House of Representatives Committees

The Hon Daryl Williams AM QC MP Attorney-General

21 JUN 1999

ISL99/1443

The Hon. David Jull, MP
Presiding Member
Parliamentary Joint Committee on the
Australian Security Intelligence Organization
Parliament House CANBERRA ACT 2600

Dear Mr Jull

In my letter to you of 11 May 1999 I indicated that I would write again setting out the Government's response to the Committee's report on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Legislation Amendment Bill 1999.

I am pleased to inform you that the Government has decided to implement almost all of the Committee's recommendations.

There are only two recommendations that the Government will not be immediately implementing. The first is the recommendation to abolish existing restrictions on membership of the Committee (paragraph 2.28). It is undesirable to deal with this recommendation in haste and solely in the context of the membership of your Committee since a similar restriction applies to other Parliamentary Joint Committees. The Government, therefore, will examine and consult on the full implications attached to this recommendation before making a final decision.

The Government has decided not to accept the recommendation that the Financial Transaction Reports Act 1988 (the FTR Act) be amended to require the Director of AUSTRAC to include, in AUSTRAC's annual report, certain information in relation to ASIO's access to FIR information (paragraph 6.20).

As noted in the Committee's report, the proposed amendment is modelled on reporting obligations given to the Commissioner of Taxation under the Taxation Administration Act 1953 (the TAA Act). That Act permits the Commissioner of Taxation to disclose tax information in certain circumstances. It is consistent with the disclosure provisions of the TAA Act that the Commissioner should report in respect of disclosures the Commissioner has made. The FTR Act, however, authorises the Director of AUSTRAC to give specified agencies access to FTR information. It is not consistent with the legislative scheme of the FTR Act to require the Director of AUSTRAC to report on the frequency or type of use of FIR information by an agency that is given access. Also, I can see no justification for singling out ASIO as the only Commonwealth or State agency with access to FIR information to be reported on in this way.

On the Committee's recommendation in relation to adding, deleting or altering data (paragraph 3.57), I have accepted advice from the Australian Government Solicitor that the relevant provisions in the Bill are sufficiently clear and do not require amendment to address the Committee's concern. However, the explanatory memorandum will be amended in line with the Committee's recommendation. In addition, I have approved a Government amendment to the wording of Item 16, paragraph 25A(4)(a) to clarify further that a person executing a computer access warrant may not modify the target data. This should assist to allay some of the concerns expressed to the Committee on this issue.

I wish again to express my appreciation to the Committee for their Report and for the expeditious way it carried out its task.

Yours sincerely

DARYL WILLIAMS

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