SUBJECT/S: Foreign Fighters Bill; Independent National Security Legislation Monitor; National Security.
MARIUS BENSON: Mark Dreyfus, the Labor Party yesterday backed new national security laws in the Senate, but seemingly with some misgivings. John Faulkner is worried about safeguards. Penny Wong, the Leader in the Senate, called for the Government to reinstate an Independent Monitor. Do you have some concerns about the intelligence operations that have been approved and the security laws that have been approved in the Senate?
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We’ve worked constructively with the Government to work to support measures that we think will ensure that Australians are safe and our national security it improved. For that reason we worked hard to improve the measures in this Foreign Fighters Bill that passed the Senate yesterday. We did that through the work of the Labor members of the Intelligence Committee and we then, when the Government had announced its response, continued to negotiate with the Government in a spirit of bipartisanship to improve the bill.
There were some issues that remained outstanding. One of them is now of longstanding and that is that the Government has not filled the position of Independent National Security Legislation Monitor, which has now been vacant for more than six months.
BENSON: And you want that filled, obviously.
DREYFUS: We do. The Government wanted to abolish the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor back in March. We said that that was very much the wrong idea and the Government has seen reason, has reversed its decision, but still hasn’t filled the position. At this time of all times, when we’ve got a lot of changes happening to national security legislation, there should be the Independent Monitor, whose job it is to review legislation, make suggestions to the Parliament, make suggestions to the government, and make sure there’s scrutiny of how our laws are working.
BENSON: Beyond that specific issue of the Independent Monitor for legislation, do you share John Faulkner’s concerns about safeguards not being there for the national security legislation?
DREYFUS: I said myself, at the time of the passage of the first national security legislation bill that we always need to keep oversight under review. I’m very pleased that one of the measures in this second bill insisted on by the Intelligence Committee and it was a change made. The Government agreed to this change to the second bill will be that from now on the Intelligence Committee will have oversight of the counter-terrorism functions of the Australian Federal Police.
I think that’s very important and it’s an indication that when there are additional powers given, that’s the right time to be thinking ‘should there be additional oversight’. That’s what’s happened here.
BENSON: Now there’s more national security legislation now in prospect, that would envisage closer cooperation between our spies and our soldiers, between ASIS and the Defence Forces and it’s suggested that would allow targeting of Australians based on intelligence gathered by the Australian intelligence organisations. How do you feel about those prospective laws?
DREYFUS: The Government has sought to put those, there are three, in fact, significant new measures into the bill that’s just passed through the Senate. Labor objected because we think that there should always be public release, public scrutiny, of changes to national security laws, or any laws, before Parliament debates them.
BENSON: And from what you know of those proposed additional powers, how do you feel about them?
DREYFUS: I think they certainly warrant scrutiny. One of the very important aspects of our national security legislation is the ministerial authorisations that are required, both for the work that ASIO does, in the form of warrants that the Attorney-General gives to ASIO and authorisations from the Minister for Foreign Affairs for a whole range of ASIS operations. It’s an important part of the architecture, if I could say, Marius, that follows on from the Hope Royal Commissions in 1977 and the one in the 1980s, that made the point that we do need to have ministerial oversight of the secret work done by our intelligence agencies. It’s one of the ways in which we ensure democratic accountability and when there are changes proposed to those ministerial authorisation processes we need to take a very close look at them.
BENSON: Mark Dreyfus, thank you very much.
DREYFUS: Thanks Marius.