Mass surveillance and the global website blackout

questions-without-notice

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (14:32):  My question is to the Attorney-General. I refer to the more than 6,000 organisations that have joined a global internet blackout against indiscriminate government surveillance. They are joining their voices with business, civil society organisations and even senior Republican and Democratic congress men and women to demand reforms to the dragnet surveillance conducted by the US NSA. Does this government and, in particular, the Attorney-General recognise the legitimate concerns of Australians about indiscriminate surveillance, or does he honestly believe there are no reforms necessary here in Australia?

Senator BRANDIS (Queensland-Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Arts and Attorney-General) (14:33):  Thank you very much to Senator Ludlam for that question. I note that Senator Ludlam has today published on the Guardian website an article in praise of the American trader Edward Snowden displaying a photograph of a bus bearing the signage 'Thank you, Edward Snowden' and under the headline 'Today is the day we fight back'. Senator Ludlam, you celebrate and make a hero of this man who, through his criminal dishonesty and his treachery to his country, has put lives, including Australian lives, at risk. I wonder how you can sit in this parliament and hold your head up high when you celebrate a man who, through criminal conduct and treachery, has put Australian lives at risk.

You should know, because you are your party's spokesman on this area, that the Australian intelligence agencies operate under a strong framework of surveillance and under very strong statutory obligations and accountability obligations. That framework includes being responsible to a parliamentary committee of which you yourself are a member-that is, the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade-and the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. They are also responsible to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security; they are responsible to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, an independent statutory officer; and they are, as I said a moment ago, under a framework of- (Time expired)

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (14:35):  What a chilling response. I thank Senator Brandis for the bluntness of his answer. Senator Brandis, are you aware of, and have you or your office evaluated, any of the proposals for serious law reform put to President Obama in the case of indiscriminate surveillance by the NSA, and does the Attorney believe that any of those proposals could be relevant here in Australia?

Senator BRANDIS (Queensland-Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Arts and Attorney-General) (14:36):  I will come to your question in a second, Senator, but I will if I may just finish what I was saying in answer to your primary question. The operation of the Australian intelligence agencies is undergirded by strong statutory accountability requirements and oversight.

Senator Ludlam:  Mr President, on a point of relevance: the Attorney has just opened his answer by explaining that it will not be relevant to the question I have just asked. Can we just draw your attention to the question I just put to you, please?

The PRESIDENT:  The minister needs to address the question. The minister still has 48 seconds left.

Senator BRANDIS:  I just wanted to complete my answer to your first question, Senator Ludlam; that is all. But to come directly to your first supplementary question: yes, I have studied President Obama's remarks carefully; and Australian governments, of both sides of this aisle, are always alert to ensure that the statutory framework which undergirds and provides for the accountability mechanism of our intelligence agencies is as appropriate and relevant as possible. Nobody says that the laws should never be reformed-they should always be kept under review. There actually is an independent advisor on terrorism laws whose remit is broad enough to extend to- (time expired)

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (14:37):  I am aware of that, Senator Brandis: we helped establish it. Will the government commit-

Honourable senators interjecting-

The PRESIDENT:  Order! Just ask the question.

Senator LUDLAM:  We have hit a bit of a nerve, haven't we!

An honourable senator interjecting-

Senator LUDLAM:  Senator Faulkner is indeed owed some credit for that. Can the Attorney tell us whether the government would commit to amendments or reforms to the Five Eyes agreement on acceptable limits to data collection and storage so that the data on Australians is kept under the control of Australians?

Senator BRANDIS (Queensland-Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Arts and Attorney-General) (14:38):  The Australian government is certainly not going to be commenting publicly on what discussions it may have with other nations in relation to the operation or the scope of intelligence services.