Radio National Breakfast, 17 February 2015

SUBJECT/S: National security legislation; Data retention laws.

FRAN KELLY: Bill Shorten is demanding Tony Abbott use his national security statement next week to spell out precisely where he believes ‘people have gone soft on terrorists’. The Opposition Leader has also written to the PM raising a number of concerns about the data retention laws which the government wants passed by next month. Mark Dreyfus is the Shadow Attorney-General. Mark Dreyfus, welcome back to Breakfast.

 

MARK DREYFUS: Morning Fran, good to be with you.

 

FRAN KELLY: I’ll come to metadata in a moment, but first to the PM’s comments this week that we are giving ‘the benefit of the doubt to people who might do us harm or play us for mugs’. Do you agree that’s true?

 

MARK DREYFUS: The Prime Minister has given no detail at all on what further changes he’s proposing in the national security area. I don’t think that sound-bites on YouTube is the right way to announce policy or legislative change. But obviously, as Bill Shorten said yesterday, we haven’t been briefed but we’ll work with the Government, as we have been right through last year in considering changes – needed changes – to national security laws.

 

FRAN KELLY: Obviously this whole issue has come up around the circumstances of the Martin Place gunman Man Haron Monis, who was given citizenship, welfare and bail. But would a change to the law to allow the Government to strip dual nationals of their citizenship have affected this case, this position, of Man Haron Monis? Would the public actions have led to the view that he should be stripped of his citizenship, do you think?

 

MARK DREYFUS: I think we have to be very cautious about using any individual case to determine general policy or general legislative change. Our police and security agencies have got extensive powers already to monitor people of interest while they’re in Australia.

 

And I’d say this, if we think that a person is still committed to terrorism and we deport them, we lose the capacity to monitor that person. I think we’ve got to be careful that Australia doesn’t become an exporter of terrorism. We’ve got a duty to the world here to deal with our own citizens.

 

FRAN KELLY: It sounds like you don’t think it’s a great idea. I mean, is Labor prepared to consider this option? It’s already in place in countries like Britain, France, Canada.

 

MARK DREYFUS: Well, there’s conflicting reports today on what the Government’s considering. As I say, we’ve been given no detail. We haven’t been briefed, and one of the reports today says the Government is not considering the model that’s now in place in Britain.

 

I think we should wait to see what is the detail of what the Government’s proposing and hen, hear from the Government what problem they’re trying to solve with the legislation they’re putting forward.

 

FRAN KELLY: It’s four minutes to eight, we’re speaking with the Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus. Mark Dreyfus, the third tranche of national security legislation to beef up metadata laws is still before the Parliament.

 

This would require telcos to store customer records relating to email, internet and phone use for two years and it could be accessed by security agents without warrants. Now Bill Shorten has written to Tony Abbott, he wants the Government to take account of a number of significant matters and concerns. What are those concerns?

 

MARK DREYFUS: We’ve got a concern as Bill Shorten said in his letter to the Prime Minister that the Government hasn’t yet disclosed the cost to the Australian community. It’s either going to be paid for by taxpayers or it’s going to be paid for by increased charges passed on –

 

FRAN KELLY: Well the Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said the Government will make a substantial contribution to the cost of implementation and operation of the scheme.

 

MARK DREYFUS: That’s right, so if it’s Government contributing that’s taxpayers, if it’s the telcos that are being left to pay for the cost they will certainly be passing on that cost to consumers. Either way the community pays, that’s why the cost here is important.

 

We are now discussing in the Intelligence Committee, which has received some hundreds of submissions and heard detailed evidence, some hearings in January, we’re considering what changes are needed to this Bill. But they would include considering the position of journalists, whether or not there should be some different regime applying to accessing the telecommunications data of journalists, that’s something that’s been raised.

 

And of course there is the whole question of what safeguards should be applied, what oversight should be applied, who should have access to telecommunications data.

 

FRAN KELLY: That sounds like the whole kit and caboodle! I mean you’re talking about not just the cost of it but what is stored and who gets access to it. Is that basically what you’re saying?

 

MARK DREYFUS: Well, these are the matters that have been raised in submissions by the Law Council of Australia, by many of the legal professional bodies, by human rights groups and by the telecommunications companies themselves. There’s a particularly detailed submission from Optus for example, who along with Telstra and Vodafone came and gave oral evidence to the Intelligence Committee. This joint parliamentary committee wouldn’t be doing its job if it didn’t take seriously all of those detailed submissions that have been provided.

 

FRAN KELLY: The Government wants this law passed – pardon me for interrupting but we’re heading close to the news – the Government wants this passed by next month. Given all those questions, do you think that is feasible and wise, and will Labor work to that timetable?

 

MARK DREYFUS: We’re going as quickly as we can but the Government’s own scheme allows up to two years to comply with the new retention obligation. We think this is something that shouldn’t be rushed - it’s important that we get it right because this is a major new regulatory obligation that’s being imposed on 600 or so telcos in Australia.

 

FRAN KELLY: So just to be finally clear, what you want the Government to set out in this legislation is not just the cost but also the extent of the dataset, that needs to be written down in detail. We don’t really have that yet do we?

 

MARK DREYFUS: Of course, that’s one of the matters that many submitters have raised. They’ve said the law itself should contain the list of the data which the telecommunications companies are going to be forced to keep in future, it’s not something that should be left to regulations. People ought to be able to read the law and see clearly what it is that the companies are going to be forced to keep in future.

 

FRAN KELLY: Mark Dreyfus, thank you very much for joining us

 

MARK DREYFUS: Good to be with you, Fran.

 

FRAN KELLY: Mark Dreyfus is the Shadow Attorney-General. And the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security he referred to there, it will report on the metadata laws by the end of this month.