Australia’s major political parties are combining to impose the largest mass surveillance scheme in Australian history on us — a scheme that by their own admission, security agencies are unable to provide any evidence will improve crime clearance rates or help fight terrorism.

While the report of the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security into the government’s data retention bill has yet to be released, there has been extensive media briefing ahead of it from within Labor that Labor will back the bill with some token amendments.

Even on the issue that Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has publicly flagged as of concern — the need to establish a tighter requirement when police want to obtain metadata to identify journalists’ sources, as the British are moving to do at the moment — the opposition has caved in to Tony Abbott’s increasingly hysterical rhetoric about terrorists and paedophiles.

Data retention is a direct threat to all Australians’ privacy. It is no threat to criminals or terrorists, who can easily evade data retention by using offshore-based communication services or the type of encryption and anonymisation services that mainstream Australians are increasingly embracing, having learned of the global-scale spying revealed by Edward Snowden. It will significantly increase the cost of internet usage, in effect imposing a surveillance tax on Australians, as well as costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

All for a scheme that no one — anywhere in the world — can show actually works.

The Coalition may have proposed mass surveillance, but it is Labor that will let it be established. This bill could have been defeated in the Senate if Labor had opposed it. They own this iniquitous, dangerous and irrational legislation every bit as much as the government. Labor’s true colours on the issue are those of a surveillance state.

Peter Fray

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