Attorney-General won’t confirm TSSR bill revamp


news Attorney-General George Brandis has refused to confirm whether the Government will accede to the Opposition’s demand that it provide a revised draft of its planned telco national security bill, in the wake of loud complaints from Australia’s entire technology sector about the controversial legislation.

Late last month, four major industry groups whose members 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.

In addition, a number of major companies such as Foxtel, iiNet, Macquarie Telecom, TPG, Telstra and Optus have all filed submissions with the Attorney-General’s Department expressing strong concern about the legislation.

Last week, Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus reportedly told The Australian newspaper that the Government must produce a “revised exposure draft” of the bill, before it was examined by the Coalition- and Labor-dominated Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.

In a response issued last week a spokesperson for the Attorney-General did not respond directly to Labor’s demand.

“Australia needs to better protect its critical telecommunications networks from national security threats such as espionage, sabotage and foreign interference,” they said. “The Government has consulted extensively with industry and we welcome their feedback on the exposure draft. We are working closely with industry to finalise the legislation.”

Senator Brandis’ refusal to immediately meet Labor’s demand on the issue appears to risk further disunity between Australia’s two major parties on the issue of national security related to the technology sector.

Up until last month, the two major parties have largely teamed up to pass controversial legislation in this area. However, Labor passed a motion at its National Conference last month that will see it formally review the Data Retention legislation passed earlier this year, adding to an existing planned review enshrined in the legislation itself.

The move evoked an immediate response from Senator Brandis, who said the decision was “alarming” and added Labor must ‘stick to its word’ and continue to show support for the policy.

If the Government does not make substantial changes to the TSSR legislation, it is likely to face significant dissent from the Opposition in the PJCIS Committee, which Dreyfus sits on.

The third-largest political force in Federal Parliament, the Greens, has been relatively quiet in the TSSR debate up until this point, but it appears the party is unlikely to support the bill.

Senator Brandis is risking much by not confirming to Labor that the Government will issue a revised exposure draft of the TSSR legislation before the bill hits the PJCIS Committee. If the bill as supplied to the Committee does not go far enough in meeting the demands of industry, not only will the Committee likely recommend significant changes to the legislation, but it might also hold extended hearings on it.

This would give Australia’s technology sector a chance to vent their spleen on the TSSR bill in publicly televised sessions. I am sure Senator Brandis would not enjoy the result.

Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting


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