The Attorney-General’s Department has been running but is now struggling to find anywhere to hide on data retention. In a significant admission, the department has been forced to correct its evidence to the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee to reveal that two legislative provisions for a data retention regime were drafted at the department’s request.

As Crikey reported in May, Greens Senator Scott Ludlam asked the department at Senate Estimates to provide details of its consultation with industry on data retention and its drafting of legislation for it. The department at the time sought to play down its commitment to data retention, saying its industry consultations were simply informal discussions and that it had not prepared any legislation. Crikey suggested the responses might have misleading given what we already knew about the department’s efforts on data retention.

It turns out we were right: on Friday afternoon the Department wrote to the committee to correct the record on its answers.

“In an exchange with Senator Ludlam in relation to the existence of a draft Bill that included data retention provisions, Ms Smith [Assistant Secretary Catherine Smith] stated that there were some very vague draft provisions, but not to do with data retention.

“The Department would like to clarify that Ms Smith was referring to the fact that there was no draft Bill on data retention. However, there were two draft provisions on data retention, but they did not detail a comprehensive data retention regime.”

Since those hearings, Crikey has sought access to departmental documentation on data retention via freedom-of-information laws; we understand Ludlam has also sought access to information about the drafting of legislation. The slow process of establishing what exactly the department did on data retention from 2009 to 2012, which has been undertaken by a peculiar grouping of the joint committee on intelligence and security, the Pirate Party’s Brendan Molloy, the Greens and independent media, thus continues.

On June 24, the committee released its report on data retention and other proposals to amend or extend law enforcement and intelligence agency powers. The report declined to recommend data retention and severely criticised the department for failing to provide appropriate information to the committee.