Wednesday, 30 May 2018

AM Agenda – Sky News



Subjects: National Security Laws; Family Court Reform

KIERAN GILBERT: Now to this review into the nation's intelligence agencies and the sharing of intelligence between our security agencies. It's going to be conducted by the former Defence Secretary and former head of ASIO, Dennis Richardson. I caught up with the Attorney-General Christian Porter about that review.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The way I'd describe it globally is there are two moving parts to our security arrangements. One is the fact that the environment is dynamic. So we've had the Director-General of ASIO put to a (Parliamentary) Committee that we live in an age of unprecedented espionage and terrorism and foreign interference and influence, and that is a very dynamic environment. The second moving part is that we've introduced and passed ten tranches of legislation to change the way that agencies operate, how they're empowered, what offences they operate pursuant to. So when you've got two very large moving parts, the environment and the government's responses, both designed- the second designed to keep Australians safe, we considered and the Prime Minister considered that now is the time to have a top to tail review of all of the national intelligence community agencies, how they interact with domestic agencies like the AFP and others, and how the entire system interacts with the states and state police.


ATTORNEY-GENERAL: So everything, top to tail, resourcing, the adequacy of information sharing, cooperation and coordination; the way in which the entire system is oversighted and where integrity exists and how that is oversighted.

KIERAN GILBERT: It's going to be a tough ask for Dennis Richardson, the former ASIO chief. But in terms of laws that were drafted originally in the 70s then updated in the 1990s, you're talking about now dealing within an era of massive data flows and terrorists, criminals using encrypted technology. That's all obviously got to be factored in as well.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: A completely changed and dynamic-threat environment, a completely changed and dynamic-technological environment. We've moved very rapidly as a government to update all of our agencies and their powers and legislation to that environment.

So this overarching review will allow us to see if there are any areas that require improvement in any part of the system. And just one example that has been raised to me in recent times is information sharing has to be done cautiously and according to appropriate rules and privacy standards, but there's questions surrounding when information gathered in an intelligence environment or context might be able and could be able to be shared appropriately with a frontline police officer who is about to attend to a suspect that we know on the other hand might be armed. And those are very real questions: how you might share intelligence garnered in an intelligence environment in a child protection context for the best interests of families and children.

KIERAN GILBERT:Yeah. Well, I think a lot of people would assume that this sharing would already take place as a matter of course, but…

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well some does. But the question is how the boundaries of that work and how they might be improved.

KIERAN GILBERT: Like Customs, for example, collecting data for one purpose, would they be able to; are you going to ask whether they are then able to share in real time with other agencies that would not necessarily be entitled to that information?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yes, and these are the types of questions and issues that Dennis Richardson - and no one is better qualified than he to undertake this sort of review - will be looking at. And one of the central questions has been with respect to an agency like AUSTRAC, which is a domestic agency, but gathers an enormous amount of intelligence about matters that pertain to issues of money laundering, which is one of the great facilitating practices of espionage, of terrorism, of foreign interference and influence. So, as a Government we have an absolute priority of keeping Australians safe. We've undertaken massive change in the legislative environment in response to massive change in the threat environment and here is an opportunity to take stock, review and understand how all of that is operating as a whole.

KIERAN GILBERT: And the mixing, I guess, between the traditional covert surveillance for intelligence with what is known as mass data, you know, trade numbers and tourism numbers, those sorts of things, to connect more dots basically, because at the moment there are restrictions in terms of how much all of that can be can be mixed together.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Of course, and there'll always be appropriate restrictions and anything that is done in this space of information sharing needs to be done very cautiously and keeping in mind appropriate rules and procedures around privacy. However, as I say, there are issues that arise, which really haven't arisen before.  And we need to answer those in a way that prioritises keeping Australians safe but in an appropriate fashion.

KIERAN GILBERT: Indeed. Let's turn focus now to the Family Courts. When you read about some of the delays that people have to experience in an already very difficult time for families, thousands of them across the country, it's extraordinary how many years often people have to wait before they're before a court.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Far too long. So each year, 22,000 matters are listed for what's known as a final order in our Family Court system and a backlog has developed…

KIERAN GILBERT: Final order basically to be before a judge, yeah?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yeah, to be resolved either a trial or in interlocutory ways, but to have the matter finally dealt with. So, a divorce can happen and a property can be separated and…

KIERAN GILBERT: Sometimes five years.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yeah, in extreme cases, absolutely and there's a large backlog. But most concerning of all is that for just families who want their matters resolved, the waiting time for resolution has grown by months and months and months. And what this reform is designed to do is take a complicated system that has two courts dealing with family law matters, where people in the system are bounced around like family law footballs from court to court, and to give you an example of that inefficiency; 22,000 listings for final order, last year 1200, so that's thousands of Australians, were moved from one court to the other. And depending on what court they went to and from they might wait for 11 months to be transferred out of one court into the next and they have to start again in the new court with new forms, new rules, new procedures. So this is one single court. Simplified processes, procedures, forms and practice management. It'll mean less time to resolution, less on legal fees and ensure that these families are not having the agony, which is often the case of separation and divorce prolonged by too long in court.

KIERAN GILBERT: We're hearing there are already going to be some constitutional challenges by those, by judges. The lawyers concerned blame the government for not replacing judges quickly enough upon retirement.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well I can say, and people will make their own judgment with all the data that we're putting out around these reforms, but the problem here is not a lack of judges per se. The problem is trying to ensure that we are making the absolute most efficient use of these very highly skilled and trained individuals who are judges inside the court system. And what we have done here is allocate $4 million to the process of structural reform to ensure that we're making the most of the resources that we have, which are very considerable, and we believe that we can and the goal is to move about 8000 more matters through the system per year when these reforms…

KIERAN GILBERT: With a constitutional challenge, though, are you confident that this will stack up?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Very confident. And look, there could have been more radical ways to do this, but we've done it in a way that we have received clear legal advice indicating that it's clearly constitutional. So we considered that whilst there might be some judges whose work complexion and mix will change a bit, literally a dozen or so, there are thousands, tens of thousands of Australian families, who will benefit from structural reform; one court, one simple process, less time less in court, less time in legal fees.

KIERAN GILBERT: And hopefully give those people some certainty after you know, it's often a very tough time for them, isn't it?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It's a terribly tough time and the worst thing that you can then encounter is a system that prolongs that terrible time in your life.

KIERAN GILBERT: The Attorney-General Christian Porter, speaking to me earlier this morning.