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Thursday, 12 May 2011
Page: 3928

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (10:38): It is a privilege to speak on the Intelligence Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2011. I want to endorse the remarks of the member for Stirling, the shadow minister for justice and customs, who made what I regard as a very valuable contribution to this debate today in highlighting that many of the bills that we face from this government, whether it concerns intelligence services or the operation of ASIO or our security services, are affected by government's decision making in relation to the budget. His points in particular in relation to previous cutbacks in 2011-12—$6.9 million in funding cuts to ASIO for security checking of illegal arrivals—was a cogent point. It was particularly cogent because—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): Please be relevant to the bill before us. If you are not going to be relevant to the bill before us you are not going to get as easy a ride as under the last Deputy Speaker, so be warned.

Mr HAWKE: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would like to highlight why that is relevant. It is a lovely opportunity to do so. It is relevant, because when we see bills such as this one before us today that contain provisions that say to us that we ought to streamline and consolidate the operation of various acts of parliament, I tend to think that that is a worthy objective. Some of the matters contained within this bill are indeed worthy objectives. But the member for Fowler comes into this place and says that part of the reason we are here debating this bill is to do with efficiencies, and not government waste. It has been a wide-ranging debate where both previous speakers have talked about this question of funding for ASIO and our intelligence services, the very agencies that are in this bill. The member for Fowler made the point that this was about some sort of efficiency. I reject that notion. I think that there are other reasons why there have been cuts in relation to ASIO and other agencies.

Turning to the specific provisions, there are submissions to the Senate committee on this from various agencies and I want to address a couple of the points in those submissions. Some of the provisions in the bill before us, such as the alignment issues in relation to the definition of 'foreign intelligence' in the IS Act and the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act, are definitely things that we should be pursuing. For example, the submission of the Law Council has some validity in regard to the question of warrants and how warrants are issued to security services for interception, surveillance and other matters. There is the contention that if this legislation is passed by the parliament the ability of these agencies to access warrants will be increased in a very broad range of circumstances. That of course is something that should be subject to proper scrutiny.

I want to record that I am a supporter of our intelligence services. They need tools in place so they can conduct their business efficiently and properly. We need to provide them with those tools. However, it is also valid for agencies such as the Law Council and other outside bodies to raise concerns about individual rights, privacy of citizens and of course the ability of law enforcement agencies to act in particular circumstances.

This submission to the Senate is very relevant and it is of course why the coalition, pending the recommendations from the Senate committee, supports many of the provisions of this bill. This should be subject to the great scrutiny and rigour of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee. They do good work in examining provisions. In particular I would endorse their comments on the increased access to warrants. I do so just to ensure that we have a transparent and proper process in place, that stakeholders concerns are being met and that those people, particularly, who deal with the law in protecting citizens rights are as comfortable as they can be with many of the provisions that we are seeking to amend and enact today.

The bill is not highly controversial, although that may not have come across in the most recent actions of the member for Shortland. It is not a bill that I would seek to make a long contribution on other than to say that some of the provisions, including the ministerial authorisation for the purposes of producing intelligence on an Australian person; whether the minister is satisfied that an Australian person is involved in or likely to be involved in activities related to a contravention of a UN sanction enforcement law; and similar acts that uphold ministerial discretion and authorisation are I think worthy provisions. There are other bills before us in this place at the moment that seek to put in statutory processes instead of using ministerial discretion and authorisation.

I tend to think it is better for us to uphold ministerial discretion and authorisation in preference to statutory instruments, allowing for the very complex nature of many intelligence questions. I do not think there is a way for us in legislation to prescribe every circumstance that may be before many of our fine agencies that have to operate in very difficult environments. That is where the role of ministerial discretion and authorisation comes into play. In this bill, those provisions are right. That allows for the accountability of this parliament to be used in that example. A minister is accountable to the parliament and the minister's discretion allows flexibility and rigour.

While this was not a controversial bill I do want to note that the coalition are strong supporters of our intelligence services. We support them being well resourced and well funded. When a government continually seeks to cut back the amount of money that is provided to our intelligence services we reject that approach. We do not recommend that the government cut $6 million from the 2011-12 budget to ASIO. We do not think that is a good idea, and I do not think that can be justified in the name of efficiencies as a worthy objective either.

We look forward to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee examining these submissions and the provisions of this legislation and, subject to those recommendations, we are happy to support this bill.