Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018


Peter Khalil: I rise to speak on the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018. National security versus individual privacy, individual rights versus collective rights, privacy versus security—these are the traditional conundrums and the traditional challenges that governments have faced since time immemorial. It’s about getting that balance right and what that balance should be. Of course, with the advent of modern technologies, particularly over the last couple of decades, we see that there is a further complication of this conundrum with respect to the entanglement of national security concerns with economic concerns. We’ve heard, as some of the previous speakers have noted, that members of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security have heard evidence from security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies about the risks of the surveillance environment going dark because of some of this technology where terrorists, paedophiles, organised crime and drug traffickers all utilise encrypted technologies and applications for their communications and their planning. But we still have the same challenge that we face here in this parliament and that governments face around the world, and that is making sure that we get the balance right between the security of the collective community against those threats which I just enunciated and, in the case of the bill that we are debating, the security of the data and the content that is transmitted through the encryption service. We need to make sure the privacy of that data and those communications is protected from the eyes and ears of government agencies when it’s not necessary for them to access that data.

So it is a difficult balancing act, and this challenge has been compounded by the process we’ve witnessed, where the government has tried to ram this bill through the intelligence committee. I also want to echo the comments of many of the other speakers and commend the work that has been done by the members of the intelligence committee, who, as some previous speakers have noted, have worked extremely well together in a bipartisan way on this bill. On the 15 different national security bills that have passed here in this place during the term of this parliament, they have made something like 300 amendments. They’ve done excellent work in trying to get that balance right, and they’re faced with getting that balance right in most of the work that they do and the consideration of the different laws before them. Unfortunately—and it is not so much the fault of the members of that committee—the government itself has sought to almost weaponise or politicise this process by trying to rush the committee’s very important work and to force their hand by asking them to come out with a report much earlier than I think they would have liked to. They would obviously have needed to spend much more time in consideration of the bill.

The Labor members of that committee obviously have heard the evidence given by enforcement, security and intelligence agencies that there is a real need for some of the powers that we’re debating within this bill in order to protect Australians from what they’ve characterised as increased security threats that are very real, particularly over the Christmas and holiday period. Of course, the Labor members and other MPs have consulted not only with the intelligence, security and law enforcement agencies but also with industry and civil society stakeholders—tech companies and other stakeholders that have a real interest in how this bill proceeds. In many respects, there has been enormous effort through the committee to try to negotiate the issues of concern that have been rightly raised by tech companies and many others about the unintended consequences and effects of this bill, particularly given the rushed fashion in which it has been put to the parliament. Those negotiations have led to a series of substantive amendments which Labor has put forward to try to address those concerns.

I just want to note again for the record that, while there has been excellent work done by the committee, it is most unfortunate that the government of Prime Minister Morrison has tried to force their hand with respect to the work that they were doing. There were a number of Australian companies that indicated that they were not consulted by the government and that, even when they made submissions to the inquiry, they were simply ignored. That, as I said, has meant that this process has been far from ideal. We have the Prime Minister and the Minister for Home Affairs conducting what we would say is unacceptable interference in the work of that committee and seeking to politicise these issues.

There has been strong bipartisan support for national security, including on this side of the House, through the term of this government. Of course, as I said, there have been hundreds of amendments that have been worked through as part of that process, but we on this side see the seriousness and the importance of our responsibility to ensure national security and the collective security of all Australians. But we also want to get that balance right.

We’ve tried in good faith to work with the government, so there’s a real disappointment about what we’ve seen with this process. And I note, too, some of the comments that were made by the opposite side against members on this side who have worked for most of their lives on national security, like the member for Eden-Monaro and me. I have worked in DFAT and Defence, and I actually served in Iraq with the member for Eden-Monaro. We are absolutely committed to national security, but we also want to get the balance right.