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Thursday, 19 March 2015
Page: 1908

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (11:03): I have had an amendment circulated in the chamber for the last couple of hours. I move the following amendment to the motion moved by Senator Fawcett:

At the end of the motion, add, "but, in respect of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014, the bill be referred to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 25 June 2015.".

I recognise that this is slightly unorthodox and it is not something that we do lightly. It is reasonably rare that the chamber would seek to dispute or amend a report of the Selection of Bills Committee, but this is an unusual occasion. I understand that the member for Wentworth, the Minister for Communications, Mr Turnbull, has just adjourned the second-reading debate on the data retention bill in the House, so it may be some time yet before this matter comes before the Senate.

Let us understand what they have been conducting in the other place. They have just conducted an entire second-reading debate on a bill that none of them have seen. The minister and, presumably, Mr Shorten and the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, have done some kind of handshake deal in the dead of night to come to some sort of agreement to buy the Labor Party's assent to a two-year mandatory data retention proposal for the entire country, but nobody—not a single member of the House of Representatives—has seen the amendments, because they have not yet been drafted. They are being drafted as we speak. I think it is extraordinary, given the immense degree of controversy that this proposal has attracted, that our colleagues in the other place have been forced to debate a bill which is proposed to be heavily amended but whose amendments have not been seen.

There has been a lot of commentary that concerns are overblown or that there may have been some kind of fix arranged between Mr Shorten and Mr Abbott to buy the Labor Party's support for Senator Brandis and for the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, but the fact is that the dissent and opposition to mandatory data retention for this country is widespread and very deep. There was a joint letter this week from Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, M2, iiNet, Macquarie Telecom and a host of other telecommunications providers demanding to know how much this thing is going to cost and who will pay. The Australian government does not know to within the nearest $100 million who will be paying this surveillance tax. The fact is, we all will either through higher data charges or through higher taxes. I do not recall hearing then opposition leader Tony Abbott or any of the other spokespeople on that side of the chamber announcing a $400 million surveillance tax before the 2013 election. Nonetheless, that is what we are faced with. The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, the journalists union, irrespective of whatever deal has been done between Mr Shorten and Mr Abbott, has been scathing about the fact that the government seems intent on pursuing journalists and their sources. That should not occur in a democracy.

Senator Brandis has pointed out, quite rightly, that this bill does not change the existing arrangements, and that is precisely the problem. It welds on two years worth of additional data which can be indiscriminately accessed by agencies. Nobody has seen the amendments in the deal that has been done between the Labor Party and Prime Minister Abbott, but we would want to look at them very closely. We do not believe that debate should proceed in this place until the amendments have been seen and considered by the legal and constitutional affairs committee, and that is what this motion goes to today. The bill was not referred, as it properly should have been, to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee.

What this motion proposes—and we respectfully dissent from the Selection of Bills Committee's view on this matter—is that the bill be given a thorough airing because so many issues that have been raised have simply been pushed under the carpet: how much will it cost, who will pay?

Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim has raised significant concerns, as have Human Rights Commissioner Triggs, the Law Council of Australia, the Communications Alliance, the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association and Councils for Civil Liberties right across the country; and business groups, including Blueprint for Free Speech, ThoughtWorks, the Australian Lawyers for Human Rights and the Institute of Public Affairs—not a group who would traditionally be lining up to support the Greens, and for me that underlines the fact that this is beyond Left and Right. This is not something that should have become as partisan as it has, but it is hardly a left-wing position to argue against increasing the power of the state over private individuals for indiscriminate surveillance. That is why we have groups like the Institute of Public Affairs coming out against this, as well as the Australian Privacy Foundation, and Electronic Frontiers Australia, who have been staunch in their opposition to this proposal and staunch in their advocacy for digital rights.

There are so many unknown costs and very poorly described benefits associated with this bill that it should be immediately referred for committee review. (Time expired)