Government Accepts Recommendations on Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016

Thursday 10 August 2017 @ 11.25 a.m. | Crime | IP & Media | Trade & Commerce

Yesterday (9 August 2017) the Commonwealth Attorney-General, Senator the Hon George Brandis QC, announced that the government had accepted all the recommendations of the Parliamentary Joint  Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) made in the Committee's advisory report of 30 June 2017 on the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 (Cth) (the Bill). 


The Bill proposes to amend the Telecommunications Act 1997  (Cth) (the Telecommunications Act) to strengthen the current framework for managing national security risks to Australia's telecommunications networks. The Bill is to target national security risks in the form of espionage, sabotage, and foreign interference which can arise in the global supply chain for telecommunications equipment, services, or the outsourcing of sensitive network management functions. The Bill recognises the importance of these security risks being managed to protect the availability and integrity of telecommunications networks and systems and the confidentiality of information stored and carried on those systems. The proposed legislation also formalises and enhances existing information sharing and relationships between government and telecommunications carriers and carriage service providers to ensure greater consistency, transparency and accountability for managing national security risks across all parts of the telecommunications sector. 

The Bill was referred to the PJCIS by the Attorney-General who, when the Bill was introduced into the Senate on 9 November 2016, asked the PJCIS to inquire into the Bill.

For more detail on the Bill see our previous article: Review of the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 (CTH).

Effect of Accepting "All" the Recommendations

While advising that all PJCIS recommendations had been accepted, the Attorney-General emphasised that the Bill was the result of extensive consultation which recognised that national security was a shared responsibility:

"Extensive industry consultation has contributed to the development of this legislation. The Bill establishes a framework to better manage national security threats to the telecommunications sector, recognising the shared responsibility between Government and the telecommunications industry."

New obligations will be imposed by the Bill on on carriers and carriage service providers regarding the security of their networks and requirement to advise government of any breaches:

"The proposed reforms create an obligation on carriers and carriage service providers to do their best to protect their networks from unauthorised access and interference. This includes providing early advice to Government of any changes to their network that may be of security concern, so that agencies can assess risks and cooperate with industry on mitigation strategies.

The Attorney-General indicated that the PJCIS has recommended the Bill be passed and that the Bill would soon be debated in the Senate saying: 

"Telecommunications networks are a fundamental component of other critical sectors such as health, finance, transport, water and power. With the increasing threat of interference from malicious actors, including through cyber intrusions, protecting these networks is a priority of this Government. . . . The bipartisan Committee has recommended that the Bill be passed. . . The Bill will soon be debated in the Senate."

Some Key Recommendations in Detail

The PJCIS recommended that the administrative  guidelines to the Bill be revised to provide comprehensive information, clarity and certainty to industry in a greater range of circumstances. This was accepted and the Attorney-General’s Department will review and revise administrative guidance.

The PJCIS also recommended that the Bill be amended to clarify that, in circumstances where a broadcaster is exempt from being treated as a carriage service provider under the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth), they are also not intended to be subject to the obligations set out in the Bill. This was accepted and the Government will amend the Bill.

Finally, the PJCIS recommended that the Attorney General’s Department work collaboratively with industry to ensure effective and regular information-sharing, in particular sharing threat information with industry, leveraging existing mechanisms where possible - this was also accepted.

The remaining recommendations are in the Attorney General’s Media Release.

The Bill has yet to be further debated in the Senate but it is likely to pass as the Bill is supported by both the Government and the opposition.

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