National Security Statement, House of Representatives

Australian Parliament House.

Mr DREYFUS (Isaacs—Deputy Manager of Opposition Business) (12:54):  Labor has for over a century demonstrated its understanding that it is a paramount responsibility of all parliamentarians to keep our community safe and our nation secure. We in Labor have demonstrated this commitment by working in a bipartisan way, whether in government or in opposition, to ensure that our security and law enforcement agencies have the powers and resources they need to keep our communities safe.

While we will not always agree with our political opponents on how Australians can be best protected, Labor has a long track record of engaging constructively in the political debate about matters of this kind. These are debates that all healthy democracies should have. And because we in Labor do not believe that national security should ever be manipulated or exploited for partisan political purposes, we do not seek to politicise any disagreements that we may have with the government on national security matters. We always seek to resolve those disagreements through constructive and considered debate.

Labor also acknowledges that it is the prerogative of the government of the day to decide how it wishes to organise the executive government and its agencies. This is generally referred to as the 'machinery of government'. The present bill, the Home Affairs and Integrity Agencies Legislation Amendment Bill 2017, is essentially a procedural bill that implements the decision of the Turnbull government to radically reorganise some of our nation's national security and law enforcement agencies.

This bill was carefully examined by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, which recommended that it be passed, subject to an amendment being made relating to the role of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. In light of that recommendation and because this bill is essentially a procedural bill that implements the Turnbull government's decisions for machinery of government changes, Labor supports the passage of this bill.

However, Labor also wishes to place on the record several of its concerns about the creation of the changes to our nation security and law enforcement framework that this bill implements. We do this because the machinery of government changes that this bill helps to legally implement are not minor or technical but are rather a significant reworking of our national security and federal law enforcement framework. This is openly acknowledged by the government. As the Prime Minister declared in his second reading speech on this bill on 7 December last year:

… these initiatives represent the most far-reaching reorganisation of our national security architecture since the Hope royal commissions of the late seventies and early eighties.

Labor's primary concern is that the government has struggled to explain why the sweeping changes to be brought about by this bill are required at all. For decades, both Labor and Liberal governments have expounded on the efficacy of our existing national security framework, lauding the existing system of cooperation between agencies and their many successes in detecting and stopping terrorist attacks and in dealing with serious crime. As the Prime Minister said, again in his second reading speech on this bill last year:

To those who argue that the system is not broken, I can reassure you that you are absolutely right.

We have been incredibly well served by our intelligence, security, and law enforcement agencies.

And just last year, a comprehensive review of our intelligence services was conducted by Mr Michael L'Estrange AO and Mr Stephen Merchant PSM, the unclassified version of which was released on 18 July 2017. That review did not, in any way, recommend the kinds of changes that the Turnbull government is now putting in place. In many respects, the changes brought about are an experiment with our national security. Given how effective our agencies have been to date in keeping Australians safe, we in Labor are concerned that the reasons for this experiment have not been sufficiently explained by the Prime Minister.

I also note that the concept of a department of home affairs was previously considered by Prime Minister Howard, Prime Minister Rudd and Prime Minister Abbott. After careful consideration, each of those prime ministers rejected the proposal, yet that is the proposal that the member for Wentworth is now enacting. It is not clear to Labor what has changed, and the government has not been able to explain it.

One key effect of the new arrangements is to concentrate power that was once shared between a number of ministers and their departments into a single minister and a new super department called the Department of Home Affairs. Most democratic nations are very careful to avoid the concentration of power in a single entity or in a single person, instead favouring systems with checks and balances. This is particularly the case with the coercive powers and intrusive capabilities that our law enforcement and security agencies exercise, because concentrating those powers and capabilities under a single department and its minister can only weaken the checks and balances needed to protect Australian citizens from the inappropriate or unlawful exercise of those powers and capabilities. Many of our most senior security experts have also pointed out that the concentration of power may weaken our national security by reducing the contestability of key decisions. Under the arrangements being put in place by this bill, a single minister, the member for Dickson, Mr Dutton, will alone be responsible for complex decisions that have until now been debated by multiple ministers who have shared responsibility for our nation's security.

I also note that the government's approach to legislating the various changes to the existing acts necessary for the creation of the Department of Home Affairs has been somewhat haphazard. The government first stated its intent to establish the Department of Home Affairs in July 2017. On 7 December 2017, the Prime Minister second-read this bill, which at that time amended only four acts of the parliament. Subsequently, following the government's disclosure in evidence to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security that there were a further 33 acts of parliament that required amendment in order to effect the creation of the portfolio, the Attorney-General proposed that the bill have a further 311 amendments to the primary legislation inserted into it.

The opposition was given notice of these substantial further amendments. Amendments (2) to (27) are changes to schedule 1 of the bill to implement the first and second recommendations of the PJCIS set out in its advisory report on the Home Affairs and Integrity Agencies Legislation Amendment Bill 2017—that's the first report that the committee produced. Amendment (28) incorporates a new schedule 2, which amends some 32 acts and provides in large part for minor administrative amendments effecting the transfer of powers from the Attorney-General to the Minister for Home Affairs. These further amendments were also referred to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, where they were considered. They were reported on by the intelligence committee, which recommended that the amendments should also be passed. In keeping with Labor's bipartisan commitment to national security, Labor accepts that recommendation of the intelligence committee to the effect that the foreshadowed amendments to this bill should be passed. I note that the committee stated at paragraph 1.27 of its report on this bill:

…machinery of government changes are a matter for the government of the day. As such, it is not within the remit of the Committee to consider the broader policy decisions behind the changes, but to scrutinise the amendments as proposed.

In conclusion, and consistent with the intelligence committee's view, I reiterate that Labor acknowledges the prerogative of the executive to determine the machinery of government and supports this bill as implementing changes brought about under that prerogative.

Labor will carefully monitor the operation of these new arrangements and listen carefully to the advice of your security agencies as these arrangements take effect to make certain that the new framework operates as the government intends and is in fact a benefit to our nation's security. I commend the bill to the House.