The fundamental responsibility of any government is to ensure the safety of the nation and its people. It is the foundation upon which all other policy aspirations necessarily rest. As a party of government, it is a responsibility that Labor has always upheld.
Meeting this responsibility requires coordinated action by parliament and the executive. This has never been more true than over the past two decades, when Australia has faced a diverse range of serious and evolving threats.
During this time the parliament has considered a number of bills that increased the powers and capabilities of our security agencies. With a few limited exceptions, these bills responded to advice from the agencies about the tools they need to keep Australians safe. Labor has always taken the advice from the security agencies seriously. In line with this, the parliament has passed security legislation in an appropriately considered and expeditious way.
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security is not a brake on this process – it is an essential part of it.
Government’s ability to respond to new and evolving threats relies on the public’s ongoing faith that our national security laws are appropriate, proportional, and adapted to the circumstances we face.
The committee’s work builds that faith. The public process of authorising and reauthorising laws that the committee undertakes is an essential exercise in democratic accountability. It is an acknowledgment of the potential for new powers to impinge on the fundamental rights and values of Australians. It is also an opportunity to ensure that the resources and powers provided to agencies are as effective as is possible given the nature of the threat environment.
The committee has undertaken this work in a deliberate, sensible, and bipartisan way through changing circumstances, governments, and prime ministers for decades.
The work of the committee has not been assisted by the government’s approach to this debate over recent weeks. Labor members are concerned to avoid a continuation of this conduct. It jeopardises the important function the committee serves in our national security apparatus.
The substance of the Bill
Labor members would like to thank the acting Minister for Home Affairs for the cooperative and constructive approach he has taken to discussions.
We are pleased that the government has acknowledged and responded to a number of the serious concerns raised both by Labor members of the committee, and by the opposition more broadly.
Labor members welcome the amendments that have been proposed in the committee’s report, including:
enhancing the oversight provisions;
narrowing the range of offences to which the bill applied;
defining key terms relating to systemic weaknesses and vulnerabilities; and
adopting enhanced scrutiny and authorisation processes.
These amendments make the Bill better – and make Australians safer.
However, we do not consider that these amendments address all of the problems in this Bill.
Labor members have moved to progress this Bill despite our concerns because of the evidence from law enforcement and security agencies that there is a need for these powers over the Christmas period, and because the proposed amendments deliver adequate oversight and safeguards to prevent unintended consequences while ongoing work continues.
We are only prepared to take this course of action because of the government’s undertaking that:
the committee will continue its inquiry into the Bill into 2019, and
a separate statutory review will be undertaken by the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor within 18 months of the legislation coming into effect.
These separate processes provide an opportunity to resolve our ongoing concerns about the Bill with the assistance of industry, experts, and civil liberties groups, whilst also upholding our responsibility to keep Australians safe.
This compromise is emblematic of the balancing exercise that the committee has undertaken in all its work over the decades. The government should not walk away from it again.
The Hon Anthony Byrne MP
The Hon Mark Dreyfus QC MP
The Hon Dr Mike Kelly AM, MP
Senator Jenny McAllister
Senator the Hon Penny Wong