Sunday, 02 December 2018 17:37

Encryption bill: Labor accuses PM of compromising national security Featured

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Penny Wong: "...The bill, as it is currently drafted, will make Australia less safe." Penny Wong: "...The bill, as it is currently drafted, will make Australia less safe."

The Australian Labor Party has accused Prime Minister Scott Morrison of compromising national security by insisting on having the government's encryption bill passed in its current form, and being unwilling to strike a compromise with Labor.

Labor Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Senator Penny Wong told the ABC Insiders program on Sunday that though Labor was willing to pass part of the bill by this Thursday — the last sitting day of Parliament for the year — "Scott Morrison doesn't want that. He wants a fight, and I think compromising Australia's national security for those reasons is really beneath the Prime Minister".

Morrison and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton have pushed for the encryption bill — officially known as the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018 — to be passed in its entirety by 6 December.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security is inquiring into the bill, and has held five hearings so far. The final hearing is scheduled for 4 December.

Labor has offered to pass schedule one of the bill, the bit that gives new powers to the spy agencies, if it was only available to counter-terror agencies.

On Friday, Labor Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus wrote to Attorney-General Christian Porter saying that the Labor Party had been pushed too far.

Senator Wong, who is a member of the PJCIS, was asked by Insiders host Barrie Cassidy whether Labor, by dissenting with the government, had not left itself open to attacks about being soft on terrorism.

She responded: "Scott Morrison is doing what he did when he sought to move the Australian Embassy to Jerusalem. He's seeking to create a fight so as to distract attention from things like [Liberal MP] Julia Banks moving to the crossbench.

"...The bill, as it is currently drafted, will make Australia less safe. Let me read one very small part of a transcript from a company called Senetas which is responsible for encryption, not only of some of Australia's defence agencies and the AFP, but the US military and the Knesset.

"And it says about this bill, 'It compromises the security of citizens, businesses and governments. It will be easier for cyber criminals, terrorists, to target systems, and to be able to break into those systems."

"...we have said we are willing to pass a bill by Thursday, which gives appropriate powers, these power, to national security agencies with appropriate oversight to target criminals and people who are being investigated for child sex crimes. So we are willing to pass that by Thursday."

Senator Wong said she had been part of the PJCIS for five years. "We've dealt with 15 bills and we passed all of them and improved all of them with bipartisan support," she said. "This is the first time we've been in this position. We do not take it lightly. We believe that the prime minister is compromising Australia's national security and he should stop playing politics with national security to try to get around the fact that he's got a problem in his party room."

Asked whether there was room for compromise, Senator Wong responded: "Absolutely. In fact, the committee were working to a compromise position. The committee were working to a compromise position along the terms that I've just outlined. Let's give the powers to the national security agencies for the purposes of terrorist investigations and child sex crimes.

"And guess what happened? Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton blew the process up. That's what happened. And I think that the Parliament and the country are served much less well by virtue of that politicking around national security."


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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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