Labor, Coalition block data retention transparency


news Australia’s two major sides of politics have combined to block a Senate order moved by the Greens which would have forced the Attorney-General’s Department to produce key documents it is holding regarding advice it had received pertaining to the controversial data retention and surveillance scheme it is pushing.

The Federal Attorney-General’s Department is currently promulgating a package of reforms which would see a number of wide-ranging changes made to make it easier for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to monitor what Australians are doing on the Internet. For example, one new power is a data retention protocol which would require ISPs to retain data on their customers’ Internet and telephone activities for up to two years, and changes which would empower agencies to source data on users’ activities on social networking sites.

In two Senate orders he recently put before the parliament, Greens Senator and Communications Spokesperson Scott Ludlam had sought key documents pertaining to the proposal.

If they had been successful, the Senate orders would have seen any legal, technical and political advice received by the Government made public and tabled in Parliament, as well as any other relevant information pertaining to the proposed data retention scheme. However, Ludlam said in a statement this afternoon, both Labor and the Coalition voted against the Senate orders.

“It was a perfectly reasonable request made in the interest of open and honest public debate – and the Labor Party and Coalition united to keep this information secret,” said Ludlam. “Today’s vote is a travesty. While the Government believes in the total exposure of private citizens’ correspondence – which is what data retention would mean – it colludes with the Opposition to keep its own plans concealed.”

The move is only the latest in a long string of actions which the Government has taken to block information about the data retention and surveillance proposal from reaching the public eye. The proposal is currently being examined by a parliamentary committee, but the committee has not been provided with the draft legislation which would support the proposal, nor key details of how it would be enacted.

Similarly, this week the Federal Attorney-General’s Department rejected a Freedom of Information request by the Pirate Party of Australia to release draft legislation associated with the data retention and surveillance proposal, with the department stating that public interest factors did not outweigh the need to keep the material private as it was still being deliberated on. The department has also rejected or substantially censored a number of Freedom of Information requests pertaining to the scheme and going back several years.

In addition, it’s not the first time Labor and the Coalition have teamed up to reject a Senate order put by Ludlam to obtain documentation relating to secret government project. In May this year, for example, Labor and the Coalition teamed up to block a motion put by Ludlam in the Senate which would have forced the Attorney-General’s Department to produce a series of documents regarding its closed-door meetings on Internet piracy in February this year.

On 8 February this year, major Australian ISPs sat down with the representatives of the film, television and music industries and the Federal Attorney-General’s Department, with the aim of discussing a potential industry resolution to the issue of online copyright infringement. The meeting was the fourth such meeting to be held, after a series of other meetings were held late last year under similar circumstances.

However, the Attorney-General’s Department subsequently used a series of complex legal arguments to deny the release of documents associated with the meetings under Freedom of Information laws — redacting, for example, an entire 14 pages of notes taken by a departmental staffer at the event and other four pages of notes taken by a senior staffer from Communications Minister Stephen Conroy’s department.

Subsequently to the censorship of the FoI request, Greens Senator and Communications Spokesperon Scott Ludlam filed a motion in the Senate in March requesting that the Attorney-General’s Department produce a list of invitees and attendees at the February meeting, notes and minutes arising from the meeting, any documentation issued to attendees and any internal departmental correspondence regarding the meeting — as well as documents relating to future meetings. However, the motion came to fruition in May, it was blocked overwhelmingly in the Senate, with both the Government and Opposition declining to support it.

It is beyond staggering that the Coalition will browbeat Labor in the Federal Parliament on almost every matter it can, waging a campaign of relentless negativity that has seen it labelled the “Noalition”, and yet, when it comes to a matter as important as national security and a scheme which is almost universally opposed as having the potential to invade the privacy of every Australian, the Coalition merely lies down and lets Labor have its way with regard to the lack of transparency of the scheme. As I wrote yesterday, this data retention initiative is rapidly descending into farce:

The Federal Parliament is examining the issue but does not have any access to the draft legislation which details how the proposal will actually be implemented. The Federal Attorney-General’s Department wrote the legislation several years before it even asked the Parliament to examine the issue, and now won’t release that draft legislation. And meanwhile, the Federal Attorney-General continues to insist she is maintaining an objective stance on the issue, despite having pushed it publicly. In the meantime, at least one commentator has alleged – and I agree – that the whole proposal has nothing much to do with the current politicians running the Federal Government, but is in fact being backed by the Attorney-General’s Department itself, which is using Roxon herself as a front for its data retention plans.

At the same time, almost every organisation or individual which has commented on the proposal has stridently opposed it, and the only organisations actually pushing for it are law enforcement bodies such as the Australian Federal Police and Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation, both of which have not provided evidence for how the current data retention system is failing. To make matters worse, the Government only boosted its data retention powers several months ago with the enactment of new cybercrime legislation. Meanwhile, the proposal remains unpopular with the general population, who are overwhelmingly opposed to it. Is there anything else which could demonstrate that this whole situation is a farce?



  1. This just reinforces my view that people who believe this is being pushed by “this government” are kidding themselves.

    This is being pushed by:

    1- Some high up people in domestic Law Enforcement and Intelligence

    2- Likely ALOT of pressure from Foreign Law Enforcement and Intelligence thanks to things like Wikileaks and Julian.

    I’m starting to dislike these reforms alot. As you know, I’ve been open-minded about these from the beginning, but this constant hide-and-seek is starting to wear.

    We need Wikileaks back just to be able to get some answers on this. And it is clear Turnbull’s speech “against these reforms” was nothing but either personal distate with them or political blustering- The Coalition are JUST as happy with these by and large, as the government appear to be. These reforms or attitudes towards them will not change with a change in government and if people believe that, they are VERY naive indeed….

      • It strikes me as negligent that they can examine an issue sufficiently if they are not privileged to the content of draft legislation intended to implement the laws regarding said issue.

        Commercially this kind of behavior borders on negligence, and depending on the subject and/or consequences, could be grounds for legal action. You cant get away with sticking your head in the sand over things like safety.

        Cant we sue any (id be happy with even a single lawsuit or ended political career) of the figureheads these daft shadowy manipulators behind the proposed laws are using to try and make it happen. I know many, probably most are immune to many if not all of the normal methods to engage in legal action by virtue of their positions and/or the capacity in which they are performing the work.

        But surely there must be some way to pierce the layers aggressively, rather than passive calls to ‘show us’ by sending FOI requests that keep getting denied, and supporting the clearly Sisyphean efforts of people like Ludlam in the hope they prevail. I find it so absurd that there is no way to shatter the mirror the authors of this madness hide behind.

        I’m sick of hearing ‘pay no attention to the man behind the curtain’… I want to pull back the curtain and lay the blame where it truly belongs.

    • +1

      Offshore VPN servers might get a big boost out of this legislation – but then the gov will probably ban and block encrypted traffic :(

      • “but then the gov will probably ban and block encrypted traffic ”

        If the government ever did that, then we truly would have become a police state.

        • You say that as if it’s not happening already. Did you not know about the part where it will become illegal to not assist in decryption?

          • “You say that as if it’s not happening already. ”

            Really? Is the government banning and blocking encrypted VPN traffic?

            “Did you not know about the part where it will become illegal to not assist in decryption?”

            I did know. and I object to it. But banning and blocking encrypted traffic is not the same idea as making it illegal to assist in decryption.

      • “Offshore VPN servers might get a big boost out of this legislation”

        Specifically where offshore do you think is safe from the dark masters.

    • Nevertheless, it’s the government that’s responsible. We elect them, that’s where the buck stops.

      Same with the Opposition (yes, they are elected to govern over us too).

      • It’s not like there’s an actual choice though, the electoral system is designed so there can only ever be two dominant parties. It’s not a democracy as it’s really defined, it’s a system designed to maintain the status quo. Find a politician or party with the financial backing required to win a seat who’s not from the two (and 1/4, counting the Nats) main parties.
        Then stop wondering why things in politics never improve in this country…

    • British Intelligence still has a massive influence here; just like the USA.

      While I was enlisted in the Army Intel Corps, we were regularly briefed by British and some American Intelligence on what we were looking for in our region. We were handed documents which; while sensitive – were expected to be followed according to direction from superiors.

      While I’m all for Love of Queen and Country – sometimes you just have to do your own intelligence research without instructions coming down the Federal Chain.

    • “We need Wikileaks back just to be able to get some answers on this.”
      Well, it’s not like Wikileaks is the only way in the world somebody could leak information. Hell, there might even be a website somewhere that has an anonymous tips system where not even the person who receives the tip knows who sent it.

    • There is always a chance a Coalition government will introduce similar legislation. Turnbull and a number of Coalition back-benchers have spoken out against it, as has the IPA. afaik no one from the Coalition has spoken in favour. On the other hand, no one from the government has spoken out against it and two ministers, Conroy and Roxon, have spoken in favour.

      I can only determine my vote on what’s in front of me. What’s in front of me right now is that the government is in favour of a mandatory ISP- level filter, government regulation of the media and internet data retention. That is enough to make me do something at the next election I’ve never done before in my life.

  2. Y’know … I bet both the Labor and Coalition numpties are still trying to figure out why we needed the independents to stop a hung parliament last election.

    Hello …. politicians … it’s policies/legislation like these that are the reason for Australia’s dissatisfaction with both major political parties.

    You wonder why we don’t vote for either party, then you bemoan the opposing voters that helped “create” the situation, and bemoan and (depending on what side you’re on) belittle or place on a pedestal the independents that have to decide which party is the least worst to support.

    Hasn’t it occurred to them that it might be ….. hmmm ….. the policies (and their historical execution of them) of these parties is where the real problem lies of voters switching off both parties and casting votes to the Greens instead?

    • +1

      I think our parliament would be a much better place if there were even more independents in it…”Keep the bastards honest” applies just as much today (possibly even more so) as it did back in 1980 when Don Chipp started the Australian Democrats….

  3. As our political system has moved further and further away from the Westminster System, towards a less representative, less accountable and less transparent oligarchy, it’s becoming obvious that transparency is more important than the precise form of our government. It matters less whether we have one party (e.g. China), two parties (e.g. the U.S.), or more (e.g. British-based systems), than that we use the resources of the information age to keep the ruling class accountable. Transparency and “keeping the bastards honest” are our only protection against the development of oligarchy and even dictatorship. Current lauding of the virtues of “democracy” are no more than political spin.

  4. Since this discussion started I have started to run all non pc gaming traffic through a VPN. They don’t keep logs and the closest server is Sydney. The fact I can now watch UK and US shows is just a bonus.

    • Would you be so kind as to apprise us of your VPN shopping list? I’m looking for the right service at the moment, and haven’t found the right match yet.

  5. We seem to be falling in behind the Yanks. Frog Boiling and Sheeple breeding are rife.

    Government security people always ask for more than they can justify and the world never gets better as a result. They can’t tell us how many terrorist attacks they foiled when “security” is supposed to have helped negate potential attacks.

    The best description of this process can be found in the words of security guru, Bruce Schneier:

    ” Our greatest recent overreaction to a rare event was our response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. I remember then-Attorney General John Ashcroft giving a speech in Minnesota — where I live — in 2003 in which he claimed that the fact there were no new terrorist attacks since 9/11 was proof that his policies were working. I remember thinking: “There were no terrorist attacks in the two years preceding 9/11, and you didn’t have any policies. What does that prove?”

    What it proves is that terrorist attacks are very rare, and perhaps our national response wasn’t worth the enormous expense, loss of liberty, attacks on our Constitution and damage to our credibility on the world stage. Still, overreacting was the natural thing for us to do. Yes, it was security theater and not real security, but it made many of us feel safer. ”

    Quote is from: (on the Aurora massacre.)

  6. The coalition supports the blocking of this information, because they want the same thing when they’re in government. Labor and Coalition are at each others throats on everything, except where voters might benefit from information. Or they’re voting themselves new perks. Or new restrictions on political parties other than the big three.

    One wonders, assuming this proposal gets up, how many politicians’ email records will be hacked into and leaked before they realise the nightmare they’ve brought upon themselves.

    This whole thing is being treated in the same manner as online content – voters seem to be the last priority.

    • Seems they only decide to collude together when it’s something that will seriously screw the Australian public…like the TPP which corporations were allowed to look look at and suggest modifications, but the “public” wasn’t even allowed to know what was in it :/

  7. It is policies like these that may cause even the indifferent aussies to take notice and vote against the major political parties, hang on no that is not going to happen because most aussies watch things like big brother and Australia’s got talent, post everything on Facebook and tweet every time they move.

    Using Facebook is common these days and it retains more information about people than most organisations, including governments.

    I think governments are realising most people are ok with giving up their privacy so this is just a logical step to monitor the ones that don’t want to give up their privacy. I think they expect this to not impact them much at the next election.

    I can see another big Independent and Greens victory at the next election. All I can hope for is that the general public actually wakes up to both parties. If only we can get more Independent and Greens candidates at the next election. It should be harder for foreign countries to manipulate our politics if we have a more diverse pool of independents and parties controlling our parliament. The Greens may have pushed for the unpopular carbon tax but personally I see them as a better party to vote for than either of the major parties since neither of them want to act on behalf of the citizens of Australia. Just look at Assange as an example of what Labour thinks of its citizens, and not a word of support from the Coalition either. The Greens have been sticking up for Australians, so make sure everyone votes for the Greens and Independents next election, put the major parties last on the ballot. If the Greens didn’t go so well in the senate, we would probably have the Internet filter by now.

    Sorry for the long rant, sometimes you just need to get things out of the system to make you feel better. The older I get the more annoyed I feel about how badly our government treats its citizens, how badly it runs our country, the list goes on, and neither side of politics is any different to the other. One wants to sack everyone and pay workers less and give all the money to big companies, the other wants to give all the tax money away, often to their mates, on dodgy deals. Neither side cares about Australia, or its citizens. If they did care, they would show it in their policies, making policies that aim to actually grow our wealth and prosperity, rather than focusing on things like this and the Internet filter, or just saying no to everything.

    The NBN is one a few good policies to come out of any Australian government in the time I have been alive. Hopefully it can continue to the point of completion, fingers crossed.

    • +1 to this. If only the greens hadn’t inherited such illogical positions on some issues they’d be pretty close to perfect. (e.g. anti-nuke power, anti-gm). Though there are signs that the regular political class are turning up in their ranks too.

      • I pretty much agree with this. But a couple points that make things not so clear:
        1. Anti-nuke: Most people aren’t anti-nuke so much as “not in my backyard”. Although bad events like the Fukushima crisis probably doesn’t help either. And it’s difficult to manage the waste generated by nuclear plants.
        2. The effect of GM crops on the environment and GM foods on us. There was a nice sci-fi novel I read called the Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, and it basically describes both a haven and a dystopia of bio-engineering. A haven because of all the possibilities unlocked by bio-engineering, and a dystopia because of the state that some of those projects have left the world in.
        So while I want a more guaranteed supply of electricity with reduced carbon emissions and dependence on fossil fuels, as well as a more secure and robust (possibly cheaper) food supply, it is difficult to support these two particular approaches whole-heartedly, though I support them in principle “as long as…”. Or perhaps, more accurately, I do not oppose them.

        So as far as supporting the Greens, I’m fairly aligned with their policy thinking – but honestly, I’m not going to “waste a vote” when we have this system of electorates where the winner takes all. I’ll be researching this closer to the election, but if the Greens have barely a presence in my electorate, then I’ll be voting Labor (unless MT boots Abbott out of the Liberal party and commits to FTTH – i.e. I’ll be voting Labor).

        If only you could mix and match party policies and generate a custom party; or provide your support to different policies, rather than the parties pushing those policies. Like ancient Athenian democracy, sort of. Interesting… A thought experiment for November.

    • +0.5

      Only because the biggest reason I loathe to vote Independant is most of the time (in my area at least) their either off shoots of the 2 major parties.

      Or even worse they’re sometimes attached to some of the more “misleading” parties (ACL and FF to name a few) and you need a good digging around to check what exactly they stand for.

  8. About what I expected. When it comes to things that really matter, both major parties are as bad as each other.

    Which is why, last election, for the very first time, I didn’t vote for either of them. I don’t see that really changing in the future.

    • Your comment bears out my point. We’ve progressed beyond 19th-20th century democracy to a lobbyist-driven oligarchy. Our votes are almost irrelevant. Freedom of information and transparency in government are our best bets for the future, but only if governments are made to keep their grubby hands away.

  9. So Turnbull only few days ago tries to link this with Filter, then his party blocks data retention transparency.

    hypercritical much ?

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