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Monday, 25 June 2018
Page: 6125


Mr BYRNE (Holt) (11:58): by leave—I second the comments that have been made by the chair and the shadow Attorney-General. I too want to stress, particularly for those sitting in the gallery and elsewhere, the strongly bipartisan nature of this committee and, in reflecting on the bipartisanship of this committee, extend my deep thanks to the committee secretariat, many of whom laboured literally day and night to produce this report. This is a bill of amazing complexity. It has taken some period of time, as the shadow Attorney-General has said, to bring it to a form where it can be properly submitted to the House. There are some that will have disputations about how that happened, but the work of the committee and of those members that comprised that committee has effectively produced recommendations that will make this legislation palatable to this parliament and to the Australian people.

Make no mistake: the legislation that will, hopefully, be submitted with the appropriate amendments, I suspect, will be required by this parliament to safeguard the Australian people against foreign influence threats. We know that we live in a rapidly changing world, and it is a world in which, as we have seen overseas, great foreign powers have sought to influence democracies. I see the intent of the government's legislation, in the two bills that it brought before the parliament on 7 December, as to protect the Australian democracy from subversion by foreign influence. However, as the shadow Attorney-General said, they could have been brought to this parliament in far better form. I too thank the current Attorney-General for the work he's done and the very cooperative spirit in which he has worked with the shadow Attorney-General, with myself and with the chair of the joint intelligence committee. In this matter we need bipartisanship, and in this matter bipartisanship was shown by every member of that committee.

Bipartisanship is not an easy thing when you're dealing with a matter as complex as this, with differences of opinion about how best to implement this legislation to safeguard our nation's integrity. The mechanism that has been chosen by this government now for some 11 to 12 tranches of security and other legislation is a unique vehicle in many ways, particularly compared to other committees in Western democracies like the ISC, HPSCI and the Senate intelligence committee, with far more staff than those that are sitting over there from the secretariat. I would say one thing with respect to this legislation in particular: it is critical that there be independent oversight. I would urge the government, as we as a bipartisan committee have in these recommendations, that there must be an independent statutory authority that exercises this power, so that we can guarantee that this scheme remains transparent, open and free from claims of political interference, and not put the secretary of the department in what I believe to be an onerous position. The Attorney-General's Department is an oversight department. As you can see the government is aiming to ensure that the Attorney-General's Department is the protector and guarantor of civil liberties and protections in laws framed in this parliament. I think the independent statutory officer would give perfect effect to the desire was spoken about by the Prime Minister on 7 December last year.

I also commend the report to the House, and I would say to those who are listening and to the Australian people: bipartisanship is not an easy thing. We are talking about tax cuts and a whole range of other things, but I reassure those in the gallery, those listening and fellow parliamentarians that this committee, under substantial strain and duress, has produced a report which I think will stand the test of time and, in doing so, give us the laws our country needs to protect us from foreign interference into the future.