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Labor and Coalition in last-minute blowup over encryption deal

From theguardian

Despite already sealing an “in-principle” deal, the Coalition and Labor had a last-minute blowup on Wednesday over the timetable to report on and pass encryption legislation.

In a huddle on the sidelines of parliamentary speeches about the Coalition’s energy legislation, members of the joint committee on intelligence and security handling the bill engaged in open debate about details of the deal.

Racing to beat the adjournment debate so a full report could be tabled, the deputy chair, Anthony Byrne, was seen having words with the chair, Andrew Hastie, and the attorney general, Christian Porter, alongside fellow committee members Mike Kelly and Julian Leeser.

Guardian Australia understands Labor objected to the timeframe set by Hastie to agree on outstanding issues.

After the group broke, Byrne proceeded to sprint in and out of the chamber with drafts of proposed recommendations.

As the 7.30pm deadline approached, Porter strolled back in and shook hands triumphantly first with Byrne then Kelly.

Andrew Hastie, Anthony Byrne, Mike Kelly and Julian Leeser talk to Christian Porter during voting procedures.

Andrew Hastie, Anthony Byrne, Mike Kelly and Julian Leeser talk to Christian Porter during voting procedures. Photograph: Mike Bowers for the Guardian

The government leader in the house, Christopher Pyne, asked Hastie if he was still waiting for the report, then delayed the adjournment, allowing the report to be tabled at 7.50pm.

In an improvised speech likely indicating the member for Canning had been more focused on the report itself, Hastie praised government concessions to enhance oversight, define the term “systemic weakness” and narrow the range of offences to which new encryption cracking powers will apply.

Hastie commended Byrne and Kelly for bipartisan support for the bill and the secretariat for the haste in putting the report together.

The outbreak of bonhomie crossed the aisle, and Byrne in turn praised Hastie’s “steadfast commitment to bipartisanship essential to keeping this committee working and this parliament working”.

Porter had “set the standard of what consultation should be about”, Byrne said, after other members of the government had “not assisted” the work of the committee in recent weeks.

Labor had objected to demands from Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton that it pass the bill in the last fortnight of parliament, earlier accusing Dutton of lying about its failure to support the bill and national security.

Andrew Hastie, Anthony Byrne, Mike Kelly and Julian Leeser talk to Christian Porter during voting procedures.

The debate continues. Photograph: Mike Bowers for the Guardian

The bipartisan committee report paves the way for the encryption bill to pass parliament on Thursday, the final sitting day of the 2018 calendar.

Earlier on Wednesday the Greens digital rights spokesman, Jordon Steele-John, reacted furiously to the deal, telling the Senate that Labor was “spineless”.

Industry stakeholders have indicated lingering concerns about the lack of safeguards in law enforcement agencies’ powers to issue “technical assistance notices” – as opposed to the more stringent measures for a “technical capability notice” – as well as the definition of “systemic weakness”.

The report proposes adopting the director general of the Australian Signals Directorate’s definition that a systemic weakness is one that “might actually jeopardise the information of other people as a result of that action being taken”.

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