Unprecedented: Whole ICT sector combines to blockade TSSR bill


news Four of Australia’s most important industry groups have joined forces to deliver an unprecedented and comprehensive rejection of the Government’s planned national security telco legislation, labelling the bill ineffective and adding burdensome regulation and costs on the private sector.

The legislation has been in development by the Attorney-General’s Department for at least a year and is dubbed the Telecommunications Sector Security Reforms. It will give the Government sweeping powers over private sector telecommunications networks, including requiring telcos to notify security agencies of key changes to networks and giving the Attorney-General’s Department the power to request information from and issue directions to telcos.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has confirmed that the bill could result in telcos being informed they cannot buy equipment from certain manufacturers. This would be likely to mean that companies such as Chinese network manufacturer Huawei — which has already been banned from contracting to the National Broadband Network on un-named security concerns — may lose contracts worth tens to hundreds of millions of dollars with key suppliers such as Telstra, Vodafone and Optus.

Huawei’s hardware has been cleared in a major security audit undertaken in the UK, but the Australian Government has maintained its ban on the massive company’s equipment for the NBN. Similar sanctions have been imposed by the Department of Defence in Australia on fellow Chinese supplier Lenovo.

However, yesterday three major industry groups which will be affected by the changes — the Communications Alliance, the self-regulatory body which represents almost all major telcos in Australia, the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Alliance, which represents the mobile industry, the Australian Information Industry Association, which represents the technology sector, and the Australian Industry Group, which represents industry as a whole — joined forces to note major concerns with the bill.

The four Associations collectively represent the bulk of Australia’s $100 billion ICT industry. It is a relatively unprecedented move to see them uniting on a single policy issue in this manner.

In a joint statement, the industry groups said they acknowledged the importance of the Government’s objective of protecting telecommunications infrastructure and the information transmitted across it from interference, but stressed that industry already had a strong interest and demonstrated expertise in ensuring Australia’s networks were secure.

In their submission (PDF) to the exposure draft of the legislation which has been published by the Attorney-General’s Department, the three groups outlined a number of concerns, including their claim that the legislation:

  • Could create significant additional and intrusive powers for Government to intervene in the commercial operations of telecommunications businesses;
  • Could discourage investment in and the adoption and deployment of new network technologies;
  • Is likely to impose additional costs on industry and ultimately consumers;
  • Does not offer indemnity to service providers against the risk of civil litigation through ‘safe harbours’, thereby limiting information sharing and the ability to quickly respond to threats and to jointly engage in preventative action;
  • Is inconsistent with regulatory approaches to protecting networks in other countries, including the UK, USA and Canada; and
  • Lacks transparency and fails to provide adequate consultative mechanisms and avenues of appeal.

“The draft legislation goes too far in pursuit of the security objective by creating wide-ranging powers for Government to intervene in operational decisions such as buying equipment and choosing vendors and demanding commercially sensitive information from companies involved in the telecommunications industry,” the four groups wrote in their statement.

“As a result, industry is very concerned the legislation would not deliver the increased protection the proposed reforms are aiming to achieve while also imposing significant new costs and red tape on industry.”

Minister Turnbull last week claimed that the telecommunications industry and the Government are on a “unity ticket” with respect to the new tranche of national security-related telco reforms.

The groups welcomed these and similar assurances from Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis. However, they also noted that they were “yet to be convinced” that there were sufficient grounds to warrant the proposed reforms and the costs and intrusion into the commercial operations of Australian telecommunications companies and their suppliers that they represent.

Wow. Just wow. It is pretty much an unprecedented move for these four major industry groups — representing the entire Australian technology and telecommunications industry and beyond, into mainstream business circles — to express such strong concerns about a piece of legislation.

What we are seeing here is an entire, multi, multi-billion dollar industry — one of Australia’s largest — banding together to say “enough is enough”. The industry has worked with the Federal Government on a number of pieces of legislation recently, but this latest bill is clearly one massive step too far for the many thousands of companies represented by these large and powerful industry associations.

What’s worse, we are seeing these companies making a very strong argument that the current Coalition Government is heaping burdensome regulation on their operations. This is not normally the sort of criticism which conservative governments face — usually they are keen to work closely with industry to chart paths to growth and deregulation, not the opposite.

I don’t think Australia’s tech sector has yet reached the stage where it is openly trying to remove the current Government from power by ploughing money into election campaigns in marginal seats, as Australia’s renewable energy sector has started doing.

However, one does wonder how long it will be before Australia’s technology sector decides to do just that. If the Government continues to lay down policy after policy which impinges on the operations of Australia’s tech sector, while funnelling investment money away from fast-growing industries such as the tech startup scene and the video gaming scene, how long will it be before the industry as a whole decides this is the wrong Government for it? That it would be better off with Plan B?

Now, I’m not encouraging such a thing by any means. I personally believe that the less corporate influence and its money is involved in politics, the better — Governments should have clear space to sensitively regulate industry, and getting companies involved in electoral races always seems a bit inappropriate.

And I also believe that there are Ministers and backbenchers in the Abbott Government who are still actively listening to the technology sector. It is my opinion that Minister Turnbull listens more to the sector than Senator Brandis does, for example, and there are young guns such as Wyatt Roy who are actively engaged. Jane Prentice and Alex Hawke are two Liberal MPs commonly cited as being tech-savvy, as is Jamie Briggs.

However, I will note also that if Australia’s technology sector is starting to flex its muscle in the way we’re seeing today, then Governments of any persuasion would be foolhardy indeed to ignore that.


  1. Wyatt Roy is no better. He actively blocks anybody that may provide information regarding FTTN on any of his social media pages. No warning, just deletes and blocks. When did it become acceptable to block your constituents for providing relevant and on-topic comments.

    • To be fair — FTTN versus FTTP is an entrenched issue. It’s unlikely that any meaningful dialogue is going to happen there. Roy is, however, making more ground discussing other issues.

      • Fair? When has the coalition been fair. You can ask almost any question to any member of Government and if it’s a contentious issue you’ll rapidly be blocked. Might be a good bit of research for an article to setup some alias’ and see how long it takes and which comments do it. My comment to Wyatt was directly relating to his post about the NBN. He was talking it up but of course didn’t tell anybody that it was FTTN and not FTTP as most expect. But I refer back to my previous point of when did it become acceptable to block the people that put you in your position and pay your wages?
        I’ll leave it at that. Don’t want to get blocked from here as well :)

  2. The current government seems decidedly anti-ICT. They have a “make-do” attitude that isn’t going to help this country grow.
    Doesn’t matter if it’s NBN or teaching kids to code, if it doesn’t involve “Primary Industry” the Abbott Gov just doesn’t understand.

      • ICT is technology, technology = science, science = research, research != current state.

        This government fears anything that alters current state.

  3. Isn’t this about LNP politics?

    Yet again Brandis shows that he is impractical in his desire to safeguard and control. Turnbull manages to step aside allowing Brandis enough rope to hang himself.

    • Frankly this government would have to be the closest one we’ve ever had to a genuine fascist regime.

      I hesitate to be so blunt but most of the hallmarks are in plain sight for any intelligent Aussie to see:

      Powerful and Continuing Nationalism
      Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

      Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights
      Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

      Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause
      The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

      Rampant Sexism
      The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Opposition to abortion is high, as is homophobia and anti-gay legislation and national policy.

      Controlled Mass Media (Murdoch)
      Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

      Obsession with National Security
      Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

      Religion and Government are Intertwined
      Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions.

      Corporate Power is Protected
      The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

      Labor Power is Suppressed
      Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed .

      Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts
      Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts is openly attacked, and governments often refuse to fund the arts.

      Obsession with Crime and Punishment
      Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

      Rampant Cronyism and Corruption
      Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

        • The Mad Monk Abbott seems to be taking his orders directly from his fascist mate Obama! All the points you made apply equally to Australia and USA.

          • The only difference being Obama is not the real power in the USA, congress and the house are and both are republican controlled.

            Although the tpp is certainly something he’s pushing hard and is definitely regressive!

          • If you had to compare Abbott to an American president it would have to be Bush junior, he was all for right wing religion. Obama is all for equality, be it gay rights and marriage or black people. The difference between them is chalk and cheese.

        • +100
          The top of Abbotts reading list is “Mein Kampf” and Niccolò Machiavelli book “The Prince”.

  4. The ICT sector submission seems to have missed the biggest and most relevant point – the fact that Brandis has absolutely no idea about anything to do with ICT. He still does not know what metadata is so how on earth can he be writing such policy for the entire ICT sector???
    Look at what they have come up with already with the data retention and website blocking (internet filter if you like). They have put policies out that are so vague and ambiguous that nobody in the industry even knows exactly what they want them to do. And that to me is very scary. So far they are screwing over everything they touch. We are still waiting to hear the damage from the TPP and TISA they are now in control of.

  5. Hi Renai

    Could you advise what the ALP’s position is on the legalisation? In some ways its a moot point if the ALP and Greens are united in their opposition of it. I’m pretty sure with the Greens, a cross bencher or two and the ALP and the government is stymied, right?

    Although like the data retention act we have seen that the ALP are lock step with the Liberals on these major issues.

    It would be good to know what their position. These days they’re not very responsive. I’ve been emailing Penny Wong’s office for clarification on their position re the TPP and the Dispute Handling (ISDS) section of the TPP and its sister trade pacts and they’ve not even bothered to give me a form email response.

  6. I keep posting that ‘Fascism is on the rise’ but majority of people are either in a deep sleep or are that ignorant that stops them recognising fascism when they see it. It is creeping up by the day, those that put ‘Turtle on the post’ are very capable and most powerful people and all they needed was a tool to get into the public purse and needed a puppet to be at the helm of the corporate government so they can pillage as they like and more. They found a perfect tool in the form of Howards health minister Tony Abbott and the rest is history. Howard is well rewarded for setting the foundations of a truly fascist system and Abbott is only there as long as he is compliant. The only hope for the Australians at large is the backbenchers that will not look the other way.

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