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Tuesday, 2 February 2010
Page: 8

Senator BARNETT (1:05 PM) —I stand to speak on the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment Bill 2009 before the chamber. I note that this particular bill was referred to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee on 17 September 2009 and reported on 16 November 2009. I note that the committee received seven submissions and we have delivered our report noting that the primary objective of the bill is to protect the privacy of individuals who use the Australian telecommunications system. The act makes it an offence to intercept communications or to access stored communications other than in accordance with the provisions of the act and specifies the circumstances in which it is lawful to intercept or access communications or authorise the disclosure of telecommunications data. The report also notes that protecting information and computer infrastructure from disruption or malicious access by a criminal element seeking to gain financial or other benefits is therefore a growing priority for the government and computer network owners.

The key issue before the chamber is getting the balance right between preserving individual privacy rights and network protection requirements. Senator Ludlam has spoken in support of the bill, subject to the amendments that he has flagged. The Liberal senators, including Senator Mary Jo Fisher and I, made our views reasonably clear in the Senate committee report, where we supported the passing of the bill and made a couple of recommendations. I want to indicate, as our shadow Attorney will indicate, our support for the bill.

I also want to highlight that our additional comments in that report confirm that we will be watching and noting the government’s response to the concerns that we have expressed. Senator Ludlam has indicated that some of the fears and concerns that we expressed in our additional comments he also confirms as concerns. In particular, that applies to the definition of network protection and disciplinary purposes. Exactly what does that mean? The bill does not provide sufficient clarity as to what actions would be considered necessary to effectively undertake network protection duties and, further, how intercepted information may be used for disciplinary purposes. That is certainly a concern that the Liberal senators on the committee had at the time. We will be watching carefully to see how this legislation is acted out on the ground, in its practical operation.

The Law Council highlighted some important concerns about proposed section 63E and the potential for law enforcement agencies to bypass warrant arrangements to obtain information by using voluntary disclosure provisions—that is, basically obtaining the information via a voluntary approach, whether it be ‘wink, wink, nudge, nudge, give us the information’ or by other means. We do not know exactly how that is going to work, but I know that the shadow Attorney has expressed an understanding of it and a confidence that the bill will achieve the objectives without undue concern.

We have noted that the Office of the Privacy Commissioner suggested that additional guidance be provided to help organisations train authorised persons in what actions are lawfully enabled under the proposed exemption. The issue of what exactly is disciplinary action and how broadly it can be defined needs to be noted. It will be considered and watched in future months and years, whether it be through Senate estimates or by other arrangements. So those recommendations have been made and certainly the coalition will be supporting the bill.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the secretariat for their support in the preparation of this report. It was done in a short amount of time. In particular, at this juncture I want to highlight the work of Peter Hallahan, the secretary of the committee, and thank him for his contribution. As deputy chair, I have enjoyed working with Peter Hallahan, who has very recently retired. I know that other members of the committee would likewise note and acknowledge his work. There will be a special event to commend Mr Hallahan for his years of service. I take this opportunity to put on the record that he has completed 28.9 years of service with the Department of the Senate, of which 24.4 years were spent in committees. All that started on 15 December 1980. I understand that before that he worked with the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

During those 28.9 years, and specifically the 24.4 years in committees, he worked with the Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances, the Standing Committee on Social Welfare, the Select Committee on Television Equalisation, the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, the Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport, the Select Committee on Superannuation, the Standing Committee on Economics, the Select Committee on the Socio-Economic Consequences of the National Competition Policy and the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. He spent a further four years, from November 2004, with the economics committee, and then from February 2008 he worked with the legal and constitutional affairs legislation and references committees, where I had particular contact with Mr Peter Hallahan. I want to place on record, on behalf of coalition members—and, I am sure, all members of the committee—our sincere thanks for his service to not just our committee but also the Senate and the parliament. I commend him on his work and wish him and his family well for the months and years ahead.