Transcript: Jenny McAllister on RN Drive

8.35am | December 03, 2018




SUBJECT:  Telecommunications Access Bill.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: The Federal Opposition says it has been unable to reach an agreement with the Government to pass controversial legislation that would give law enforcement agencies the power to access encrypted messaging apps.

The Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton maintains the laws are urgently needed in a number of active counter terrorism investigations. But the opposition says the Government has failed to address a range of serious concerns with the Bill, including that it could jeopardise security cooperation with the United States.

Labor Senator Jenny McAllister is a member of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Security and Intelligence which has been looking at the legislation and she joins us now. Senator, welcome. 


KARVELAS: This is a significant break with the tradition of bi-partisanship on national security. Why have you broken now? Why don’t you feel you can support this?

MCALLISTER: Well through the evidence that’s been presented to us it has become very clear that in the current form the bill is not able to be supported. Now that’s not unusual we’ve had plenty of pieces of legislation where people have presented problems to us and we have been able to work through those in a bipartisan way through the committee process. That was so under Mr Abbott when he was Prime Minister and it was so under Mr Turnbull, but under Mr Morrison the approach is very different and whilst we did think we were making progress within the committee it’s just today the Government has indicated they are just not willing to keep working through the process. They have walked away from the table and that of course does put an end to any possibility of bipartisanship. But it also put an end to the process of working through the problems that have been presented to the committee through the evidence and that’s the main thing we are concerned about. 

KARVELAS: Okay you get to that in a minute, but your committee heard from the heads of the AFP and ASIO that the legislation is crucial and critical to their counter terrorism efforts. So are you jeopardising national security by not passing this?

MCALLISTER: The head of ASIO told the committee that he first raised this in 2014. George Brandis started talking about this when he was the Attorney General last year in the middle of 2017. They didn’t bring legislation into the parliament until September this year. There have been plenty of opportunities to get this right but the most important thing is to actually get a good set of laws to keep Australians safe. 

KARVELAS: Sure, but that wasn’t my question. Are you jeopardising national security by not passing it? That’s the question. 

MCALLISTER: The head of ASIO was very clear with the committee that the timing of the passage of the legislation was entirely a matter for the Parliament. He said that there was no specific threat that had been identified around the Christmas period but he made the general point that of course they would like these powers. That encryption does present problems for law enforcement and they are looking for legislation to respond to that. He was very clear the timing ought to be a matter for the Parliament.

KARVELAS: You’ve been listening to the testimony from security experts, privacy experts, human rights commission. What are in simple terms for my listeners your main issues with the bill as it stands?

MCALLISTER: First is this, that while the Government says the legislation won’t compel technology providers to create backdoors, all of the technology providers tell us that once you start introducing weaknesses into internet security systems you create the possibility that malevolent actors, whether there state actors, or perhaps terrorist groups, or criminals you create the possibility for those groups to use those weaknesses also. So the evidence before the committee is that if you start intervening to circumvent encryption you create pathways for other sorts of malevolent actors in the system to do the same thing and you weaken the security of the internet overall. That is the main line of evidence that has been put before us. But there are other problems. People have raised possibility that this legislation puts us in contravention of the provisions of the US act, the cloud act, that enables the sharing of information and data. There’s a concern, and we are not certain we need to get to the bottom of this, if we pass this legislation it will imperil our ability to reach an agreement with the US under the cloud act, this is a serious issue that we need to get to the bottom of and we can’t do that if we halt the committees processes today. 

KARVELAS: The Attorney General says this bill will be introduced to the parliament next week. Are you signalling now that you will vote against it?

MCALLISTER: Our hope, in fact, is that the Government returns to the table. We think walking away from discussions is very foolish and what we are actually asking for is for them to just think again. Come back talk with the Labor Party…

KARVELAS: And if they don’t because it seems that they want to put the bill now as it stands. You’re prepared to vote against it?

MCALLISTER: We will need to go through our normal processes, we will take it into our caucus we will take it into our party room and have the conversation there. But really the call today is for the Government to come back to the negotiating table. This isn’t the way that we do national security legislation. We think it ought to be above politics, it ought to be above narrow electoral calculations…

KARVELAS: But your recommendation through its processes is if they won’t come back to the negotiating table we will vote against it? Is that your recommendation?

MCALLISTER: We will issue a dissenting report at this stage if they won’t return to the table. And that report will layout a range of amendments that we feel will be necessary for the bill to be passed.

KARVELAS: and if they don’t accept are you prepared to vote against it?

MCALLISTER: That will be a decision for the caucus. 

KARVELAS: Do you think you should vote against it?

MCALLISTER: I think we will have great difficulty supporting the bill if it can’t be amended because as I have said there are very serious issues being raised by lots of stakeholders. 

KARVELAS: Thank you so much for your time. 

MCALLISTER: It’s a pleasure thanks for having me on Patricia. 

KARVELAS: Labor Senator Jenny McAllister is a member of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on intelligence and security.