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Wednesday, 3 September 2014
Page: 6357

National Security

Senator LEYONHJELM (New South Wales) (14:41): My question is to the Attorney-General. It is currently an offence to fight for non-government armed forces in another country, including the Islamic State. National security agencies can cancel passports, enter premises, use listening and tracking devices, and access computers and communications data. Non-suspects can be detained for up to a week and obliged to answer questions. There are preventative detention orders with secret detention for up to a fortnight and control orders which can equate to house arrest for people not convicted of an offence. Those convicted can be sentenced to 25 years imprisonment. Intelligence operations are protected by offences against disclosure and exclusions from whistleblower laws. Given this, can the minister advise what specific deficiencies exist in current legislation that impede security agencies from dealing with a terrorist threat arising from Middle East conflicts?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Arts and Attorney-General) (14:42): Thank you very much indeed, Senator Leyonhjelm, and thank you for your courtesy in giving me some advanced notice of the question that you were proposing to ask. May I say, Senator Leyonhjelm, that I am aware that you take a deeply principled interest in this area of policy, informed by your liberal and libertarian convictions, which I greatly respect.

May I also remind you, Senator Leyonhjelm, that, when the Prime Minister and I announced a new suite of measures on 5 August, I did make the point that I would approach the necessary law reform task with a very strong prejudice against expanding the power of the state and protecting the liberties of the individual, which would only be displaced in the face of clear necessity to do so to protect the public interest. That being said, Senator Leyonhjelm, although we have a strong statutory framework, the fact is that the risk of returning foreign fighters does present the greatest threat to national security that Australia has faced in many years, and we are up against identified limitations in our national security legislation, many of which were identified in the bipartisan report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security. For instance, Senator Leyonhjelm, the legislation governing ASIO is an act of 1979, which, although amended, has not been significantly reformed since. The foreign incursions and recruitment act is an act of 1978, which has never been amended since, and terrorism takes new forms, it has pervasive new techniques— (Time expired)

Senator LEYONHJELM (New South Wales) (14:44): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. ASIO's real spending has grown consistently in recent years to reach $414 million in 2012-13. I assume this will be boosted by the government's $630 million counter-terrorism funding announcement. Given that an independent efficiency review is considered valuable in the case of the ABC and SBS, will the minister commission an independent efficiency review of ASIO?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Arts and Attorney-General) (14:44): The government has concluded that the $630 million of additional funding is a necessary response to the current national security environment and to the fact that dedicated counter-terrorism funding provided to agencies with key counter-terrorism roles declined from $790 million in 2007-08 in the last year of the Howard government to $498 million, a reduction during the life of the previous government of some 37 per cent, and more in real terms.

Senator Leyonhjelm, you may think, given the threats that Australia faces, that it was not wise to reduce by 37 per cent the resources available to counter-terrorism agencies. We certainly do, and that is a deficiency this government is determined to repair.

Senator LEYONHJELM (New South Wales) (14:46): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. In the process of updating national security legislation, which you have said you consider necessary, will you give an unqualified guarantee that the rights of ordinary Australians will not be infringed in the name of security?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Arts and Attorney-General) (14:46): Senator Leyonhjelm, what I can give you is my absolute assurance that in approaching the law reform task, in order to keep Australians safe, the government will be ever mindful of the importance of protecting privacy, protecting the rights of individual citizens and protecting civil liberty. Senator Leyonhjelm, we on this side of the chamber have in our DNA a preference for smaller government rather than larger government and for limiting the power of the state rather than expanding the power of the state. That is a set of principles that I know you share. But I think you would also understand that in certain circumstances it is necessary to give the policing and national security agencies certain additional powers in order to keep the community safe in the face of a new and unprecedented threat.