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Data Retention begins: Scott Ludlam's questions for Attoney-General George Brandis

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia-Co-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (14:22): My question is to Senator Brandis in his capacity as Attorney-General. Senator Brandis, today was meant to be the day that the $300 million Turnbull-Shorten mandatory data retention scheme came into force. Instead, it appears that more than 80 per cent of telecommunications carriers have not had their implementation plan signed off by the Attorney-General's Department, owing to the complexity of implementation and to ambiguities in the law itself. Why are Australians effectively being taxed to fund their own surveillance, when-for as little as 15 cents a day to download a few apps and following a few helpful crypto-tips from Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull-the system can be bypassed and rendered ineffective?

Senator BRANDIS (Queensland-Attorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:23): Thank you very much indeed, Senator Ludlam. That is an important question. Thank you for the advanced notice of the question via Twitter.

Senator Wong: Don't tell us you are watching Twitter?

Senator BRANDIS: You never know your luck, Senator Wong. Senator Ludlam, as you rightly point out, the compliance obligation commenced today. But there is another 18 months in the implementation period to run, under the provisions of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Act 2015. Senator Ludlam, the point you raise is a point we debated in the committee stage of that debate. I acknowledge that there are some apps which will not enable metadata to be captured; that is commonly known. But that is not the point. The point of intelligence gathering is that you have to determine from all the available sources a picture of that information which is being sought by the agencies. It remains the case that metadata is a useful and a vital investigative tool.

Senator Ludlam, you ask what use it is. It is used by the Australian Federal Police and by state and territory police forces in every single counterterrorism investigation-as well as in other important investigations, for example, investigations into paedophile networks and into transnational and organised crime. While some malefactors may be sophisticated enough to use, for example, over the top applications, not all are. The advice that the Australian government has received from its security and law enforcement agencies is that metadata is one of the most important tools available to them- (Time expired)

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia-Co-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (14:25): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. In the context of reports today that more than 80 per cent of internet service providers have not received a response from the Attorney-General's Department about the compliance plans that they were required to submit, I am interested to know if the Attorney-General can describe for us how internet service providers can be guaranteed to get financial support, and what guarantees the minister can offer to some of the small ISPs in particular who are warning us that the implementation costs may drive some of them to the wall?

Senator BRANDIS (Queensland-Attorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:25): I can give them this assurance. The government has set aside $131 million to assist in meeting compliance obligations. The outlay of that $131 million has been structured so that it is directed in particular to the smaller ISPs; because we acknowledge that the burden, particularly in relation to their cash flows, of compliance with these obligations will fall proportionately more heavily on smaller businesses than on big business. That is why the $131 million has been set aside. That is in the government's judgement a reasonable contribution to those costs.

We in my department are working with all the elements of the sector to ensure that there is full compliance by April 2017-18 months hence-when the compliance obligation will- (Time expired)

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia-Co-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (14:26): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. In March of this year, during negotiations and extended debate over the mandatory data retention legislation, the government committed to have mandatory data breach laws in place before the end of this year, whereby anybody who loses control of your private information would at least be obliged to notify you that that had happened. With only 14½ sitting days left on the parliamentary calendar, where is this bill?

Senator BRANDIS (Queensland-Attorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:27): It is still the government's intention to legislate for a mandatory data breach scheme before the end of this year.

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