No changes to AA bill before election

James Riley
Editorial Director

The federal government’s controversial encryption laws will remain unchanged until after the upcoming election after the Opposition’s amendments remained stalled in the Senate.

The parliamentary committee tasked with scrutinising the Access and Assistance Act tabled its report on Wednesday night but failed to recommend any substantial amendments to the legislation.

Labor has moved a series of amendments to the controversial laws in the Senate, but no progress was made on them when the Senate rose for the last time before the upcoming federal election.

Encryption laws: Even minor amendments were shut down in final Senate session.

The Opposition has now pledged to pass these amendments and move further changes if it forms government in May.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security conducted an inquiry focusing on a series of amendments made to the bill by the government on the final sitting day of 2018, when the laws were eventually passed with support from Labor.

The committee only agreed on three minor recommendations: that the committee’s review of the amendments be due by June 2020, sufficient resources be made available so the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor’s review can be completed by March 2020 and that the government ensures that the relevant oversight bodies have sufficient resources.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus admitted in Parliament that these are “modest recommendations”.

“I hope this report marks the beginning of a more sensible debate about how the new measures introduced by the Assistance and Access Act can be improved during the term of the next Parliament and that the concerns of agencies, the local and international tech industry and other stakeholders can be addressed,” Mr Dreyfus said on Wednesday night.

Mr Dreyfus committed to passing the amendments currently in the Senate and moving additional ones if it wins the upcoming election. Further changes that Labor would make to the legislation include requiring judicial authorisation for the issuing of technical assistance notices and technical capability notices, and for a review of the economic impact of the legislation to be undertaken.

“A majority of the Senate voted for those amendments but the government, which still maintains that this rushed legislation is perfect, has shut down debate on those amendments and so, regrettably, we will not be able to pass them before the election,” he said.

The PJCIS report did identify many areas for “further consideration, including the threshold and scope of the legislation, reporting obligations and oversight.

“The committee does not seek to respond to these matters in this report. However, noting the anticipated timing of the federal election and the upcoming statutory review by the committee of the Assistance and Access Act to commence in April 2019, there will be opportunity for the committee to engage with these matters in a more considered manner,” the report said.

“The Committee is also of the view that the statutory review will be an opportunity for industry to report on the implementation process and stakeholder engagement.”

The committee admitted that further scrutiny of the laws is needed.

“Some members of the committee believe that, on balance, the act appropriately addresses all of those concerns. Some other members of the committee disagree with that proposition. However, all members of the committee agree that the significant new powers introduced by the Act warrant ongoing consideration,” it said.

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