National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014

Even the authors of the Parliamentary Library Bills Digests report on the NSLA Bill aren’t comfortable.

The lack of independent scrutiny and time for Members and Senators to consider the complexities of the Bill is concerning. It is particularly so in light of Recommendation 41 in the 2013 PJCIS Report. The PJCIS recommended that amendments implementing its recommended changes to AIC legislation be released as an Exposure Draft for public consultation as well as being subject to Parliamentary committee scrutiny and targeted consultation with the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor (INSLM) and the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS).

They’re not alone. Here’s the bottom line from the Law Council of Australia:

These concerns have led the Law Council to recommend that the NSLA Bill not be passed in its current form and that the PJCIS should request the next appointed Independent National Security Legislation Monitor (INSLM) to consider the operation, effectiveness and implications of existing legislation with a view to addressing the issues which are raised by the Bill. While the previous INSLM has considered a few of the relevant issues (as noted below), most have not been subject to the INSLM’s consideration.  If this recommendation is not adopted, then the Law Council urges the PJCIS to carefully consider the following recommendations for changes to the Bill that are discussed in detail in this submission.

They, like most others concerned with this bill, are particularly unhappy with Section 35P which creates new offences related to the unauthorised disclosure of information relating to a Secret Intelligence Operation (SIO). It devotes almost five pages to its flaws and dangers, the most egregious of which is the near certainty that (as proposed) it would shut down whistleblowers and journalists when it comes to national security matters. Which, in this new century’s superheated atmosphere, potentially means pretty much everything a government might want to hide.

Gilbert + Tobin doubt the need for this section (35P) altogether:

Given this comprehensive array of existing offences, there is no demonstrable need to create a new ‘three tier structure’ for regulating the disclosure of classified information’.

So, once again we’re being chivvied into ceding more of our openness and liberties, the protection of which the government says is the principal reason for the legislation. Perhaps they even believe it. If so, however, with so many well-informed and conservative voices calling for restraint and careful consideration, what exactly is the rush?

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