Security reforms passed without all information

THE first bill of the Abbott government's wide-ranging national security reforms was not properly assessed for its effects on Australia's human rights obligations before parliament passed the laws this week.

Under the laws, the nation's intelligence agencies were given new powers, including issuing a single warrant to access any computers or networks connected to a target computer.

The laws also allow intelligence officers the "use of force" at any time while executing a warrant, not just when gaining entry and provide immunity to ASIO officers during "special intelligence operations".

But despite the potential human rights implications, the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights was not given all the information it needed to determine whether the reforms did impinge on those rights.

A report tabled in parliament a day after the bills were passed revealed the Attorney-General's department provided only "general descriptions" of the legislation's effects on human rights.

"In the committee's view, by providing a selective and generalised assessment, the statement of compatibility (with human rights) fundamentally misapprehends the purpose for which such statements are required," the report reads.

"In the absence of an assessment of the measures in these terms, the committee will be unable to conclude that the measures are compatible with the rights and freedoms against which the committee conducts its assessments."

The committee found the reforms could impinge on Australia's international obligations to provide rights to privacy, a fair trial, freedom of expression, freedom of movement and the right to be "free from arbitrary detention".

However, the department said in a statement that it has "no record" of the committee seeking extra advice, despite the committee asking the Attorney-General in the report for the advice.

A department spokesman said the department was "confident that the bill is consistent with Australia's international human rights obligations", but did not explain why the detail was not included in its statement to the committee.

Committee chairman, Liberal Senator Dean Smith, did not respond to calls regarding the matter on Thursday.


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