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Monday, 18 August 2003
Page: 18765

Mr HATTON (6:42 PM) —I suppose I should not be, but I am again staggered that a backbench member of this government can adopt republican methods in this House, arguing before we go to an election—whether it be in six months, 12 months or 18 months—that the Australian Labor Party should come up to the mark in terms of how hard it is on terrorism. For a government member to plead with the ALP not to be soft on terrorism is reminiscent of the most rank, the most rancid, the most dark days of the Cold War when the Menzies government—which this government putatively would want to be in terms of the extent of time that it reigned and the impact that it had on the Australian community—exploited the dark fears of the Australian people to their electoral advantage, when the Menzies government ripped to pieces the political and social fabric of this country and when the Menzies government exploited anti-Communist feeling within the community. And here we have yet another example. Some might say we should take no real note of this example because it simply came from the member for Herbert, Mr Lindsay, a marginal seat member in Queensland, and maybe it was just done offhand. Unfortunately, I do not think so.

Mr Gavan O'Connor —Deliberate!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. L.R.S. Price)—Order!

Mr HATTON —I have seen this lot in action for too long to think that it was just an offhand comment.

Mr Gavan O'Connor —It was deliberate.


Mr HATTON —It was an utterly deliberate comment, as the member for Corio has correctly interjected twice. He is utterly right: this was an entirely deliberate slur on the Australian Labor Party.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —There are no correct interjections.

Mr HATTON —This is a slur aimed at breaking people's confidence in one of the key parties in Australia. This reflects the darkness of the government's and the Prime Minister's approach to these matters. All else that he had said, up until he uttered that phrase, was reasonable but the underlying darkness of what he is about goes to part of what this government would seek to do. It underscores what was proposed by the member for Melbourne, standing here as shadow minister for communications, that this has to go to a Senate committee for a further look. Precautions need to be taken, not just with regard to Australians' access to telecommunications or their rights to actually utilise telecommunications if they are licensed carriers but also to ensure that that access should not be taken away without good cause.

The shadow minister is absolutely right: we have seen enough examples historically—and we see yet one more, targeted example here today from the government—to indicate that the Australian people, who believe in a fair go and in doing things the right way, would want reasonable scrutiny of these bills. They understand, as we have argued with regard to previous security bills, that the Australian way—the proper, right, correct, forward, truthful, honest Australian way—is to deal with these matters carefully. It is not to trample on people's rights, responsibilities, safety or security—or the nor-mal way in which we do things in a strong, open, democratic country—in a silly, deliberately obstructive or niggardly fashion. That is just the type of thing we can expect to get in the next election because it is exactly the sort of argument we had during the last election. The government said, `Don't trust the ALP; they are a bit soft. They are a bit suss on this sort of stuff. Trust the government.' They whispered, `Take it from this side. We are the only ones who are real on this.'

This government have not taken their responsibilities in the war on terror as seriously as they should have. If they had, we would have a stronger set of arrangements that went to the practical things that need to be done to ensure that, when it comes to the question of Australia's telecommunications, our telephone exchanges are cemented and hardened against a potential terrorist attack. They are totally open and vulnerable to terrorist attack now. All you have to do is sign up as an outside contracted technician, someone not from Telstra but one of those people doing the work thrown out of Telstra by its new managers—and the government have praised these managers for contracting out tens of thousands of jobs. Go and talk to the people now doing the jobs that Telstra employees used to do and find out what security interviews they have been through. Have a look at what inspection has been made of the background of those people who have access to Telstra exchanges Australia wide. Go and talk to those Telstra employees who still have access to the exchanges and ask them how people gain entry to those exchanges. They will tell you—as they told me in my role as head of a taskforce of our urban, rural and regional development committee that has visited Parramatta, Caboolture and Noosa-ville—that our exchanges are wide open. Measures to ensure that Australia's communications system is firmly protected against penetration directly at the physical level on the ground are no longer there.

This government have not had an eye to this situation where they have a direct responsibility. They are too concerned with trying to flog off Telstra rather than looking at the security situation at the very core of our fundamental infrastructure. If you talk, as I did, to those people who are current or former employees of Telstra, they will tell you that now a person who is an outside contractor—who has not been properly screened—can gain access to Telstra exchanges. Instead of the busy hubs that they were previously, these exchanges are effectively empty warehouses. Instead of throngs of people moving around in those exchanges, you will find abandoned places with only a few people working; places that have been run-down and that, by and large, work automatically. These are places which have virtually no-one there to secure them. It would be easy for those with evil intent to cripple a good proportion of our communications system from the exchange level. This is something that this government need to address.

We support the major measures of these bills because they look to change not only the Telecommunications Act and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 but also the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977. The core of the changes is very simple: if you do not have a carrier's licence then in order to get one, and be entrusted as a telecommunications carrier in this country, there should be a particular and discrete overview of your operations and an assurance that you can pass a national security test. This would apply whether that carrier was at the higher end—providing services for Telstra, Optus or other existing companies; whether it was providing services for smaller companies buying wholesale services and accessing them from the main suppliers, such as the backbone Telstra infrastructure; or whether the carrier was one of the even smaller players. They should all be national security cleared and closely looked at.

The other area where the member for Melbourne indicated there were particular areas of concern is the question of people who currently have licences. Where those people with carrier licences are community groups, trade unions or other broadly based groups within the community, and where they are not big corporations or major financial or commercial operations, there is a particular concern. I am told on good authority that if you are big enough, not one of those smaller groups, you can walk around what is proposed here. I am informed—I think on good authority but it may be wrong —that SingTel, the Singaporean telecommunications company owned and run by the Singaporean government, has control of the communications between every electorate office in Australia and Parliament House, because this government decided that it would be a good idea to give that to somebody else. The government did not really trust Telstra. They thought that it would be a good idea to have a bit of competition here where you are dealing with part of our national infrastructure, linking parliamentarians—not just members of the backbench, but members of the government frontbench, the executive and the shadow cabinet—directly back to Parliament House.

With the installation of our new system of operation—which is called OneOffice—all parliamentarians, whether simply members of parliament or members of executive, have direct access to our information wherever we are in the world. That information is stored in Parliament House. And who is providing the connection to it? The government of Singapore. It is pretty strange, in national security terms, that you would not put a national company—and particularly a national monopoly, which is what we have as we still own 51 per cent of Telstra—in charge of the job, but that you would outsource it to someone else. But then again, this government has outsourced the making of bullets to the French. If our army has to go to war—in the Solomons or elsewhere—it will be dependant on the goodwill of the French in terms of the provision of ammunition. That is part of this government's mindset in terms of the approach that they have to these things.

These are important matters that are dealt with because, while what we face now is not unprecedented, it is extremely worrying. The war on terror is not about what happened in Iraq; the war on terror is about a fundamental disjunction between East and West—between different sets of fundamentalists seeing things in different ways. The people who attacked the twin towers in New York and the Pentagon and who attempted to take out either the Congress building or the White House in Washington, and those people who, in the form of Jemaah Islamiah, attacked our people in Bali after failing to attack our High Commission in Singapore, are groups composed of fundamentalists who are at war with the very idea of progress, the very idea of technological innovation and the very idea of the kinds of societies we have built up since the start of the industrial and information revolutions.

The complexity of our society and the fact that it is bound together by telecommunications is at once the source of our great strength and our great weakness. Therefore, it is necessary for our security agencies to have the appropriate tools before them to be able to require carriers to provide ASIO or its associated entities, such as the Federal Police and state antiterrorist squads, access under a certain set of protocols. This must be provided in such a way that every one of these current carriers and those who might become carriers is certified in terms of national security and—and I think this is a third key part of what this bill is about—that there is an absolute assurance that every one of those carriers is in a position to provide the interception that is needed. The carriers must be able to provide the security agencies with the data that they will need so that they can act on our behalf to ensure that the Australian people and the people we do business with are protected, to ensure that our telecommunication strength is used in the war on terror to continue to protect us and our people, and to ensure that our infrastructure becomes our strength and not our weakness.

In this particular regard I want to thank the officers from ASIO, the New South Wales antiterrorist squad and local detectives in the Bankstown command for the work they have done in this past week in relation to a threat made against me. The threat turned out to have no foundation but was, on the face of it, significant. That threat was resolved by good, straightforward police work and by those entities being able to use the Telecommunications Act to trace, through Telstra, the call back to its initiator and then to seek to sort out what the problem was at that level. This was a proper use of the powers that we as a people have given to these organisations that we expect to protect us in good times and in bad.

I, in conjunction with Senator Steve Hutchins and the member for Bruce, Alan Griffin, listened to what people at Parramatta said about the problems in telecommunications and how open to attack we were because of the lack of maintenance, the outsourcing of jobs and the denuding of security in our exchanges. In conjunction with Senator Claire Moore, the member for Melbourne and our shadow minister, Mr Tanner, the member for Bonython and Senator Evans, I heard the concerns that local people at Caboolture and Noosaville had. It is not just that they could lose access or that Telstra is in danger of being sold off or being lost to us—that a public monopoly could be turned into a private one—it is that our very means of best protecting ourselves has been endangered because this government's eye is on the commercial chance rather than national security. Rather than this government having a proper regard to maintaining Telstra and its infrastructure and ensuring that proper protocols are undertaken and that there is a hardening and cementing of our national communications infrastructure, there is a denuding of it all.

It is not here in the amendment, but I want to call on this government to redress the significant problem that is apparent in Telstra's national exchanges—to ensure that, whether it is the exchange in Bankstown in my electorate or in any member's electorate New South Wales wide or Australia wide, they at least do some thinking, they at least do some probing, they at least get out and find out from the people who are running those exchanges what the national security problem is at those exchanges and how that should be addressed. It will demand commitment. It will demand some money. It will demand some effort. But we do live in dangerous times; we live possibly only at the start of a very long war against terror that we have to fight with a number of different weapons.

I do not want to return to those dim, dark, devastating days of the Cold War, when from one side of the old chamber to the other arguments rang, or to a situation where people who are Australians first and foremost and who owe their allegiance to this country have that allegiance and their concern for national security pilloried, lowered, brought down and depicted in such a way—for pure partisan political advantage—that it is to the detriment of Australia's social and political fabric. The manner in which the member for Herbert finished his argument today is just an indicator.

Unless the government zipper this approach to national policy, the cooperation that there has been on the ASIO and other security bills—where we ended up with better and stronger bills that will more strongly protect us—will be fractured. This is not about working for partisan advantage; this is about the national security and the national life of this country, which can only be properly assured if this is not made a partisan matter. So I thank those people working in our security agencies and our police forces—working to protect us. I commend the core of this bill, because it should allow for greater surety in that regard, and demand that the government fix the problem with the exchanges. (Time expired)