Government knocks back Labor compromise on encryption bill

Government will attempt to push bill through parliament next week

The government has rejected a proposal by Labor to pass an “interim version” of a controversial bill designed to strengthen the ability of police and intelligence agencies to access encrypted communications services.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus today wrote to Attorney-General Christian Porter revealing that the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security had found itself unable to reach bipartisan agreement on a report from its inquiry into the bill.

The PJCIS has in the past reached agreement on national security-related legislation, such as the data retention scheme, and collectively backed a range of amendments to government bills.

Dreyfus said that Labor would support a version of the bill “to give agencies the powers they said were necessary now, on an interim basis while the committee continued its scrutiny of the Access Bill.”

The shadow attorney-general noted that the government had put “extraordinary pressure” on the PJCIS to “cut its scrutiny of the bill short”.

The letter said that the PJCIS had heard “powerful testimony” that the bill could weaken national security and see some companies move their operations offshore, and that it lacked “adequate safeguards to balance against the increase in intrusive powers”.

Dreyfus earlier this week raised the possibility of the PJCIS issuing an interim report that would endorse conferring the powers outlined in the bill on agencies conducting counter-terrorism operations, such as ASIO, while the inquiry continued.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and home affairs minister Peter Dutton have publicly called for the inquiry to be wrapped up swiftly in order that the legislation be passed before Christmas.

In a statement issued today, Porter and Dutton said that Dreyfus was “pandering to the left wing of his party” and undermining efforts to find bipartisan agreement on the committee.

The pair said that the government will “present the bill for consideration by the parliament next week.”

“In doing so, we will also present all reasonable amendments that have been proposed, including several by Labor, while rejecting those unreasonable propositions that would render the bill ineffective,” the statement said.

An alliance of groups representing major tech companies, telcos, and civil liberties advocates said that it welcomed “the decision by the opposition today to ensure a fundamentally flawed bill is not rushed through parliament for political expediency”.

“The powers contained within the bill appear to have far reaching consequences that could be devastating to the security of all Australians if enacted, and it is important that leaders within the government slow down and listen to the experts when they receive overwhelming evidence of the harm this bill could cause,” said the statement issued by the Alliance for a Safe and Secure Internet.

The PJCIS heard this morning that the legislation could affect local information security businesses as well as weaken the nation’s cyber security.

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