07 August 2014



SUBJECT/S: Metadata; asylum seeker arrivals via plane

DAVID LIPSON: Joining me now on the program, Alan Tudge and Michelle Rowland. Thank you both very much for your company today. Starting with you Alan Tudge. It is a complex area and it’s difficult to explain, even for people who know a lot about these laws. So why has Mr Internet himself Malcolm Turnbull been left out of the sales pitch and discussions so far?

ALAN TUDGE: Morning David. Mr Turnbull hasn’t been left out of the discussions so far. He’s an integral part of this. Senator Brandis is the Attorney-General, of course leading the overall national security efforts. That’s his role. The key thing that’s…

LIPSON: The decision that was made was in the national security committee to go ahead with these changes in principle and the first Malcolm Turnbull apparently heard about it was reading about it in The Daily Telegraph.

TUDGE: David, the key things that we are putting in place are on the direct advice of our national security experts and they are advising us to put in place a number of measures including the ones that we are discussing this morning. They are doing so because there is a real and there is a present risk of terrorism on Australian soil. And we are determined to ensure that we can do as much as humanly possible to avoid any such attack here in Australia.

LIPSON: No one disputes the risk and the need for some changes. David Irvine, the head of ASIO, has indeed said that this is absolutely crucial. I suppose what’s being questioned is the process and the fact that apparently Malcolm Turnbull was pretty angry about being left out and had a bit of a blow up in Cabinet. Has this been rushed through?

TUDGE: This isn’t being rushed, David. We’ve got a National Security Committee, we have national security agencies. They agencies have advised the committee and the committee is working on proposals to take forward. These will then go to the Parliament once the legislation is drafted. There’ll be further debate then. There is no rushing, we are absolutely determined to implement the recommendations of our national security agencies to ensure that Australians can be as safe as humanly possible in this nation.

LIPSON: Michelle Rowland, I’m a little confused about Labor’s position because you do support changes to keep Australians safe in principle but at the same time there’s been some criticism about the privacy concerns in particular for the mass collection of data.

MICHELLE ROWLAND: David, on this national day of mourning I firstly want to offer my deep condolences to the family and friends of the victims involved in this tragedy. I also want to highlight, and you correctly point out, that there are some significant concerns: whilst we all recognise that surveillance is one of the most effective tools we have to guard against terrorism and other threats to our national security. The first I think is privacy. I believe that Australians have a deep held belief that their privacy needs to be kept in mind and not compromised in these matters. It’s a very fine balance, it’s a very vexed issue. The second is oversight. I believe there needs to be independent oversight of the operation of these laws. Just as we had Bret Walker as the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor overseeing what would otherwise be some very heavy handed forms of laws, heavy handed for a good purpose, but they do require strong oversight. And the other issue of course is cost. Who was going to bear the costs of this? It is a regime which currently under the interception and access arrangements, the carriage service providers, the ISPs, have agreements with the law enforcement agencies to effectively make this cost-neutral. Now for most of these, some of them carry metadata and provide metadata along with the other data they provide in response to law enforcement requests. But the issue of storage and the issue of specifically requesting metadata is something that needs to be looked at for cost efficiency.

LIPSON: Will Labor support these changes then? That’s the crucial question here.

ROWLAND: We’re yet to receive a full briefing on it, David. We do need to see the details but I do believe that those three principles are those that need to be taken into account when we examine these measures. And it’s actually quite frustrating that we have a government that’s put this out there and the two ministers that should be responsible for this area can’t seem to be in alignment on it. So as soon as we receive that briefing and we’ve examined the precise detail we’ll be able to answer that question fully. But I think what I’ve outlined are some of the principles that should be guiding, and I believe will be guiding, Labor’s approach to these matters amongst other things.

LIPSON: Okay, I do want to move on. Alan Tudge if there is something that you really want to respond to there I’ll give you the opportunity if you could keep it brief.

TUDGE: I just wanted to make clear though to your viewers that the content is not being kept. Michelle raised an important point about privacy, that is an important consideration. The content is not being kept, i.e if you’re making a telephone call, your telephone call content is not being kept. Any post you put on Facebook and the like cannot be acquired unless there is a search warrant in place. What is being kept is the fact that you have made a call from one place to the next and the duration of that call, not the content of it.

ROWLAND: Calls are already subject to the interception and access regime as it currently stands. Here we’re talking about the footprint, basically the electronic footprint, that is left.

LIPSON: And pretty clear picture can be created if the intelligence agencies decide they want to spare the time and the money and the effort to actually create such a picture. Look, we will move on. I want to look at this story reported in Fairfax today by Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker that there’s apparently rampant visa fraud and migration crime involving plane arrivals into Australia while we’re all focused on the boat arrivals. Now I think all of us in politics and the media, I must say, are guilty of focusing almost entirely on asylum seeker arrivals by boat but not those who come here by plane. Should we be taking more notice of this, Alan Tudge?

TUDGE: These were very serious allegations made in the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald this morning. The Immigration Minister has called for an immediate report on those allegations, the veracity of them and measures to curb them should they be correct. We are determined to ensure that any such fraud is clamped down upon in any way. People are arriving by boats, we are determined to ensure they come the right way and not the wrong way. And similarly if they come by plane.

LIPSON: Because Michelle Rowland, one of the claims is that Somali people smuggling sell linked to an overseas terrorist suspect has been able to get dozens of people into Australia.

ROWLAND: These are sophisticated operations and any government of any persuasion needs to make sure that we are vigilant in investigating and making sure this doesn’t happen. If there’s a problem we as a parliament, and Scott Morrison as the minister, should fix it and no-one I think would dispute the fact that people are becoming more and more sophisticated looking at different angles in which to game the system, in which to do the wrong thing. And I believe we have focused a lot – obviously, I agree with your comments – there has been a lot of focus on arrivals by sea and we need to focus ourselves on those other forms which are obviously under severe threat at the moment.

LIPSON: And does that mean shifting resources then to the airport borders if you like?

ROWLAND: Whatever needs to be done. I have only ever seen the reports in the Herald this morning so what I know is what I read there. But I do believe this is something that the Minister needs to look at closely and where there are gaps they need to be fixed.

LIPSON: Alan Tudge, would the government, or should the government do that?

TUDGE: Absolutely. The government has asked for a report on these allegations immediately and will take whatever action is required to get on top of any fraud, any illegal activity, will have absolute resolve just as we have had resolve in relation to unlawful arrivals by boat. I do point out though, and without making large political points here, that these were reports which were alleged to be given to the previous Labor government and so Michelle’s comments are right, action must be taken but perhaps it should have been taken a couple of years ago rather than being left to be taken right now.

LIPSON: Alan Tudge, Michelle Rowland thanks so much for your comments and insight this morning. We do appreciate it.

ROWLAND: My pleasure.

TUDGE: Thanks so much, David.