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Wednesday, 18 March 2015
Page: 2851

Mr THISTLETHWAITE (Kingsford Smith) (19:23): I speak in support of this amended bill, the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014.

I have decided to support this bill after careful consideration of the facts and evidence, after consultation with constituents in my community and experts, and after a thorough review of the report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.

I wish to point out that this bill that we debate tonight is fundamentally different to the original bill that was proposed by communications minister on 30 October last year. That was a piece of legislation that I, and many of my Labor colleagues, did not agree with. I would not have supported the bill in its original form. As a result of that opposition, the Labor opposition leader, Bill Shorten, wrote to the Prime Minister in February of this year, outlining Labor's concerns about the original bill proposed by the member for Wentworth.

The concerns related to the following issues: the impact of the proposed laws on the privacy of citizens; the cost of the scheme, and who would be responsible for bearing that cost; the period the data would be retained by internet service providers and therefore would be accessible by government agencies; the safeguards for citizens in respect of their metadata, and the fact that the original bill proposed no encryption of that data; whether or not the public could access their own metadata; and the very serious issue of freedom of the press, and the protection of journalists and their sources under Australian law.

The Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, suggested to the Prime Minister that this bill be given serious consideration through an open and resourced inquiry by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. Thankfully, and sensibly, the government agreed to that inquiry. The inquiry ran over several weeks and received hundreds of submissions.

The inquiry also uncovered some interesting facts. Chief amongst those is that internet service providers already collect and store the metadata of their customers. They primarily do this for billing purposes. Most Australians would probably not be aware that their metadata is already being stored by their ISP, and that it is being accessed by government agencies routinely. Those government agencies go right down from the Australian Crime Commission and the AFP to local councils and other agencies such as the RSPCA.

Last year, there were half a million requests to access that metadata under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act. Some of those requests related to investigations of very, very serious crimes. I highlight the example of the tragic rape and murder of Jill Meagher in Melbourne several years ago. The police were able to pinpoint Jill Meagher's body by accessing the killer's metadata. The fact that he used his mobile phone, and he had his phone with him when he dumped the body, enabled the Victorian police to access that metadata and put that metadata together to ensure that crime was solved.

The second fact that many Australians would not be aware of is that there is very little regulation regarding the privacy of metadata at the moment. It is a fact that the public cannot access their metadata. There is no encryption of the collection of metadata at the moment, and practically any agency can access that data under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act. That probably includes police and other agencies accessing the metadata of journalists at the moment. That is something that people need to be aware of.

Labor insisted on the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security inquiry to uncover these issues to ensure that Australians are aware of how the current system works and, importantly, to improve the system—to make sure that, if we are going to have this review of the current laws, we improve the way this data is collected and the use of it by Australian agencies. That is exactly what this amended bill does. This amended bill includes many of the 38 recommendations of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, as a result of that very thorough inquiry and the evidence of those organisations. It seriously rectifies many of the deficiencies in the original bill that was introduced by the communications minister. It actually makes the current system much better, offering more privacy and protection for consumers.

Debate interrupted.