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Oct 30, 2014

Data retention bill reveals a rushed, shambolic national security process

The rushed, confused way in which major national security laws are made in Australia was on display this morning in Canberra.


If it wasn’t so serious, it would be the stuff of high comedy: the shambolic nature of the process of establishing new national security laws was on vivid display this morning.

The government today rushed into Parliament its new data retention bill, and is apparently desperate to have it passed before the end of the year. Parliament only sits for two more weeks after today, finishing for the year on December 4. Passage of the bill will require the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security to conduct a review in around four weeks on the most controversial aspect of the government’s national security reforms, a proposal that constitutes a major attack on free speech, privacy and a free press. But Attorney-General George Brandis seems to think the committee can tick and flick the bill because it has already considered data retention, following then-AG Nicola Roxon’s referral of the issue to the committee along with over 40 other proposals in 2012.

And by “referral of the issue”, I mean two and a half lines in a paper the head of the Attorney-General’s Department admitted was a poor document that didn’t help the committee understand exactly what it was being asked to consider. Committee veterans are unlikely to be impressed with Brandis’ view that all the work has already been done — especially since the previous inquiry, of which Brandis was a vocal part, specifically discussed the need for detailed legislation so that it could properly consider data retention.

And there’s the next problem: there’s no actual detail in the data retention bill. Brandis himself acknowledged this, saying it was a short bill, “just 47 pages”. That’s because the technical detail of what, specifically, the data that telcos and ISPs will need to retain is, isn’t explained. That’s to be left to regulations. Why? Well, with regulations it’s easier to add to the list of data later, without legislation. But it’s mostly because the government still doesn’t know what data it wants retained — even though AGD has been working on this issue since 2008 at least. There has been an industry consultation process underway in recent months to nail down the detail about metadata — and that process isn’t anywhere near finished. That’s why this morning’s introduction took the industry by surprise (and some in the industry were very surprised and very angry). Instead, the government will establish a “working group” to finalise that consultation process while JCIS considers the bill.

Quite how JCIS is supposed to adequately assess the bill when the crucial definition of data and details around the implementation of the scheme are missing isn’t clear. And they are crucial, as iiNet has explained in detail.

Nor does the government know how much the scheme will cost, although it is clear that it won’t be paying the full cost of it — that will be for consumers to pay via their monthly bills.

What we do know, courtesy of AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin sticking his police boot deep inside his mouth at the data retention media conference, is that data retention will also be used to pursue filesharing, at the behest of copyright industries and their minions — an admission the government has been at pains to stay away from.

The unanswered question in all this is, what’s the rush? The government dawdled away on national security in the first half of the year, ignoring calls to bring forward legislation so that it could be debated calmly and thoughtfully. Now, suddenly, data retention is a must — despite no one specifically linking the need for data retention with the current Islamic State situation.

At the same press conference this morning announcing data retention, Brandis declared he would be altering arrangements relating to prosecutions for revealing information about Special Intelligence Operations so that the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions could not undertake a prosecution without the authorisation of the Attorney-General. That is, if you’re a journalist and you reveal something about an SIO, George Brandis and his successors will have the final say on whether you get charged and, if convicted, locked up for a period ranging from five years to ten years.

It was in response, Brandis said, to the unfounded claim that journalists could be locked up for doing their job, which he dismissed as impossible anyway, but we were meant to take comfort from the idea of Brandis getting to decide which journalists should be charged.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten had overnight written to the PM urging reconsideration of this issue, just weeks after Labor helped the government vote through the laws, with only backbencher Melissa Parke voicing her concerns publicly. Labor sources say Shorten had been encouraged by News Corporation to raise the issue. While The Australian has enthusiastically supported the government’s national security reforms, a number of the company’s senior commentators and executives have expressed concern about the SIO provisions.

So, an opposition that waved through the laws backtracked on them within weeks and a government that insists there is absolutely no issue has politicised prosecutorial decisions in response, with encouragement from a media company whose outlets are officially relaxed about the matter.

Fortunately it’s only our basic rights to free speech, a free press and a functioning democracy in which the powerful can be held to account, that are at stake. Otherwise, you might be worried about how our leaders do things.


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26 thoughts on “Data retention bill reveals a rushed, shambolic national security process

  1. negativegearmiddleclasswelfarenow.com

    Senator David Leyonjhelm has fingered those craven members of parliament who blindly support this attack by the Security State on our freedoms.

  2. Coaltopia

    Shambolic would be being nice, with yet more priceless hypocrisy: “of which Brandis was a vocal part, specifically discussed the need for detailed legislation so that it could properly consider data retention.”

    I’m still baffled that after the post-NSA/GCHQ/five-eyes revelations, we’re pursuing the exact thing that doesn’t work and is inherently dangerous: dragnet surveillance.

  3. The Pav

    I think regarding the Abbott Govt the following apply ( and I’ve missed more than a few)

    Data retention bill reveals a rushed, shambolic national security process

    Education Policy reveals a rushed, shambolic national education process

    Budget process reveals a rushed, shambolic national budget process

    Copayment proposal Data retention bill reveals a rushed, shambolic national co-payment process

    Carbon Policy reveals a rushed, shambolic national carbon pricing process

    DEalings with Putin reveals a rushed, shambolic national dealing with Putin process.

    Communication policy reveals a rushed, shambolic national process

    In fact shambolic seems the opperative word

  4. Stuart Coyle

    Brandis is such a great champion of free speech. He claims to be of libertarian bent, then why does he not value personal privacy of communication?

    So, they are going to make us pay for them to track us. Nice. The only good thing is that
    they have no idea what ‘metadata’ they want nor how to get it.

    Anyone with an ounce of network security knowledge will make most of their tracking useless, so how does this help catch these super sophisticated modern terrorists that threaten our very existence?

    Hypocrites and fools, all of them.

  5. GF50

    Thanks Bernard, stay on their case, empty of any rationale at all and a threat to our limited democracy.

  6. Graeski

    Is it just me, or is Australia becoming more like an episode of “The Simpsons” each day?


  7. klewso

    Isn’t that Homer up top?

  8. Arty Emile

    >The unanswered question in all this is, what’s the rush? The government dawdled away on national security in the first half of the year

    Perhaps the rush is to do with the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade agreement – designed to shore up US industry through intellectual property provisions

  9. Graeski


    Damn it, I think you’re right!

  10. Neutral

    “Perhaps the rush is to do with the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade agreement – designed to shore up US industry through intellectual property provisions”


  11. Neutral

    Adds to the business case for VPN’s and proxy servers.

  12. Bohemian

    Investigative Journalism isn’t a profession known for its longevity of tenure..ask Gary Webb! Oh sorry you can’t he is dead.
    These guys are going to do whatever it takes no matter what legislation is put in place because they can.

  13. JennyWren

    Yes I’ll be doing my homework this weekend trawling through the excellent list that torrentfreak compiled recently and which you linked to a little while ago Neutral. I haven’t had much urgency to do it, GOT not scheduled for screening yet, but our little video shop closed recently and I need to subscribe to Netflix so as not to give Merdeorc any of my money.

  14. Luke Hellboy

    The government charging us for the privilege of being spied upon by organisations that have little effective oversight makes me think of the Chinese government charging families of executed prisoners for the price of the bullet.

  15. Neutral

    JennyWren, definitely a good idea – would recommend one that uses openVPN. Opensource technology vetted by peers to keep out the pervs and spooks. Would avoid the proprietary systems as they are susceptible to having ‘back doors’ coded into them at the request of agencies such as the NSA.

    Bohemian, interesting how his death was classified as *suicide* with two gun shot wounds to the head.

  16. zut alors

    Please correct me if I’ve misinterpreted this: should SIO screw up & embarrass the Abbott government and a journalist reports on it Brandis then gets to decide if the scribe should be eligible for prosecution with a potential ten year gaol term.

    No conflict of interest there, that should work a treat!

    Both major parties are selling us down the river, wake up Australia.

  17. John Ryan

    I think the boss plod of the AFP belled the cat, it,s all about stopping those nasty down loaders so Rupe can sleep safe in his bed knowing his subsidiary wholly owned Govt in OZ is looking after his interests, and the interests of the over charging yanks and the FTA TV in OZ as well

  18. Bohemian

    @Neutral..Its that second shot in any suicide that always does the damage!

    So, the reason for the rush on this is that if anyone reads this piece of legislation, it will turn out to be a wish list for Security Inc. and I didn’t vote for them, nor am I ever likely to! Besides; they are already spoken for.
    I thought Brandis was a straight shooter but evidently our VBF’s have set him straight on what’s required. Obviously he hasn’t read “Amnesia” yet. To think I was worried that the other side of politics were swallowing this claptrap hook, line and sinker and about to sell us out and now I find the Liberals are worse if obsequiousness can be graded.

    The news is replete with stories about a potential 50 or so Australia emanating adventure seekers in Syria/Iraq/Lebanon and what they are going to do to disrupt the flow of oil. I am no apologist for these idiots but really! Does the MSM take all of us for numbnuts? Those blokes would have about $200 dollars between them and no skill in fighting professionally because I don’t include doorman and standover thug as qualification for SAS induction . You don’t pick that up in six months. How do these journos who write this crap sleep ? I guess it’s the mortgage.

    IS/ISIL/ISIS /Crush/Daesh/Al Qaeda/Schmersh or whatever the brand name that worked best in focus groups this week, is a group of hardened mercenaries and killers. They are professional soldiers of fortune with a mean streak and a Charles Bronson approach to victims. They are paid well in US dollars for what they do no doubt and they sleep fine. These guys have been in Iraq in 2003, Libya in 2009 and Syria in 2011. And I venture to say, some of them may have worked for the same crowd in Gulf War 1 while their fathers did the Lebanon stints in the 70’s and 80’s.

    This and the Ebola (read the H1N1 scare-them-to-death strategy of a couple of years back) scam are keeping the real news off the front pages. From the ABC to half the bloggers in town, no one seems to care that the government can’t get all of the budget through; they can’t even fix my electricity or gas bill, my health insurance is going up at twice inflation, parking fines are going up at a quantum and Clive Palmer is still calling the shots.. Blog that!

    And how about taking stock of our potential role in this region! We have the ability to become a valuable counsel and mediator to all major players. We do not have to behave in such a forelock-tugging fashion with one of the big boys as might some third world lapdog. And if you care about this country, get rid of that sovereignty wrecking TPP while you’re at it. .Ahh!! It’s enough to make me pour a second glass of wine.

  19. GideonPolya

    Extreme right wing, pro-Zionist, US lackey Shorten Labor (the ALP aka the Alternative Liberal Party, Another Liberal Party, the American Lackey Party, the Apartheid Labor Party, the Apartheid Israel-beholden Labor Party) waved through the journalist-targetting anti-terror laws but now has second thoughts about jailing journalists for 10 years for just doing their job, noting that Australian journalist Peter Greste is presently imprisoned for 7 years in the Egyptian military dictatorship for just doing his job.

    On 29 October 2014 The Guardian published an article by its political editor Lenore Taylor entitled “Bill Shorten has second thoughts on terrorism laws that could mean jail for journalists”: http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2014/oct/30/bill-shorten-second-thoughts-terrorism-laws-jail-journalists

    I attempted to post the following comment and it survived the “pre-moderation” applied to me by The Guardian Australia and was actually published (The Guardian Australia like other Mainstream media has an appalling record of censoring out things it does not wants its audience to read, know about or think about; see “Censorship by The Guardian Australia”: https://sites.google.com/site/mainstreammediacensorship/home/censorship-by-the-guardian-a ):

    COMMENT. “If Shorten had real concerns about freedom of speech and the freedom of journalists to do their job without the threat of 10 years imprisonment he and the Australian Labor Party Opposition should not have voted for these draconian anti-terrorism laws.

    Thanks to Shorten and the Coalition and the Labor Right (aka the Lib-labs or Liberal-Laborals) Australian journalists now face the threat of 10 years’ imprisonment just for doing their job, this being longer indeed than the 7 years imposed on Australian journalist Peter Greste just for doing his job in the Egyptian military dictatorship.

    Decent Australians who understand that transparency and freedom of speech are vital for our freedom, democracy and security will utterly reject the Lib-Lab state terrorism, vote 1 Green and put the Coalition last (some Labor MPs, notably Melissa Parke, have opposed this trampling of our freedom).” END COMMENT.

    Poor fellow, my country.

  20. Chris Hartwell

    Ebola scam? So, you disagree with infectious diseases experts on the severity of the current outbreak and the danger such an outbreak would pose here? Believe what you wish, but when you start disagreeing with those who study this stuff for a living, then you start down the same path of anti-vaxx and chemtrails.

    And there ain’t enough tinfoil for that.

  21. Norman Hanscombe

    Once again I’m reminded of the hysterical but misplaced paranoia of the Marxists who condemned the establishment of ASIO and misrepresented its powers and functions with assertions which were laughably wrong.
    Let The Circus begin.

  22. Luke Hellboy

    Really norm? There are numerous cases of abuses of power and excessive persecution of non-violent politcally active people (including environmentalists, aboriginal, women’s and gay rights activist) in declassified ASIO files from the time. I’m not saying we don’t need them, just that unless sufficient civilian oversight is in place to counter the corrupting effect of unfettered power, these agencies seem to start working against the people rather than for them.

  23. JennyWren

    Yes that bloody Marxist David Stratton!

  24. Bohemian

    @chris hartwell

    Make what you like of this!

    Dr. Cyril Broderick, a Liberian scientist and a former professor of Plant Pathology at the University of Liberia’s College of Agriculture & Forestry claims in an open letter to World Citizens in the Monrovia (Liberia) Daily Observer 9/9/2014 http://www.liberianobserver.com/security/ebola-aids-manufactured-western-pharmaceuticals-us-dod : that the US Department of Defense (DoD) is funding Ebola trials on humans which started just weeks before the Ebola outbreak in Guinea and Sierra Leone. He states that the DoD gave a contract worth $140 million dollars to Tekmira, a Canadian pharmaceutical company, to conduct Ebola research in Sierra Leone.

    Tekmira’s own website states, “TKM-Ebola, an anti-Ebola virus RNAi therapeutic, is being developed under a $140 million contract with the US Department of Defense’s Medical Countermeasure Systems BioDefense Therapeutics (MCS-BDTX) Joint Product Management Office.” Although begun in 2010, the collaboration expanded in 2013 to include significant advances in LNP formulation technology, including a new LNP formulation that was more potent, the ability to be able to lyophilize (freeze-dry) LNP formulations and an LNP formulation that can be administered intravenously.”

    This research work involved injecting and infusing healthy humans with the deadly Ebola virus. Hence, the DoD is listed as a collaborator in a “First in Human” Ebola clinical trial (NCT02041715, which started in January 2014 shortly before an Ebola epidemic was declared in West Africa in March.

    On August 4, the US TV channel, Fox News carried this lead: “The experimental drug used to treat two American aid workers who have been infected with the Ebola virus has never been tested on humans before and was only identified earlier this year as part of an ongoing research program backed by the U.S. government and military.” Since the Ebola scare, the stock price has shot through the roof, much like Gilead Sciences (inventor of the Tamiflu) soared after Defense Secretary Rumsfeld ordered $1 billion worth for his soldiers against an earlier questionable flu scare.

    The Tekmira website adds:

    “Tekmira has joined an International Consortium led by the WHO, to provide an RNAi based investigational therapeutic for expedited clinical studies in West Africa. The Consortium includes representatives from the International Severe Acute Respiratory and Emerging Infection Consortium (ISARIC), at the University of Oxford, UK, the US Centers for Disease Control, Médecins Sans Frontières – Doctors without Borders (MSF), and Fondation Mérieux, among others”.

    One man’s scam is another man’s cause grande!

  25. Ian

    Ah, if only we could rely on Shorten to operate on behalf of the Australian people instead of the US military/industrial complex and the fundamentalist ideological-bound Libs there would be a glimmer of hope that this nightmare might eventually end. Alas this is not to be and too many of the voters can’t seem to understand that Labor is no longer there party so nothing is likely to change for a very long time.

    And what about the party of the farmers, the Nats. Can they not see that their constituency will not benefit by the loss of our democracy either.

  26. AR

    I think Bohemian has picked it – the rush is for the TPP requirements for foreign corporations to oppose domestic laws.
    Copy right, plain packaging,environmental standards – what do they have in common?
    Threat to profit$. QED.


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