First Set of National Security Amendments Become Law Despite Heavy Criticism

Tuesday 7 October 2014 @ 10.42 a.m. | Legal Research

The National Security Legislation Amendment Act (No.1) 2014 (Cth) (“the Act”) received Royal Assent last week, with the majority of its amendments due to commence on October 30.  The Act is the first of the Government’s three pieces of legislation that makes changes to national security legislation. The second piece of legislation, the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014, is currently in the Senate.

The Act was supported by Labor, which ensured it passed rapidly through Parliament.  An amendment to the Act which introduced an explicit ban on torture has failed to pacify critics of the changes.  As previously discussed on TimeBase, critics are concerned about the impact the new Act will have on whistleblowers and journalists reporting on special intelligence operations, and the extent of the powers granted to ASIO that related to evidence gathering.

Attorney-General George Brandis told the Sydney Morning Herald that “in a “newly dangerous age”, it was vital that those protecting Australia were equipped with the powers and capabilities they needed”.  According to their report, he denied that the Act would target journalists and the press, but:

“refused to say whether reporting on cases similar to Australia's foreign spy agency ASIS allegedly bugging East Timor's cabinet and the Australian Signals Directorate tapping the Indonesian president and his wife's mobile phone would result in journalists or whistleblowers being jailed.”

Greens senator Scott Ludlam criticised Labor’s decision to support the amendments, saying they had simply given “an absence of critique and opposition at a time when this country desperately needs it.”  He told the Sydney Morning Herald that:

“What we've seen  is, I think, a scary, disproportionate and unnecessary expansion of coercive surveillance powers that will not make anybody any safer but that affect freedoms that have been quite hard fought for and hard won over a period of decades.”

However, Labor Senator Jacinta Collins told The Guardian that Labor’s support made sense as the Act was at least partially the result of a review into ASIO’s powers commissioned by former Labor attorney general Nicola Roxon.  She said that the changes were “not extreme measures in response to an immediate crisis”, but were rather several years in the making.

Several parties attempted to have other amendments made to the Act due to concerns that ASIO could monitor the entire internet with just one warrant.  Senator Ludlam put forward an amendment limiting ASIO to accessing 20 computers with one warrant and independent Senator Xenophon wanted ASIO to report publicly each year how many devices were accessed.  Neither was passed, with Palmer United Party Senator Glen Lazarus objecting to Senator Ludlam’s amendment because “the internet poses one of the greatest threats to our existence”.

The Australian Lawyers Alliance have also expressed their concerns about the impact they believe the legislation will have on national security reporting, saying they expect “not just a chilling effect but a freezing effect”. 

TimeBase is an independent, privately owned Australian legal publisher specialising in the online delivery of accurate, comprehensive and innovative legislation research tools including LawOne and unique Point-in-Time Products.


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