The Senate this morning considered what the Government describes as a little technical matter – the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Amendment Bill 2007 which, among other things, will allow the Australian Security and Intelligence Service (ASIS) secretly to access information held by the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre.

Which is another way of saying that the spooks whose job is meant to be spying for their country in other countries can have a little peek at the financial records here at home of any and all Australians.

Why ASIS needs the new power has not been explained during the debate and the Opposition is not objecting. Just mention the words national security these days and Labor runs away in fear of being wedged. Only the Greens, through NSW Senator Kerry Nettle, have had the temerity to question why this Bill has not even had a pro-forma investigation by a Senate committee. “ASIS is Australia’s most secret spy agency like the CIA or MI6,” says Senator Nettle. “Its job is to spy on overseas governments and organisations, not Australians. ASIS has been mired in controversy in the past about alleged spying on Australians. It now seems the government is formalising ASIS’s ability to do so.”

The government response that this is only a minor extension of the range of organisations able to access AUSTRAC data will surely serve as a warning to opponents of the Human Services Access Card which the government is introducing. The Access card is being sold as merely a replacement for a number of existing cards, including the Medicare card and various benefit cards issued by Centrelink and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. The fear is that once an anti-privacy measure is in place there will be a series of minor but incremental uses for the card until Australia has crept to a de facto ID card.

With ASIS and the AUSTRAC creep, the government line this morning was that the office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security was in place to prevent any misuse of information.

Exactly how the Inspector-General, with a staff of six, would achieve this was, of course, kept secret.