Crikey says: Aussie jihadists aside, we need calm debate on security laws
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As Crikeyreported last week, the government is bringing forward at least two tranches of national security law reforms, in the wake of concerns from intelligence agencies about Australians fighting with Islamic extremist groups in Syria, and now Iraq.
But the reforms that will be brought forward have nothing to do with those concerns: any connection between them is for political purposes.
The reforms are a suite of changes that were considered by the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, which reported a year ago. Some of the proposals are simple administrative changes and others relate to a substantial overhaul of our telecommunications interception regime. Others, like data retention, are far more controversial and would be a significant extension of government powers.
Although the election of a new government is a sound reason why these reforms weren’t advanced for public debate in 2013, there is no excuse for the government’s failure to respond to the committee’s report. If indeed the government has been waiting for a politically opportune moment, such as events in Iraq, to bring forward such reforms in the hope it would make their passage easier, it is guilty of a severe dereliction of its duty to the safety of Australians.
Moreover, it has also abolished the office of the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor, under the pretence — discredited by the outgoing monitor, Bret Walker — that its functions are duplicated. At the very point when an INSLM is needed to vet proposals to change security laws, the function has been abolished.
The government should bring forward its package as quickly as possible, and make the case for it, and let agencies like ASIO make the case for it, in the context of an informed, calm public debate — not one based on tabloid headlines about Aussie jihadists.