Budget 2015: Government's data retention bill tops $150 million

Includes additional funding for the Commonwealth Ombudsman to provide oversight of regime

The government is sinking $153.8 million over four years into its data retention scheme.

Earlier this week the government revealed that it would set aside $131.3 million over three years to help telcos with the capital costs of complying with the new data retention regime. The level funding was criticised for falling short of the estimate contained in a government-commissioned report of $188.8 million to $319.1 million to establish the scheme.

In addition, $10.6 million over four years is allocated in last night's budget for "various agencies to provide technical guidance to the telecommunications industry, undertake risk and technical assessments and support the development of standards and specifications for data retention systems".

Last night's budget also included $6.7 million over four years for the Commonwealth Ombudsman to monitor the scheme. In a submission to the parliamentary inquiry into data retention, the Ombudsman, Colin Neave, said that a proposal that his office provide oversight to the scheme would "significantly increase our workload in inspecting agencies' use of covert and intrusive powers".

"As with other government agencies, during the past three years my office has experienced a noticeable reduction in staff, by approximately 20 per cent. However I am concerned that this reduction has coincided with my office being prescribed additional statutory oversight functions without funding...

"If my office continues to be prescribed statutory oversight functions without funding, this will reduce the level of assurance we can provide in overseeing covert and intrusive powers, as well as impacting on my office's ability to discharge its statutory responsibilities and investigative matters of administration regarding Commonwealth agencies."

The report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security on the government's data retention legislation said: "The Committee has significant concerns however about the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s statements about the lack of resources available to his office to fulfil this oversight function. The Committee agrees with the Ombudsman that, without appropriate resources, the level of assurance that can be provided by the Ombudsman’s office will be reduced."

The PJCIS recommended that the government "ensure that the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman is provided with additional financial resources to undertake its enhanced oversight responsibilities".

The government's response to the recommendation was that it "supports the provision of sufficient funding to the Ombudsman to ensure it can undertake its enhanced oversight responsibilities."

Read more: Budget 2015: Government to save with ERP consolidation

"Funding for the Ombudsman will be considered through the Budget process," a statement issued by the Attorney-General's Department said.

The budget also allocates $4.2 million over four years for the Privacy Commissioner to offer oversight of the data retention regime and the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Act 2014 and $1 million over four years for the Australian Communications Media Authority (ACMA) "to undertake enforcement action to ensure telecommunications service providers comply with data retention obligations".

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, which the government revealed in the last budget it intended to abolish, received $1.7 million of "transitional funding" for 2015-16.

Join the Computerworld newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Budget 2015data retentiondata retention plan

More about Attorney-GeneralCommonwealth OmbudsmanOffice of the Commonwealth Ombudsman

Show Comments