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Data Encryption Legislation

December 11, 2018

Labor is determined to ensure that our law enforcement agencies and national security agencies have the powers that are necessary to keep Australians safe.

As well as defending our nation's security, Labor also strongly believes in the importance of upholding the rule of law and the rights and freedoms that define us as a democratic nation.  We in Labor understand that in passing laws designed to protect the Australian community it is essential that we always work to uphold the rights and freedoms that our nation has proudly defended since Federation.

It is with this in approach in mind that Labor considered the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018.

On the evening of 5 December, the Labor and Liberal members of Parliament’s Intelligence Committee issued a bipartisan report on the bill containing 17 recommendations for a range of amendments to improve the new laws. The government agreed to adopt all of those changes.

However, when the Government introduced 173 amendments on the morning of 6 December, it was clear that the government had breached faith and not fully implemented the recommendations from the bipartisan Intelligence Committee report.

Labor worked as fast as we could to introduce amendments in the Senate to improve the government’s bill and ensure that it conformed to the Intelligence Committee’s recommendations. The government agreed to most of those amendments – but because the Prime Minister had adjourned the House of Representatives at 5pm for his own base political need to avoid a vote he would lose, there was nobody in the House of Representatives to pass them.

Labor was faced with two choices:

  • vote with the crossbench to pass our amendments in the Senate, and wait until the House of Representatives returns next year to pass the amended bill; or
  • vote with the government in the Senate to pass these laws now, without Labor’s amendments, to ensure that our agencies have appropriate powers over the holiday period.

Ultimately, Labor chose the second option. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies told us they needed these powers over Christmas to keep Australians safe. We couldn’t ignore them.

In return for supporting the bill, we secured an agreement from the government that they would allow time for our further amendments to be debated and voted on in the first week of Parliament next year (12 February 2019). We also secured an immediate referral to the Intelligence Committee so that parliamentary scrutiny of this legislation can continue. This will provide a further opportunity for Australians to have their say. The Intelligence Committee will report before next year’s election.

We made this decision in the best interests of Australians while, regrettably, the Morrison Government played political games with our national security.

Thank you for writing to me on this important matter.