ABC RN Breakfast

SUBJECTS: Encryption Bill, Peter Dutton



SUBJECTS: Encryption Bill, Peter Dutton

FRAN KELLY, HOST: The debate over national security has turned ugly, with the Prime Minister accusing Labor of siding with terrorists. The government will introduce a bill this week to change the encryption laws to allow the police and other security agencies to intercept WhatsApp messages by terrorists, child sex offenders and other serious criminals. But Labor says the legislation is too broad, making it unsafe and is instead offering to pass an interim watered down bill, sparking Scott Morrison to say Labor is weak on terror. I spoke to the Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus earlier.
FRAN KELLY, HOST: The Prime Minister says “you are happy for terrorists and organised criminals to chat on WhatsApp, leaving our security agencies in the dark.” How does Labor answer that very serious accusation?
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Labor puts the safety and security of Australians first. Our commitment to keeping Australians safe is unwavering and frankly those comments of the Prime Minister are simply ridiculous. This is a bill which in its current form is not fit to pass the Parliament. It would make Australians less safe, it would compromise our security, and it’s not just Labor saying that. The Australian Industry Group, Australian defence exporters, tech companies, the Law Council, international experts, global corporations, are all saying that this bill, if passed in its current form, would make Australians less safe. 
KELLY: It’s not just the Prime Minister saying this should be passed though. The Police Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, Andrew Colvin, has written to the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. His letter says the AFP is “very concerned such a purpose based approach would pose a variety of significant issues that would challenge the effectiveness of the regime and undermine the policy intent of the measures.” He’s referring to the amended bill you offered to pass. Now it’s one thing to accuse the government of trying to blow up a compromise for political purposes, it’s another thing to ignore the Federal Police Commissioner isn’t it?
DREYFUS: We’re still open to finding a compromise with the government on this. It’s the government that has walked away from the table when we thought we had a deal and it’s absolutely apparent that this desperate, incompetent Prime Minister just wants to fight for political reasons. We’re very ready to pass a bill before the end of the year, but there are very serious problems with this legislation, in the form that is now in the Parliament. We haven’t seen the government’s amendments. The government’s not even prepared to look at most of the amendments that Labor has put forward. It’s no way to legislate and a desperate government should not be allowed to pass an inadequate law that will make Australians less safe.
KELLY: But the amended version that Labor is putting forward only applies to terrorists and perhaps paedophiles and would only empower the national security agencies to intercept encrypted messages, not the state police forces. Is that correct?
DREYFUS: That’s our proposal, because we think the safeguards need to be got right. It should be able to be brought in on a limited basis. We don’t have at a federal level oversight of the state agencies. That’s something that has become clear in the course of the hearings and, as all of the state police forces know, they have information sharing arrangements with the Australian Federal Police.
These are extraordinary powers that are sought to be introduced, particularly in relation to encryption. We’re talking about powers where a federal agency will be able to force an innocent third party, someone completely unconnected with the investigation, to assist police, and able to force tech companies to potentially create weaknesses. That’s what the legislation says at the moment. It’s legislation that was only introduced to the Parliament on the 20th of September. The only similar legislation in the world, in the United Kingdom, went through parliamentary processes that took well over a year.
The government didn’t consult properly about this legislation. Now that it is in the Parliament, it should let the inquiry continue. Instead we’ve had intervention by the Prime Minister, intervention by Mr Dutton. It is bringing the inquiry to a sudden halt and without examining all of the problems that have been brought to light over the course of the inquiry.
KELLY: But as I say we’ve also had intervention by the Australian Federal Police, suggesting that your amendments don’t go far enough. We’ve also heard from the Assistant Commissioner of the Victorian Police for Intelligence and Covert Support Command, Neil Paterson, who says the restraints you want would “significantly impact the fight against many crime types. Limiting the powers of the bill to only Commonwealth agencies does not address the serious harms to the Victorian community presented by terrorists and other serious crime offenders.” Do you accept that the amendments you are putting forward certainly aren’t meeting the tests that the police are after?
DREYFUS: We’re talking about legislating on an interim basis while the Committee continues its inquiry and tries to resolve the very many problems that have been brought forward already in the space of this inquiry. Labor is not alone in calling for time to be taken to get this bill right. Its corporations, the Australian Industry Group, Australian defence exporters, international experts all agree that this bill is not right. We’re quite prepared to legislate on an interim basis. We’re quite prepared to talk to the government about what terms should be legislated by the end of the year. The government, however, wants to pick a fight because it’s desperate. It’s trying to cover up its internal divisions. It’s trying to cover up the fact that Julia Banks has gone to sit on the crossbench. It’s trying to cover the mess it’s making of governing Australia.
KELLY: In the meantime the Prime Minister’s message is that Labor in blocking this bill is weak on terrorism and putting Australians at risk, and when you match that with the comments of Duncan Lewis, the Director-General of ASIO before the committee just a week ago, who says that this legislation would assist enormously and give security agencies a fighting chance. Doesn’t the government have the upper hand in the political argument, if not on the security one?
DREYFUS: It’s a ridiculous thing for a desperate Prime Minister to suggest in any way that Labor is weak on national security. I think if you look very closely at the comments made by the Director-General of Security, Duncan Lewis, he wants this legislation to be got right. It’s very important that it not be rushed and for Mr Morrison to simply ignore the very many problems, including a problem raised at the last minute by the Liberal President of the Senate, Senator Scott Ryan, who drew attention to the fact that this bill interferes with parliamentary privilege. That’s apparently just to be swept under the carpet by this government. They appear not to care that the bill in its current form will make Australians less safe.
They need to pay attention. If you’ve got an Australian defence exporter, as we heard in the committee on Friday morning, say that this bill compromises the security of business, citizens and government, it’s time to start thinking seriously about what amendments are required. It was made entirely clear to us, and in writing, that the government had agreed to the frame we were putting forward, which was for an interim report, with the committee’s inquiry to continue, and an interim bill that would put some powers in place before the end of the parliamentary year.
KELLY: Mark Dreyfus, just two other issues quickly. Peter Dutton will be away on sick leave again this week. Does that remove any prospects of a referral to the High Court over his eligibility to sit in the Parliament?
DREYFUS: I’m sorry to hear that Mr Dutton is still unwell. I hope he gets better quickly, but the doubts over his eligibility to sit in Parliament and therefore the doubt over very many ministerial decisions he has made remain. He’s in a very different position to anyone else in the Parliament, because he’s a senior minister. We’ve already seen court proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia challenging his ministerial decisions on the basis of the doubt over his eligibility. It’s essential that this be cleared up as quickly as possible.
KELLY: Well it looks as though you may not have the numbers. Bob Katter is opposed to such a referral and another crossbencher, Andrew Wilkie, has said this morning that he’ll only support sending Peter Dutton to the High Court if there’s a job lot of all MPs, which includes three Labor MPs. That would give the government the numbers to stop any referral. Would you agree to any job lot referral?
DREYFUS: I’m not going to go into parliamentary tactics here on early morning radio, but I’d invite Mr Wilkie to look individually at each case. It’s quite shameful that the government is willing to go on, knowing that there’s a massive doubt over Mr Dutton’s eligibility and knowing that very many decisions, including decisions to deport criminals from Australia, are under challenge because of that doubt over his eligibility to even sit in the Parliament. It’s the government that ought to be referring Mr Dutton. There shouldn’t be any question about it. We’ve got serious legal advice that shows why it is that Mr Dutton is in breach of the constitution and is not eligible to sit in the Parliament.
KELLY: Mark Dreyfus, thank you very much for joining us.
DREYFUS: Thanks very much Fran.