Question Time, Senate

2 December 2013

Subjects: National Security


Senator Fawcett: Can the Attorney-General update the Senate on reports of the public release of more classified information today on The Guardian website?

Senator Brandis: Thank you, Mr President. I thank Senator Fawcett for his question.

I am aware of reports published this morning by The Guardian Australia which make certain claims about the alleged activities of Australia’s intelligence organisations. Those claims are made on the basis of material placed in the public domain by the American traitor Edward Snowden.

I note that the document of which the report is based is unverified. I also note that the unverified document is described as a draft document, which contrary to all reports, does not report or record any activity by any Australian intelligence agency.

It is, as the honourable Senator knows, a long standing practice of successive Australian governments not to comment on intelligence matters.

Senator Fawcett: Mr President, a supplementary question. Can the Attorney-General explain the legal framework that our intelligence agencies operate under?

Senator Brandis: Thank you, Mr President.

Yes, indeed, Senator Fawcett, I can describe that framework.

As you are aware the Australian intelligence agencies operate under a strong framework of legislation, parliamentary, ministerial and executive oversight.

The legislative framework is provided for by the Intelligence Services Act and the ASIO Act. Those acts were reviewed in 2011 by the Independent Review of the Intelligence Community which reaffirmed that the legal framework is sound and enshrines an appropriate balance between our security and safeguards for our privacy.

The honourable Senator would also be aware that there is a strong framework of parliamentary oversight both through the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security and the Senate Select Committee on Defence and Foreign Affairs in particular.

As well there is ministerial oversight through the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security.

Senator Fawcett: Could the Attorney General please explain the purpose and the benefits of Australia’s intelligence activities?

Senator Brandis: Yes, indeed I can, Senator Fawcett.

The purpose of all of Australia’s intelligence activities and the operation of its intelligence agencies is to serve Australia’s national interests and protect Australian citizens.

And can I, by way of illustration, point out to the honourable Senator that Australian authorities have disrupted terrorist planning in Australia and thwarted a number of mass casualty attacks.

As a result of their activities, 23 people have been convicted of terrorism offences in Australia in the last four years.

Australia’s intelligence has also helped to prevent at least four attacks in South East Asia in the last decade and contributed to the arrest within South East Asia of over 20 terrorists.

The Government is confident, Mr President, that the Australian intelligence agencies act in accordance with the law and always to the service of the national interest.