Espionage and Foreign Interference Bill press conference

SUBJECTS: Espionage and foreign interference bill; Facebook







SUBJECTS: Espionage and foreign interference bill; Facebook

MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Today’s consensus report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security on the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017 is an important achievement. As a result of constructive negotiations between the two major parties, the PJCIS report makes some 60 recommendations for improvements to the original Bill which was introduced to the Parliament on the 7th of December 2017. That’s the most recommendations of any PJCIS Report since the 2013 election. These amendments make this Bill more effective. They ensure that it achieves its intention, which is to target and disrupt covert attempts to undermine our democratic system. At all points of this Committee process the two parties have worked together to achieve this aim. We have improved this legislation, as we have improved all the national security bills which the Government has brought to the Parliament since 2013. There were a number of criticisms of the original Bill, most notably from media organisations who feared that the new powers might criminalise ordinary journalism. Labor believes that the recommendations, the 60 recommendations that have been made in this report, go a long way to addressing the concerns that have been expressed by the very many submissions that the Committee received on the Bill. For instance, in relation to journalists, there will be two hurdles before a journalist can be prosecuted under the new secrecy offences about classified documents. The head of the agency where the classified documents came from will have to certify that they were properly classified and the Attorney General will have to consent to prosecutions. We believe that will be an important safeguard because such a decision will be public once a prosecution is commenced. There is nothing more important than getting the details of national security right. The PJCIS process plays a vital role in applying scrutiny to all national security legislation, like this, and today’s report shows the value of the bipartisan work that has occurred in the Committee. We believe that the report and its recommendations will go a long way to creating a durable and effective piece of legislation. Labor will always work in a constructive and bipartisan manner with the Government when it comes to keeping Australians safe, and giving our agencies the tools they need to achieve that outcome. We always work to achieve an important balance between the security of Australian citizens, privacy, personal liberty and political freedom.

Do you have any questions?

JOURNALIST: Will the legislation be enough to stop foreign interference?

DREYFUS: The legislation creates some seven new offences that are particularly directed at foreign interference. These are, as I say, new offences. It’s new law for Australia. In other respects the Bill amends and replaces existing secrecy laws, existing espionage laws, and existing sabotage laws. It’s the new offences that are particularly directed at foreign interference, and Labor will be supporting them, provided they are amended in the way that the committee has recommended. Obviously, because we believe that they will assist our security agencies in targeting and then disrupting foreign interference in our political processes.

JOURNALIST: Will you help the Government to pass these changes before the five by-elections?

DREYFUS: The Government has told us that it’s the intention of the Government to bring this Bill, which was introduced to the Parliament on the 7th of December last year by the Prime Minister, back into the Parliament for further debate in the next sitting fortnight which commences on the 18th of June. And Labor is saying, and as clearly as I can, that Labor will support this Bill provided that the changes set out in the 60 recommendations of this report are agreed to by the Government. We have got every reason to think that the Government will in fact support those recommendations because we have worked very constructively with the Government over the last several months.

JOURNALIST: Can the public be confident journalists are adequately protected under this Bill?

DREYFUS: The media union, the various news organisations, News Limited, Fairfax and a range of other news organisations have been very constructive in the way in which they have provided submissions to the Intelligence Committee, and representatives of media organisations and the media union have appeared before the committee. We have responded in the committee to a whole range of the concerns that were expressed by media organisations, and the recommendations, and there are several of them, go a long way towards addressing those concerns. I have mentioned one before about the hurdles, two hurdles, before a journalist could be prosecuted in respect of the secrecy offences based on classified information. But there are others, there is to be a public interest defence for prosecutions under the secrecy offences. There is also to be a prior publication defence so that a journalist will not be able to be prosecuted for something that has already been published. There are a whole range of narrowing of definitions in the Bill that we think will make the offences clearer, and in very real respects will ensure that journalists are not going to be prosecuted under these new offences, or under the revised secrecy or espionage offences for simply doing their job. I’d give another example which is the introduction of, it’s only one word – a lot of this is fairly fine grained drafting – so that instead of criminalising “support” for an espionage activity, which is part of the espionage offences, the requirement for a criminal offence will be that it be “material support”, and obviously that was something that was raised by the media organisations. They wanted it made clear that just because publishing something might be said to support a particular foreign power, or some particular foreign principal, that won’t be enough, it will have to be material support before it can be suggested that a criminal offence has been created. I’m sorry for the detail there, but you can see that it’s always a matter of fine grained drafting that makes a difference. I’ve got no doubt that the media organisations are going to pore over the recommendations that the committee has made, and no doubt we will hear more from those media organisations if they think that the amendments that are proposed by the committee have not gone far enough.

JOURNALIST: Should Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, appear before a Parliamentary Committee in Canberra to answer questions about data sharing with Huawei?

DREYFUS: That’s of course a different matter. I see of course from the Prime Minister’s comments earlier today that the Prime Minister is very enthusiastic about Mr Zuckerberg appearing before a Parliamentary Committee. It’s, from our point of view, something that we think Facebook makes clear. What has been the data that belongs to Australians that Facebook may have shared with other digital platforms, or other digital companies, and if Mr Zuckerberg could appear that would be a good thing. It’s not at all clear at the moment which committee Mr Zuckerberg might be appearing before. Regrettably, the Intelligence Committee does not currently have any reference to the privacy concerns that arise here and it cannot give itself a reference. But, at a general level, it’s important that Facebook make clear what sharing it has engaged in.

Thanks very much.