Friday, December 4, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Surveillance grates
The government’s response to the Richardson review needs close scrutiny

Attorney-General Christian Porter. Image via Facebook

Attorney-General Christian Porter has finally released a declassified version of the “Comprehensive Review of the Legal Framework of the National Intelligence Community” by Dennis Richardson AC, the former head of defence, foreign affairs and ASIO. It is billed as the most substantial review of intelligence law since the Hope royal commissions in the 1970s and ’80s. Coming in at 1300 pages, and produced by 20 staff working over 18 months at a cost of $18 million, the declassified review is clearly a substantial piece of work. It makes 190 recommendations, and all but four of them have been accepted by the government. For all those recommendations, however, the messages that Porter was keen to put across in his press conference today were that the key principles underpinning Australia’s intelligence laws are sound, the legislative framework is complicated but fit for purpose, and our intelligence community operates with the highest degree of professionalism and has “a very strong commitment and track record from exercising all of their powers and their operations and their functions inside the proper limits of the relevant governing law”. As Porter summed it up: “What the Richardson report demonstrates is that there is not a need for sweeping or revolutionary change to the system, [but] that there are some areas where there needs to be change.” So, the intended takeout message this Friday afternoon is that all’s well in the surveillance state bar a few minor technical tweaks – hundreds of pages of them – and we can trust the government and go back to sleep. As if!

The review notes that from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, until August 2019, Australia’s parliament passed more than 124 acts amending the legislative framework for the National Intelligence Community. A key lesson of the last two decades of increasing encroachment of national security­–inspired laws – those that intrude on our privacy, curtail free speech and freedom of the press, undermine protections for whistleblowers and enable the surveillance of activists and other thorns in the side of government – is that the devil is in the detail. It will be extremely important, therefore, to closely scrutinise all 186 of the public recommendations that the review has made, and which the government has accepted. It is also important to test the review’s reasons for withholding details of 13 additional recommendations that have not been made public. In a joint statement Labor’s shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus and shadow home affairs minister Kristina Keneally said they would consider the detail of the Richardson review, while giving Porter a backhander about the time taken to release it, since it was handed to the government a year ago.

In this excellent summary, The Mandarin notes Richardson’s observation that some of the recommendations in the review would be controversial. Almost a third of them concern the creation of a new Electronic Surveillance Act, to replace and streamline laws including the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act and Surveillance Devices Act, which have grown too complex and been outpaced by technological developments. Richardson’s review describes the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act as a “dog’s breakfast”. Today, Porter said that creating a new Electronic Surveillance Act “in itself would be perhaps the biggest national security legislative project in recent history, and it would require the repeal and rewriting of nearly 1000 pages of the existing law on warrants, interception and telecommunications”. 

Is the Opposition up to the thankless task of scrutinising and challenging the government’s legislative response to this important review? Not today, it seems, with Labor’s focus once again turning inward amid increasing speculation about the fate of the party under Anthony Albanese. Dreyfus is now touted as a candidate, running on a ticket with Linda Burney, joining other frontrunners Jim Chalmers, Richard Marles, Chris Bowen and Tanya Plibersek. No one is tipping an imminent challenge, but there’s still a week to go. 

“The national parliament should be proud of both flags and prepared to fly and display them prominently around the precinct … I think it is important that we avoid the practice of NAIDOC 2020 where both Indigenous flags were outside the House of Representatives but not the Senate.”

NSW Liberal senator Andrew Bragg, in a letter to Senate president Scott Ryan, calls for the Aboriginal flag to be on permanent display inside Parliament House.

“What is clear is that this strike has been driven by some proxy advisors. I would remind them that remuneration is meant to reward performance and align management and shareholder interests.”

Billionaire retailer Solomon Lew lashes proxy advisers and shareholders after his company Premier Investments was hit with a rare protest vote over the company’s decision to issue dividends and executive bonuses while receiving JobKeeper payments.

Scott Morrison feeds the trolls
The growing diplomatic dispute between China and Australia took an ugly turn this week, after a Chinese government official posted an incendiary tweet. Today, Paul Bongiorno on the realities of dominant China, and whether Scott Morrison can navigate Australia through a period of growing tension.

The rise in mentions this week of Scott Morrison’s “comeback” slogan, launched in a campaign costing taxpayers $15 million, appearing in more than 50 references in Question Time and 477 references in media articles.

“Special Purpose Aircraft may be used for travel within Australia by the prime minister and the minister for defence. Other persons may be invited to travel in the aircraft with the minister. The dominant purpose of the travel must be for parliamentary business. The expense must represent value for money (taking into account the parliamentary business).”

A statement of the rules under which the PM may use one of six RAAF “special purpose” private jets, which do not include Christmas parties held by a certain media mogul.

The list

“Where’s the coronavirus? A shamelessly derivative summer puzzle!”

“The Mungo I met in Canberra in the early 1970s was all arms and legs and wispy beard, with a drink and a cigarette at a well-exercised elbow whenever possible, and always quick to laugh. Whether at lunch or in the office, or commenting for radio or television, or in the non-members bar, when he wasn’t drily poking fun at one hapless target or another, he would enter discussions with the sense that he was dispensing the last word on the subject, and a look that defied you to disagree.”

“The unsaid is, of course, the most compelling thing about the British royal family. The Crown tests whether the said can be equally compelling. To this end, season four of the Netflix series gives us a backstage pass to the family behind The Firm. We eavesdrop on marital arguments between Princess Diana and Prince Charles, trail the family’s hunting trips in Balmoral, crack open the door on Diana’s bingeing and purging and cook dinner with Margaret Thatcher.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.


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