National Security is the highest responsibility of the Australian Government. This Government is determined to take whatever measures are reasonably necessary to ensure the community is protected from radicalised and militarised extremists returning from the Middle East.
As part of the Government’s response to this threat, they are introducing the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No 1) 2014 into the Senate.
The Bill contains a package of targeted reforms to strengthen the legislative framework governing the activities of the Australian Intelligence Community. It implements the Government’s response to the recommendations in Chapter 4 of the bipartisan report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) on potential reforms of Australia’s national security legislation.
As the Committee rightly observed, it is imperative that the statutory framework governing the operations of Australia’s intelligence agencies keeps pace with the contemporary and evolving security environment. This security environment includes:
- the involvement of terrorist organisations in civil conflicts or insurgencies, such as in Syria and Iraq, and the engagement of Australians with these organisations. The threat posed by returning foreign fighters is the most significant risk to Australia’s domestic security that we have faced in many years. The threat of ‘home grown’ terrorism is enduring and the risk of an attack on Australian soil is real and undiminished.
- rapid developments in information and communications technology, particularly online, which have led to increased use of technology by persons of security concern to organise and evade detection; and
- the sustained threat of espionage targeting Australian interests, including the actions of ‘trusted insiders’ who have gained legitimate access to intelligence-related information and disclose, or place, it at risk without authorisation.
Through these measures, the Government is striking the right balance between ensuring that our intelligence agencies are able to deal with emerging security threats, and protecting the rights and privacy of Australians.
The Government is committed to maintaining and, where necessary, strengthening our strong legal and oversight framework. Given these measures, and potential further changes stemming from the Government’s comprehensive review of Australia’s national security legislation, the Government has decided to retain the position of the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor. The Government is also considering providing additional resources to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security.
To give effect to Chapter 4 of the PJCIS Report, the Bill will, among other things:
- Modernise and streamline ASIO’s warrant based intelligence collection powers:
- Computer access warrants—enabling ASIO to use a third party’s computer to access data in a target computer; and amending the definition of ‘computer’ to include multiple computers, systems and networks.
- Surveillance devices—aligning ASIO’s powers with those in the Surveillance Devices Act 2004, to ensure a consistent framework which takes account of developments in surveillance technology.
- The issuing process when multiple types of warrants are sought—establishing a new scheme enabling the Attorney-General to approve warrants authorising the exercise of multiple powers in relation to a specified person.
- Improving information-sharing between our intelligence agencies: Enhancing the ability of ASIS to collect and share with ASIO intelligence about Australians of security interest overseas.
- Strengthening ASIO’s ability to conduct covert intelligence operations: Establishing a limited protection from legal liability for authorised participants in such operations, subject to rigorous safeguards and appropriate oversight.
In addition, the Bill will improve statutory protections against the unauthorised disclosure of intelligence information by increasing the maximum penalties applying to existing secrecy offences (from two years’ imprisonment to 10 years), and enacting new offences in relation to other actions that place intelligence information at risk of compromise (such as the unauthorised removal, retention or copying of a record).
Consistent with the PJCIS recommendation for a public consultation process, I have referred the Bill to the PJCIS for inquiry and report by 8 September 2014. The Committee is eminently suited to this task, given its background to the measures in the Bill, and its standing as a trusted and respected source of advice to the Parliament.
This legislation is the first tranche of this Government’s reforms to update and strengthen the powers of our intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The Government will be bringing forward further legislative measures to give our agencies the tools to protect our community from the foreign fighter and other threats