THURSDAY, 6 DECEMBER 2018
SUBJECT: National security
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good evening everybody.
Today we've seen perhaps the most irresponsible abandonment of national security lawmaking that I've seen in my time in Parliament. Today, because the Government and the Prime Minister didn't want to lose a vote about getting children off Nauru for medical treatment, they abandoned the national security laws of Australia, and as a result, abandoned their obligations to keeping Australians safer.
What's happened today, and I'll take a brief moment to explain because I think Australians are legitimately frustrated at the conduct of the Parliament, is this.
A majority of the Senate wanted to introduce a law which will ensure that sick children on Nauru have transparent decision making guided by their treating doctors. The Government didn't agree with this view, and if this law had passed the Senate, it would come back to the House of Representatives and be voted on, and the Government would lose this vote in the House of Representatives as well.
But unfortunately the Government had encryption laws which were scheduled to be debated after the legislation on children off Nauru. But because the encryption laws required 170 amendments, they were rushed, they had plenty of holes in them, plenty of opportunities for the hackers and other people to undo the import of the laws, the Government was required to amend those laws as well.
So we had a standoff where you had a government who didn't want to vote on laws which were to see children come off Nauru, but were going to lose that vote. So what they did is they talked out, well they filibustered in the Senate, they dragged it out, and then they made Parliament stop at five o'clock, and then went home. And of course once the House of Representatives goes home, these laws and the Senate couldn't be dealt with.
But unfortunately this traffic jam the Government created in the Senate to stop the children coming off Nauru, and being dealt with in the House of Reps, until they can stop at five o'clock and go home, meant that vital encryption laws, which the government said had to be passed today, couldn't get dealt with.
So the essential problem that we've confronted today is that because the Government went home at 5:00pm, they were willing to sacrifice dealing with national security laws which would see the security agencies able to bust through the encrypted message services and see what terrorists and criminals are doing. They thought that dealing with that law was less of a priority than not being embarrassed and losing a vote on getting children off Nauru. This is what has happened today.
So now it falls to Labor to contemplate how we handle the encryption laws which are stuck in the Senate. The Government said earlier this week these encryption laws were vital, had to be dealt with. A joint committee, or a committee made up of politicians from Liberal and Labor, reviewed the laws - and Mark can talk about it in a moment, these encryption laws - and they said there's a lot of problems with this, let's fix them, let's update them.
But unfortunately the Government, yet again in its rush, couldn't get these amendments right. So now Labor is put in the invidious position - do we win our argument Mr Morrison because they've rushed laws, because they've prioritised not doing their job, not getting the kids off Nauru, not dealing with encryption, or not staying after 5:00pm. They've done that now they've gone on to have beers or fly home or whatever they do. But there's vital encryption laws stuck in the Senate.
I will not sacrifice the safety of Australians merely because Mr Morrison doesn't have the courage to deal with issues in the House of Representatives.
So what we say to Mr Morrison and to the Government right now, is if you agree to do the amendments which you've already agreed, to the encryption laws, in the first week of next year, we will pass the encryption laws, unsatisfactory as they are, right now. Because we are not going to go home and leave the Australian people on their own over Christmas with inferior laws of national safety.
But I do think it is a tragedy that Mr Morrison is happy to go home, leave national security laws undone, leave kids on Nauru, merely because he didn't want to lose a vote in the House of Representatives.
This wouldn't have brought the Government down, getting kids off Nauru. This wouldn't have brought the Government down if we amended the encryption laws and fixed them up as they themselves have agreed needs to be done. But I will not go home until we fix up the laws and keep Australians safe. So I invite the Government to restore a little bit of the public confidence in the Parliament.
I think it is shameful they wouldn't deal with the laws which would prioritise the views of treating medical experts to get kids off Nauru when they're sick. I think it is a terrible shame that they wouldn't amend the laws to make the national encryption proposals even better and more efficient. But I couldn't go home and leave Australians over Christmas without some of the protections which we all agree are necessary.
I'd like my spokesperson for the Attorney-General to talk further about the amendments, but we want to resolve this, and the Australian people, and someone has got to act like - to be honest - the grownup in the room. We're ready for that.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks very much Bill. The Government brought an inadequate and poorly drafted bill to the Parliament back at the end of September. They referred it to the Intelligence Committee and the Committee started, rightly, on what looked to be a pretty substantial inquiry. It's a very big bill, 175 pages long, amends 10 Acts of Parliament, has five schedules.
Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Home Affairs decided to demand that the Committee accelerate its inquiry and the Committee did just that. It held some urgent hearings at the start of this sitting fortnight, started to deliberate and happily, by the end of yesterday, had reached agreement and the report - a unanimous report of Labor and government members of the Committee - was tabled in the House of Representatives.
Extraordinarily, despite the effort that was made by both government and Labor members, all of whom were congratulated by the Chair of the Committee, Mr Hastie, when he tabled the report last night - despite all of those efforts, despite the detailed recommendations that were made by the committee to fix up this poorly drafted and inadequate bill, the Government provided amendments to the House of Representatives this morning, provided them to Labor early this morning, still were providing amendments through the course of the morning, and it became apparent that the Government had brought in amendments - 173 of them - to the House of Representatives which did not conform with the recommendations of the Committee.
We told the Government this. I told the Government this on the floor of the House of Representatives. But despite this, the Government decided to shut down Parliament, despite us saying we would need to move amendments to make sure that the bill conformed to the agreement struck between the Government and Labor.
The Government wasn't interested. It's packed up the House of Representatives and gone home. And that's why Bill has outlined the offer that we're prepared to make. We think it's too important. We think that the bill does need to go forward but we offer to let it go forward without the amendments that are needed, without the amendments that are required to make it conform to the agreement reached between the Government and Labor, provided the Government agrees next - at the very next sitting day of the Parliament to pass the amendments that we say are needed.
In particular - and I'm not going to go into the detail of the amendments, there's several of them but there's a very, very important one - one of the conditions of the agreement struck in the Committee, the agreement struck between the Government and Labor, was that the Committee inquiry, which is a lengthy inquiry and detailed inquiry, continue, the Government left out of the amendments that they brought into the House today.
We would insist that the Government create – there’s another mechanism that it can be done by, a reference from the Senate to the Intelligence Committee, so that the inquiry which very many Australians - hundreds of Australians, Australian small and medium sized businesses and large companies and global tech companies, all of whom had been participating in that inquiry - can continue with their input and the very best outcome for Australian security can be reached.
SHORTEN: Thanks, Mark. Are there any questions?
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, it is true isn't it that you've backed down here because you are - you're scared that the Government will mount a compelling case that you're weak on national security?
SHORTEN: No, rubbish. I'll tell you what I am doing. I'm not prepared to go home when I know we can pass laws which make Australians safer.
This is an important point and I'll come to you next, James.
What's happened - and I think it's incumbent for it to be explained clearly and calmly - is that the legislation which would have helped kids off Nauru, had to be dealt with first before the security laws. The Government ran down the clock in the Senate so it didn't have to get the kids off Nauru and the legislation. But the problem is they were willing to sacrifice, therefore, the encryption laws which they know have to be amended.
The Government agreed that their rushed encryption laws had to be improved. They agreed in a Committee dominated by Liberal MPs - more Liberal MPs than Labor on it - unanimously agreed the encryption laws need to be improved. But because the other laws - getting the kids off Nauru - had to be dealt with first, they deliberately sabotaged the Parliament and went home rather than sit past 5 o'clock, which they've done on many occasions.
So they were willing to play chicken with national security laws. What I'm not prepared to do is go home when I know that if the Government agree to our amendments - amendments they've already agreed to by the way. Let's just make Australians safe over Christmas. I'm not willing to go home and see a terror event happen, which we're told is less likely than more likely, but I'm not going to have on my conscience Mr Morrison's hostage-taking tactics where he cancels his own work, they go home, and then we just leave Australians swinging in the breeze. That's not who I am.
James is next, James is next, James is next.
JOURNALIST: Just have to clarify, you have to - you have agreement in principle or in -
SHORTEN: No, we're offering it.
JOURNALIST: No, no - with the Government over these amendments. You don't think these amendments are contentious?
SHORTEN: They did a report with us -
JOURNALIST: Yeah, I agree. But the leadership has accepted that?
SHORTEN: Wait a sec - I'm answering your first question. The Government, when you get a new set of laws on security or anything else, a Committee of parliamentarians from both sides, where the Government always has the numbers, review the proposal. Unanimously, the six Liberals and the five Labor agree that we need to make these amendments. But the problem is – and I know the process is annoying and you don't want to hear about that, you want to talk about winners and losers -
JOURNALIST: No, no. I don't.
SHORTEN: What I'm saying to you here is that the Government and us agree that they couldn't get them done. But what they did do is rather than hang around and get it right - the amendments they've agreed to - they shut down the House of Representatives because the earlier bill would have meant that they were going to be embarrassed.
JOURNALIST: But leaving that point aside and I accept what you’re saying –
SHORTEN: So we have agreement.
JOURNALIST: I know you had agreement in the Committee. Has the Attorney-General and the Prime Minister conveyed the fact that they would accept the Committee’s unanimous report? And secondly, how have you conveyed this offer tonight to the Government?
SHORTEN: I’ll get Mark to answer your first question. But we’re conveying it right now.
JOURNALIST: So you hadn’t spoken to them –
SHORTEN: Well, I have to say the Government did a deal with us to amend in the manner in which we are speaking, but because they didn’t want to deal with kids off Nauru first, they went home. I mean if they go home, they can’t pass the law, that goes without saying. So they sabotaged dealing with the encryption laws, which they had agreed to because they were embarrassed about losing the vote of the kids off Nauru.
So what I’m saying tonight is, I don’t want to go another two months, three months, til the Government come back to work and leave Australians at the risk of being exposed to security threats. So if the Government agree tonight, and we are telling them through you and the people of Australia, that if they agree to keep their word on the amendments we will pass the encryption legislation, inadequate as it is, so that at least we give our security agencies some of the tools they say they need. It’s all about putting the people first. But the basis is they’ve got to honour their deal at some point.
JOURNALIST: How can you demand that they give you your amendments next year when you’re now just giving away all your leverage by saying you’re going to wave it through tonight?
SHORTEN: Because I’m not prepared to leave Australians at risk. And they’ve agreed. And you know what, if they come back next year and don’t do what they’ve promised to do, we’ll hold them to account. But what I’m not prepared to do is go home when we should be working here.
The reason why this whole snafu has occurred is because the Government didn’t want to lose a vote about taking kids off Nauru, and you all know that’s right. Every one of you here knows that’s right. But because they didn’t want to deal with that issue, they’ve jeopardised the safety of Australians. What I’m going to do is say, alright, get your law through in the inadequate form it is, so long as you agree to keep your word in the first week when Parliament resumes. The real shame is that they are not here now doing the day job that Parliamentarians are expected to do.
JOURNALIST: So are you going to get that in writing that they will agree to those further amendments? And secondly – or you know what’s the sort of agreement from the Government? And also, how is it responsible to pass a bill that you think is inadequate and you’ve got backbenchers saying they don’t even agree to your deal. What’s your response to that?
SHORTEN: You couldn’t have that latter part because I’ve just told you. In terms of what’s responsible, in a beauty parade, there aren’t a lot of good options because the Government went home. Not a lot of good options. We all know that the Government went home and didn’t deal with national security laws because they didn’t want to deal with kids off Nauru. That’s what’s happened. So then the ball is in our court.
Do I go home and say I hope nothing happens, and I hope that the Government’s politics don’t backfire on the safety of Australians? I’m not prepared to do it. So if Morrison wants to get up and say he’s some sort of fantastic guy, do you know what, whatever. But I’ve got to live with myself long after I live with what this Government does. And in good conscience, I’m not going to go home when I know we can make Australians safer.
The Government must honour what they said unanimously in the Committee with their amendments. We’re just giving the Government, because they got themselves in such a political conundrum, where they wanted to not lose the vote in the House of Reps of five kids on Nauru, you know, that’s a terrible mistake, but what we intend to do is the right thing by the people of Australia.
JOURNALIST: Haven’t you played this as badly as you possibly could, you’ve delivered the Government a victory on its encryption bill and it didn’t even have to face the vote on Nauru that you insisted it would lose?
SHORTEN: Don’t take this the wrong way, but that’s perhaps the difference between you and me. This is not a game. What I don’t like is that the Government went home. I can’t make the Government turn up and do their day job. They’ve shut down the Parliament before. I think it’s to the everlasting shame of the Government that in previous years they could work past 5 o’clock. This nation is run by a government who don’t like working past 5 o’clock when they’re too scared to turn up in Parliament.
The Members of Parliament in the House of Reps are democratically elected. This government didn’t want to hear what the House of Reps members were to do. But Michael, merely because these people have done the wrong thing on getting kids off Nauru, do I therefore say that we increase or keep a level of risk about the safety of Australians?
JOURNALIST: But on Michael’s point, haven’t you just, like, the Government’s called your bluff, that you will remain bipartisan on national security and you’re going to pass this bill through –
SHORTEN: You use words like games and bluff, this is –
JOURNALIST: That’s what they did.
SHORTEN: No, what they did was they behaved far worse than that. If the Government say they were playing some game, that’s foolish.
Let’s go back to the encryption legislation. The facts matter. Mr Morrison said on November 22, “this is the most important piece of legislation that we can deal with”. But then he deliberately sabotaged dealing with it by going home because he didn’t want to lose a vote on another law.
What I’m not prepared to do is I’m not going to play Mr Morrison’s tactics. He looks at the angle, I look at the outcome. I want to make sure this Christmas, that I’ve done everything I can to keep Australians safe. That’s what matters to me, not the argy-bargy here. But I do also expect Mr Morrison to keep the deal which they’ve said, and amend the laws in the manners in which we’ve said. But I’m prepared to wait three months rather than have Australians without the umbrella of these laws.
DREYFUS: If I could just add something to your question. The Government has knowingly passed up the opportunity to have this legislation strong and as well drafted as it could be. And I say that because we’ve made it clear to the Government, this morning, that the amendments that they were bringing to the House and insisting be passed, where of course they have the numbers in the House, on this matter, were not in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee.
We've also made it clear for weeks now, that this was an inadequately drafted bill with lots of problems, and that's why the inquiry had to continue, and the Government reneged on that too. That's why we're asking of the Government, its commitment to pass amendments that when we come back, in February, that conform with the recommendations of the Committee and agree that the inquiry will continue. Because the purpose of this inquiry which is, as far as I'm concerned, only halfway through its work and has not reported in detail on all of the evidence that we’ve received, the purpose of this inquiry is to get this legislation right.
I’ll give you just one example which is the systemic weakness problem. This government brought a Bill to the parliament into its original form which did not have a definition of systemic weakness.
The reason why that's important is because that's part of the provision that ensures that no back doors are going to be created using the processes in the new powers that are in this bill. The Committee agreed, that’s the Government members and Labor members agreed, that there should be a definition of systemic weakness, and gave some indications in the recommendation as to what that definition should look like. The amendments that the Government has brought into the House today, which have now passed the House, still require work. We told the Government that, we told the Government that yesterday and they have chosen to bring to the Senate an inadequate bill.
But it is still tremendously better than the form in which it was originally produced by the Government - hold on - and we're prepared to let it go forward on that basis, knowing that there's more work to be done, knowing that the Government hasn't got the amendments right. We're requiring of the Government that it agree and stick to the agreement that it made yesterday.
JOURNALIST: And if they reject the, your offer tonight what will you do?
SHORTEN: We will maintain the course of action we’ve said. If this government won't even agree to improve the law - if this government won't seek to improve the laws they've agreed to do, we will continue to seek to improve the law. The reality is encryption and breaking through it, so our security agencies can make sure they've got digital eyes on terrorists and other criminals is important. The Government made such a botch and such a rush of the law that both Liberal and Labor MPs had to agree unanimously to improve it. The problem is because they didn't want to deal with the Nauru issue first, the poor old encryption laws, which they said were crucial, they were just a bargaining chip to keep the kids on Nauru.
But now they've risen. I wish they hadn't risen. You've all been around Parliament. You know the Parliament can sit past 5 o'clock. We have a government who is prepared to take the Australian people in their safety hostage over the summer. They were prepared to go home and not lose a vote on Nauru and sacrifice the improvement in national security. I'm a different person.
Someone asked earlier is it a game or is it a bluff, I don’t bluff about the safety of Australians. I don’t play a game with the safety of Australians. This government went home and stopped doing their job. I won’t.
JOURNALIST: Why don't you insist that the House comes back and you just deal with this legislation tomorrow or early next week?
SHORTEN: Well we should.
JOURNALIST: Well why not make that the ultimatum?
SHORTEN: Well sorry, I don’t where you've been today. This government – they don’t like it. We said that they should sit for more than 10 days in the next eight months. They're not doing that. They are the ones who've gone home at 5 o'clock. I can't wait til this government decides to find a work ethic to make sure that we do what we've got to do.
So this is a neat solution. We get the agreed amendments which they should have done but haven't done. So we're willing to wait a couple of months to get that and keep Australians safe. This is the only sensible option, now if the Government says no to this, well, I don’t know what they’re doing.
JOURNALIST: You said earlier that if the Nauru deal was, if the Government was defeated in the House of Reps, that wouldn't have brought down the Government. Are you really saying the first government in 80 years to lose a vote in the House of Reps on a piece of legislation, you wouldn’t suggest that that's grounds for an election?
SHORTEN: No, because it's not a supply or confidence bill. It's not going to the ability of the Government to spend money. Whilst it would be a very serious matter, it's not as serious as its ability to, you know, the daily expenditure of government. So it wasn't in that league. A number of the crossbenchers who support Labor's position, and we work with them about kids off Nauru, had said that this wouldn't bring down the Government. We all know that this government has a very large level of pride. And for whatever reason they felt that stopping these, this legislation of kids off Nauru, is more important than passing agreed legislation on national security.
JOURNALIST: So if you don't get a guarantee from the Government tonight you will still pass the laws, as in agreeing to -
SHORTEN: We’ll make our amendments.
JOURNALIST: You’ll still pass it?
SHORTEN: No we'll make our amendments, which they've agreed to, and it will be stuck in, stuck in the Senate. I'm willing to meet the Government to resolve the matter and this is the offer we make.
But I think the best thing the Government could do is just come back to work. But I don't think any of you think they're likely to do that. Absent that option, I’m about trying to make sure that we get a workable system.
What we're proposing makes sense. They get what they want, we get what we want in February, Australians are safer. The real shame though, and nothing I can do tonight in any set of outcomes or permutations, it means that the legislation with these kids to Nauru can’t happen, but that's just shameful conduct by the Government. What is it about these kids on the Nauru that scares the Government so much, They just go home and stop working?
JOURNALIST: Jacinta Collins has just announced that you are withdrawing the amendments in the Senate, so you're doing that without getting that promise from the Government?
SHORTEN: Michael I’ve made clear what we're doing. We are determined to keep Australians safe. I mean really you've got to ask yourself why wouldn't the Government agree with what we're doing? They've agreed with our amendments. The problem is, because of the way they've botched the amendments, because they decided to keep the kids on Nauru, they can't deal with the improved espionage legislation.
So what they have to do is get theirs through and agree to ours in February. It is a solution. What I really regret though, is that the Government chose to go home. We could have passed the improved espionage and security laws in the House of Reps when it came back from the Senate. But of course they can't do that because they might have lost a vote on the floor of Parliament, which ultimately was just going to see some kids get medical treatment.