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Monday, 2 March 2015
Page: 1589


Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (11:51): I am pleased to present the committee's advisory report on the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014.

Mr TEHAN: by leave—Before I explain the bill, and the safeguards which have been put in place in the bill, can I take this moment to thank all members of the committee—including the deputy chair who is sitting opposite—for the real spirit of bipartisanship which was shown in putting this report together. This is a complex piece of legislation dealing with national security and other important security matters. The committee has spent a vast amount of time looking at the legislation and putting together 38 substantial recommendations. We have taken our time. We have given great thought to it—great consideration—and every member of the committee has participated in a real and bipartisan way in ensuring that we have the outcome that we have reached. So to all members of the committee, and in particular to the deputy chair: thank you very much for your cooperation in this regard. Can I also thank the members of the secretariat, some of whom are with us here today: thank you, also, for your great efforts in putting this report together. I think that the Intelligence and Security Committee has met for longer hours than any other committee in this term of parliament; I think we have also produced more reports than any other committee of this parliament. A lot of that is due to the great work that you have undertaken in your secretariat roles, so thank you very much for the outstanding work that you have all done.

The bill is intended to reverse the long-term erosion of the investigative capabilities of Australia's law enforcement and national security agencies, which has been caused by changing technology and business practices within the telecommunications industry. The bill would require companies providing telecommunications services in Australia to keep a standard set of telecommunications data for two years. The bill also contains new safeguards and accountability mechanisms that will apply to law enforcement agencies accessing the content of communications and telecommunications data. In particular, the bill substantially expands the role of the Commonwealth Ombudsman in overseeing the use of powers under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979. The committee strongly supports this measure, and considers that this enhanced role for the Ombudsman will provide significant reassurance to the parliament and to the community.

This inquiry has followed on from the committee's 2012-13 inquiry into the potential reforms of Australia's national security legislation, which was chaired in the previous parliament by the now deputy chair. The committee has also had the benefit of reviewing the reports on the bill by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, and the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills. In the course of this inquiry, the committee received 204 submissions, 31 supplementary submissions, and more than 200 pages of evidence at three public hearings, in addition to private evidence. The committee has carefully considered all of this evidence, and has produced a comprehensive report with 39 recommendations aimed at ensuring the proportionality of the proposed mandatory data retention scheme, and further strengthening the bill's safeguards and accountability mechanisms. The committee has concluded that the introduction of a mandatory data retention scheme is a necessary and proportionate measure in response to the current challenges faced by security and law enforcement agencies.

The committee has recommended that the two-year retention period that is proposed in the bill be maintained. The committee has made this recommendation in light of the particularly strong public interest in investigating serious and complex criminal activity, and serious matters of national security. These investigations rely heavily on access to older telecommunications data. The committee has made a number of recommendations to strengthen parliamentary oversight of the scheme, including that the data set and the list of agencies permitted to access data should be set out in primary legislation. Complementing this, the committee has recommended establishing emergency declaration powers, subject to safeguards, for the Attorney-General to include items in the data set or to declare an additional agency able to access data. Further, the committee has recommended an ongoing role for the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security in reviewing any changes to the regime. I draw particular attention to the committee's recommendation that it be enabled to look at operational matters in the limited area of authorisation of access to telecommunications data relating to ASIO and the AFP, consistent with the committee's remit. This recommendation would enable, for the first time, direct parliamentary oversight of the operational activities of the AFP and ASIO in this limited area, and represents a significant new safeguard.

The committee has recommended strengthening the safeguards around the use of telecommunications data for determining a journalist's sources, requiring agencies to provide a copy to the Commonwealth Ombudsman or the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) of any authorisation for access to such data. The Ombudsman or IGIS would then be required to notify the committee as soon as practicable and provide a briefing accordingly. The committee has also sought to conduct a separate review on this topic, to be undertaken within the next three months.

Finally, the committee has made recommendations to ensure the privacy, security and confidentiality of telecommunications data that would be retained under the bill. In addition to recommendations to ensure that retained telecommunications data is stored securely and is encrypted, the committee has recommended prohibiting civil litigants, with appropriate exceptions, from accessing telecommunications data being held solely in compliance with the mandatory data retention requirements.

Following consideration of its recommendations, the committee has recommended that the bill be passed by the parliament. Once again, I thank all members of the committee, and I thank the secretariat. On behalf of the committee, I thank all of the organisations and individuals who participated in this inquiry.

I commend the report to the House.

Report made a parliamentary paper in accordance with standing order 39(e).