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Wednesday, 25 August 2021
Page: 2

Mr TEHAN (WannonMinister for Trade, Tourism and Investment) (09:32): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.


The government is committed to ensuring our national security agencies have the powers they need to combat threats to national security. The Foreign Intelligence Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 gives effect to this commitment.

The bill amends the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 (TIA Act) and Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979(ASIO Act) to address two critical gaps in the foreign intelligence collection framework.

Intercepting a communication for foreign intelligence purposes

The first reform is a necessary update in light of the modern communications environment.

Currently, the Director-General of Security may request a warrant for the collection of foreign communications to obtain foreign intelligence. The interception of any domestic communication is strictly prohibited.

The prohibition made sense when the warrant was introduced in 2000. Today, internet communications, such as messaging apps on smart phones, can make it extremely difficult to determine the geographic location of a sender or recipient of a communication prior to collection.

Currently, intelligence agencies cannot intercept communications where there is even the smallest risk of incidentally collecting a domestic communication. This is a considerable constraint on the collection of foreign intelligence. There is a real risk that intelligence agencies are missing critical foreign intelligence. This could result in serious threats to Australians being missed.

The amendments in the bill will allow the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO)—for the purpose of obtaining foreign intelligence from foreign communications—to obtain a warrant that authorises the collection of a communication which may not have a clear geographic location.

The amendments will restore the foreign communications warrant to its original intended function. Australia will have greater visibility of foreign threats; such as malicious cyberactivity targeting Australian interests, terrorist communications, and indications of foreign interference.

These reforms will be accompanied by robust safeguards to ensure the privacy of domestic communications. The Attorney-General must put in place a mandatory written procedure for screening communications in order to identify domestic communications incidentally collected. Importantly, the warrants are only for the purpose of foreign intelligence. Intelligence agencies will not be able to deliberately target domestic communications. If any domestic communication is identified it must be destroyed.

The existing thresholds and stringent safeguards that apply to the foreign communications warrant will also continue to apply, including robust oversight by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security.

Obtaining intelligence on an Australian person acting for, or on behalf of, a foreign power

The second set of reforms will address a legal gap where foreign intelligence can be collected on an Australian working for a foreign power offshore, but that same intelligence cannot be collected on that Australian in Australia.

Currently, this means that if an intelligence agency is collecting intelligence on an Australian working overseas for a foreign intelligence service, and the person returns to Australia, the intelligence agency must immediately cease its activities. These reforms will enable intelligence agencies to continue collecting that vital intelligence.

The comprehensive review of the legal framework of the national intelligence community led by Dennis Richardson AC recommended that the government close this gap.

The gap costs the Australian government valuable foreign intelligence and has a direct bearing on Australia's national security, foreign relations and national economic wellbeing.

Robust safeguards will apply to these reforms to protect everyday Australians.

The Director-General of Security must provide details about the grounds on which a person is suspected to be acting for, or on behalf of, a foreign power.

Before issuing the warrant, the Attorney-General must also be satisfied that the person is, or is reasonably suspected by the Director-General of Security of acting for, or on behalf of, a foreign power.

The law will continue to prevent the request of a foreign intelligence warrant on Australian persons who are not acting for, or on behalf of, a foreign power.

All existing thresholds and stringent safeguards that apply to Australia's foreign intelligence warrants will also continue to apply, including robust oversight by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security.

Closing remarks

I would like to take this moment to reaffirm the vital importance of adequately equipping our intelligence agencies to combat security threats to Australia and Australians. This bill will ensure that intelligence agencies have the tools needed to deal with current and emerging threats.

It is vital these amendments are made urgently. Each day these amendments are not in place risks our agencies missing critical foreign intelligence about threats to Australia and Australians.

The bill demonstrates the government's unwavering commitment to ensuring Australia's national security framework is, and continues to be, as robust and responsive as possible.

I commend the bill.

Debate adjourned.

Leave granted for second reading debate to resume at a later hour this day.