Interview with Patricia Karvelas – ABC RN Drive – 27 February 2015



SUBJECT/S: Report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security

PATRICIA KARVELAS: A Parliamentary Committee has recommended the Abbott Government’s metadata laws pass, but with some changes to strengthen oversight. The Joint Intelligence and Security Committee looked into the Government’s plan to force telecommunications companies to keep phone and internet records for two years. The bi-partisan report has today made 38 recommendations to improve oversight and safeguards. Joining me now to discuss Labor’s response is Shadow Communications Minister, Jason Clare. Welcome to RN Drive.


KARVELAS: The Greens say you’ve sold out. Why have you backed down?

CLARE: I don’t think that is right. In areas of National Security I think it’s important for the two major parties to work in a bi-partisan way and that’s what this Committee has done in the past and that’s what this Committee has tried to do here. But it doesn’t mean that you just accept what the Government says or what the Government wants.

We thought that the bill that Malcolm Turnbull introduced into the Parliament was not good enough and that’s why we made about 39 recommendations to improve this Bill.

The second point I would make is this – it doesn’t mean that we agree with everything that Government members on the Committee propose.

There is an area where we are still in disagreement and that’s in the area of how this legislation should treat access to the telecommunications data of journalists.

KARVELAS: The Australian Securities and Investments Commission and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission were both originally not going to have access under the law, which will force telecommunications providers to store the metadata for two years, but the regulators will now join with other crime fighting bodies, including the AFP to get access to that. Why did you back down on that?

CLARE: We actually asked for this. In the legislation at the moment they’ve got state police and federal police but not the agencies that fight white collar crime and we thought that if they’ve got state and federal police being given these powers then the organisations that fight white collar crime should have these powers as well.

What we argued for and got was a recommendation that it shouldn’t be George Brandis the Attorney General who decides which organisations have access to these powers it should be the Australian Parliament –

KARVELAS: But Labor argued to make law enforcement bodies seek warrants for data, but this was rejected and now that’s not proposed in the Committees final report. That is the element you’ve given up on, isn’t it?

CLARE: No we didn’t make that argument. The evidence that was put to us generally on warrants was that there are about half a million applications to use metadata by law enforcement agencies every year and that it would be impossible to have to go to court and apply for a warrant for every single one of them.

What we did argue, what we continue to argue, is that in the case of journalists, if law enforcement agencies want to get access to their metadata to determine their sources or their journalistic information then in principle we think that a higher standard should apply and that they should have to go to a court or a tribunal and seek a warrant.

KARVELAS: The report says telecommunications companies and internet service providers should charge individuals to access their own metadata retained under the Government’s scheme. Why do you think that’s appropriate?

CLARE: At the moment individual can’t even get access to their metadata, they don’t have the right. You don’t have the right at the moment to ring up Telstra or Optus and get your metadata, get your telecommunications data, other than the statements that they send to you. We thought that, if you are setting up a legislative regime to retain data then one of the rights people should have is access to their data.

Now when the police or other law enforcement agencies ask for this data from Telstra or Optus or Vodafone or other organisations then they are charged a fee to extract that data and give it to them. What we thought was important is that people should have the same right to their own data. If law enforcement agencies can get your data than so should you.

KARVELAS: But of course there is going to be a price on it so a lot of people won’t be able to afford it.

CLARE: Well it’s what they sometimes call a ‘no win, no loss’ – they are only allowed to charge the cost of extracting that data and providing it to you.

KARVELAS: Internet service providers say the $400 million plan could lead to higher prices for customers. Who should bear the cost?

CLARE: What we recommended in this report is that the Government should bear a substantial proportion of this cost.

KARVELAS: Why not all of it?

CLARE: I accept the argument that if Government covered all of the cost, in other words if tax payers covered all of the cost, then Telco’s might gold-plate their systems. So there needs to be an incentive for Telco’s to set in place the right systems and not overcharge. But you are right to say that either way people pay, whether it’s through our tax dollars or through our contracts with telecommunications companies.

The other point I’d make Patricia is, that this is a capital cost. It is not an ongoing cost. This is a cost to set up the system and the servers that will be needed to hold this data.

KARVELAS: Jason Clare how much of this is about politics? National Security is something that Labor does not want to be having an argument with the Government about. How much is your new found support for some of these measures about trying to make sure that you don’t show any difference between yourselves and the Government on this issue?

CLARE: I do think that in the areas of national security they do need to be above politics. The two major political parties need to work hard not to make this political. People expect us to work cooperatively and maturely together. But in areas where you don’t agree, you shouldn’t compromise your values. We think that this legislation is going to improve oversight that doesn’t exist at the moment and that’s why we are supporting it.

KARVELAS: Do you think you have brought the community with you Jason Clare? There is a lot of opposition to these data retention laws.

CLARE: I am not under any illusion about how controversial or contentious it is. No one likes the idea of big brother looking over your shoulder, especially if you’ve done nothing wrong but what I’d say to people that are legitimately concerned about this is that this is happening right now.

Telco’s are holding data right now. Law enforcement agencies are making half a million applications for this data right now and there is no oversight at the moment, very little oversight and very few rules around it.

If the Government accepts the 39 recommendations that we’ve put forward here then it will substantially increase the oversight of this scheme, to make sure that people use it properly and if they misuse it that it’s brought to the attention of the Commonwealth Ombudsman and the Australian Parliamentary Committee that will oversight this.

KARVELAS: Thank you so much for joining me on RN Drive Jason Clare.

CLARE: Thanks very much Patricia.