Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s claim that several pieces of surveillance and tech-focused legislation currently before Parliament do not have bipartisan support is a “flat-out lie”, according to the Opposition.
On Tuesday it was revealed that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) were involved with an FBI-led sting against organised crime, which involved the compromise of an encrypted app used by criminals to communicate.
Fronting the press to discuss the operation, Mr Morrison appeared to use the opportunity to try to wedge Labor on a number of bills currently before Parliament which would give more powers to law enforcement authorities.
But these bills either already have the support of the Opposition or are currently the subject of an inquiry by the bipartisan national security committee, shadow home affairs minister Kristina Keneally said.
Mr Morrison, who said the sting operation was a “watershed moment in Australian law enforcement”, urged Parliament to pass the Identify and Disrupt and International Production Orders bills, which would hand significant new surveillance and data-gathering powers to law enforcement.
He said that both these bills do not have “bipartisan support”.
“The AFP and our law enforcement agencies who support them need the support of our Parliament to continue to do the job that they do to continue to keep Australians safe,” Mr Morrison told the media.
“Our government won’t shirk from that and we call on all of those in Parliament to do that as we have done for such a long time and to get the results that in particular we’ve seen today.”
In response, Senator Keneally said the Prime Minister was “flat-out wrong”.
“Mr Morrison made a number of statements in his media conference that are flat-out wrong. Mr Morrison flat-out lied in his media conference about the legislation,” Senator Keneally said.
“He sought to play politics and that is what Mr Morrison does. And here he is playing politics with national security.”
The Identify and Disrupt bill was introduced to Parliament late last year. It hands sweeping new powers to the AFP and ACIC to hack into the computers and networks of suspected criminals.
The bill introduces three new warrants which would allow authorities to “disrupt” the data of suspected offenders, access their devices and networks even if they don’t know their identity, and take over their accounts covertly.
The bill was quickly referred to the PJCIS for inquiry, and this is still ongoing.
On Tuesday, Mr Morrison said that this bill “does not have bipartisan support”. But despite the legislation being widely criticised by a range of digital rights, civil rights and legal organisations, Labor has not spoken out publicly about it, except through the bipartisan Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills.
The bipartisan Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) has been inquiring into the Identify and Disrupt bill for several months.
“He flat out lied about Identify and Disrupt. That bill is currently before the bipartisan committee…it hasn’t had its report come down yet. It is wrong from Mr Morrison to claim that Labor doesn’t support this bill,” Senator Keneally said.
The other main piece of legislation Mr Morrison mentioned, the International Production Orders bill, would allow Australia to enter into an expedited data-sharing deal with the US under the CLOUD Act.
It would allow Australian authorities to directly request data from US companies without going through legal authorities, and vice versa. Australia has been in discussions with the US for such a deal since late 2019, and provided nearly $10 million in funding in the May budget for the scheme.
Mr Morrision again claimed that this bill “does not have bipartisan support”.
“That’s cross-border access to electronic data, enhancing the effectiveness of Australian investigations and protection of prosecutions and serious crimes, including serious terrorism offences. That bill is there. That does not have bipartisan support and we need it passed,” he said.
But just last month the PJCIS tabled its report on this bill, providing bipartisan support for it if a number of changes were made.
The government-led committee recommended 23 changes to the bill, including for any agreement made under it to be tabled in Parliament before it is signed and 15 days to be given for it to be voted down, and a number of privacy and data safeguards.
Labor has also previously spoken in support of such a data-sharing deal with the US.
“[On the IPO bill] he is flat out lying. Maybe he doesn’t realise that the bipartisan committee handed down a unanimous bipartisan report. The Liberal and Labor members tabled a report in Parliament saying that the IPO bill should be supported,” Senator Keneally said.
“Australians would be understandably dismayed to see their Prime Minister just lying about national security, just making things up. He plays shallow political games – he doesn’t care about national security, he just cares about the political opportunity for himself.”