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National security inquiry stretched by tight timeframe

The rushed timeframe for a parliamentary inquiry into the government’s national security reforms may yet cause headaches for proper consideration of the reforms.

The parliamentary inquiry into the government’s first national security bill has had to extend its timeframe for submissions as civil society organisations rush to meet the tight timeframe set by the committee.

The Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, chaired by Liberal backbencher Dan Tehan, yesterday extended its submissions timeframe to next Wednesday, August 6. The inquiry has a reporting date of September 8 for the extensive and detailed National Security Legislation Amendment Bill. However, the inquiry is being conducted during the parliamentary winter recess, when MPs and senators traditionally travel overseas. Labor defence spokesman Stephen Conroy, for example, is currently in the United States attending the Australia-American Leadership Dialogue. Conroy and Labor Senate leader Penny Wong were added by Labor to the committee in June, beefing the committee up into the most experienced in Parliament.

No hearings are yet scheduled for the inquiry.

The committee also released the Attorney-General’s Department’s submission, which contains part of the government’s long-withheld response to last year’s JCIS report. Instead of formally responding to the committee report (tabled last June), especially given the report was in response to a request from the previous government, the committee has instead been given a departmental response (not the same thing, although in practice the department would be acting under ministerial instruction) via the AGD submission, where the overwhelming majority of recommendations in the report are supported.

One small thing to note: on one of the more controversial proposals, to allow ASIO to interfere with the computer of a target, AGD ignores that JCIS never backed that proposal and appears to pretend that it did — the JCIS recommendation was merely that further consideration be given to the idea. “Persons being investigated are increasingly security conscious and technically proficient, requiring innovative methods of achieving access to the target computer without detection, including methods that may cause a temporary interruption to the target computer,” AGD said about the proposal. “Innovative methods” in this case refers to malware intended to send data back to ASIO without the target knowing about it. Let’s hope ASIO has better virus writers than some other agencies around the world who thought creating malware was a cost-free way of keeping an eye on crooks and terrorists.

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