The story ran in some News Corporation newspapers on Sunday and both the government and the secretaries of the two departments concerned, Home Affairs and Defence, were quick to deny that any such plans existed.
Adam Molnar, the co-chair of the APF's Surveillance Committee, said the move was "a dangerous precedent that would remove an already inadequate oversight mechanism that our nation’s top foreign intelligence agency has in relation to the rule of law and democratic accountability".
He said the revelation only reaffirmed the need for a robust and comprehensive bill of rights that would provide vital judicial oversight and accountability of some the nation’s most powerful government agencies.
He also clarified that while some media were saying that the ASD had legal authority to monitor Australian citizens to assist domestic intelligence and law enforcement through agreement between the director of the ASD and the Attorney-General, "the reports incorrectly assert this is a form of 'judicial authorisation'.
"An agreement between two heads of agency is a form of executive agreement that is non-compliant with the principles of rule of law. To erroneously suggest that this is a form of judicial authorisation is misleading, and ignores the present state of duress that rule of law is under in Australia," Molnar said.
The APF called for:
- An immediate public denunciation by all Australian political parties of the proposal to decouple ASD activities from prior authorisation by the AG;
- A change in the existing status quo that authorises ASD assistance to domestic agencies based on executive authority between the heads of the agencies in favour of actual judicial authorisation that would uphold rule of law and provide meaningful democratic accountability;
- That all political parties work together to introduce a comprehensive constitutional rights regime, especially given present day capacities for collection and analysis of digital information; and
- Enhanced resourcing and legal reform that ensures both the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor and Office of the Australian Information Commissioner are fit for purpose.