Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (14:20): My question is to the Attorney-General. Is it seriously government policy to introduce a mandatory data retention regime covering every man, woman and child in the country? If so, when? Does the government have any idea what it will cost and does the government expect the crime rate to fall as a result?
Senator BRANDIS (Queensland-Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Arts and Attorney-General) (14:20): Thank you, Senator Ludlam. As I said in my answer to the question from Senator Bushby, it is the government's intention to introduce a mandatory data retention regime. That was the in-principle decision that the Prime Minister, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and I announced on 5 August. It arises from the deliberations of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security during the course of the last parliament-the report of which, I might point out to you, Senator Ludlam, was unanimous and bipartisan. I should also point out that the nature of the mandatory data retention regime will not give the national security agencies any more powers than they currently have, nor will it require the telecommunications providers to do anything more than they currently do-but it will mandate the continuation of that practice.
Senator Ludlam, because I know that you are somebody who is quite knowledgeable in this field, you would be aware that mandatory data retention regimes have existed for some time now in Europe. You are probably aware, Senator Ludlam, that as recently as last month the British parliament moved to enact a mandatory data retention regime. At the moment, ASIO, the national security agencies and the government are in communication with the telecommunications providers in the development of this proposal. As I said in answer to Senator Bushby's question, it is the intention of the government to legislate in this regard later in this sittings.
Lastly, you asked whether such a regime will have an impact on crime. I can only refer you to the words of the Director-General of Security that it is absolutely crucial in the fight against terrorism. (Time expired)
Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (14:23): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the Attorney inform the Senate of his understanding of the term 'metadata', preferably without reference to 'envelopes'?
Senator BRANDIS (Queensland-Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Arts and Attorney-General) (14:23): Yes, Senator Ludlam, I am delighted to, though I might point out to you, as my colleague the Minister for Communications, Mr Turnbull, observed, this is a term that does not have a precise definition. It is a description rather than a definition. The essential concept, Senator Ludlam, as I am sure you are aware, is that metadata is information about a communication, not the content or substance of the communication. That is the core concept. The specific definition, which will be a statutory definition, the technical specifications will be included in the legislation. And you, Senator Ludlam, will be able to turn your mind to it when the bill is presented to the parliament.
Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (14:24): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given the minister's description, will he agree to publish his own metadata for a period of one week, since, after all, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear?
Senator BRANDIS (Queensland-Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Arts and Attorney-General) (14:24): Senator Ludlam, if I may say so, I thought your principal question and your first supplementary question were quite serious questions, which I attempted to treat seriously. I am disappointed, Senator Ludlam, because I know you take this area of policy seriously, that you would have concluded your question with such a flippant observation. I, like you, Senator Ludlam, will comply with my legal obligations.