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Take note speech on the Attorney-General's hysterical answer to Surveillance overreach

Speeches in Parliament
Scott Ludlam 11 Feb 2014

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (15:27):  I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers of Senator Brandis.

I rise to speak on the matter of the embarrassing and borderline hysterical display just put on in this chamber by our Attorney-General, the highest law officer in the land. He was behaving like an infant; it was like having a debate with a four-year-old. I think this parliament and millions of people around this country and around the world deserve better. They have legitimate and deep concerns about the surveillance activities of the US NSA and its partner agencies-including some in Australia-and their being treated with the contempt put on the record just now by the Attorney-General is completely unacceptable. If the attorney is not up to the job, he should set it aside for somebody who is.

Today is 11 February, and around the world more than 6,000 organisations-companies, civil society organisations and groups such as the Australian Greens-with user populations ranging from sub-niche to hundreds of millions are staging a black-out. This is a global internet black-out against government surveillance. It is good timing for us that it is the first day of parliamentary sittings for the year, and I am pleased to be able to add a contribution here on behalf of the Australian Greens.

The black-out was initiated by colleagues in the United States-not the usual suspects at all but those in the technology industry, civil society organisations, groups such as the ACLU and other people from right across the political spectrum there. Republican congressmen Jim Sensenbrenner is one of the authors of the Patriot Act, and when he-as somebody who understands the architecture of the US security estate better than most-read and understood what the Snowdon releases through the Guardian newspaper had revealed, he said, 'This is well beyond what the Patriot Act allows.' In other words he is intimating that in fact the activities of the US agencies in question are illegal. Lying to congressional committees in the United States is unlawful. All this means that the debate occurring in the United States is very interesting.

As the powers of national security agencies are brought into question and people have some truth to deal with and some facts on the table, the debate about the role of these agencies has become fascinating. That debate is taking place against the backdrop of the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights and other protections drafted by people who clearly had a much greater understanding of the potential for tyranny that lies under unchecked government surveillance than our own Attorney-General does.

The debate that is unfolding in the United States is actually, I think, quite profound. In contrast, what we get here in Australia is the kind of infantile display put on the record earlier by our Attorney-General. It is completely unacceptable. Senator Brandis accused Mr Edward Snowden, a whistleblower whom I hold in extremely high regard-as do, I imagine, a majority of Australians and millions of people around the world-of being a traitor. You could almost see the spittle flying from his lips. No evidence or justification was provided for the accusation that the revelations put into the public domain by Mr Snowden-through The GuardianThe New York Times, the ABC and other news organisations doing their job around the world-had created risk for Australians. No evidence at all was provided. They said exactly the same thing about the WikiLeaks revelations: the State Department cables, the war logs that disclosed war crimes, the cables that disclosed illegal activities by the United States State Department in the UN. There was no comment at all from the Liberal Party on those revelations. There was no comment at all about the fact that it appears these agencies have acted unlawfully in the United States or that a detailed set of reform proposals is now before President Obama. Instead, in Australia, there is complete silence-not simply silence, but the kind of content on display from our Attorney-General this afternoon.

In the closing days of the 2013 parliament, the Greens were able to initiate an inquiry by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee into the surveillance regime that prevails in Australia. I acknowledge my Labor Party colleagues for supporting the reference, as well as Senator Xenophon, who, on behalf of his constituents, has made clear his own concerns on these matters. This inquiry is the first and perhaps best opportunity we will have to shed some light on the kinds of issues that many of us in this parliament, reflecting views in the broader community, believe are extremely important and urgent to address. It is to be hoped that our present Attorney-General's tenure is as brief as possible so that somebody can come into that office who has some respect for the positions that have been put-that these things need to be urgently reformed-and so we are not again treated to the kind of display that was put on the record earlier.

Question agreed to.

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