this is a bill which deserves support. This is enacting the recommendations of the intelligence review. This is a sensible path forward, and Labor very much supports it.