Congratulations, Australia: somehow after chaotic scenes in parliament, the government last night managed to secure after-the-bell passage of its encryption-busting eavesdropping legislation.
The super-spying law, which will force websites and communications services Down Under to build in secret wiretapping capabilities for terror and crime investigators, looked in serious trouble for most of the day, with the opposition Australian Labor Party and the Greens picking over more than 150 proposed amendments to the rules.
That, combined with a separate row over border protection legislation, made it look like parliament simply wouldn't have the time to pass the snoopers' law, something that drew an angry rant from Aussie Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
He unloaded on opposition leader Bill Shorten on both issues, saying: “This is about Australia's safety, and Bill Shorten is a clear and present threat to Australia's safety.”
“They keep saying they’re with us on national security, and then keep laying blockers along the way. They’re not fair dinkum. They’re just not fair dinkum. They are intent on just frustrating and embarrassing the government. I get it. That’s politics. That’s my point. Bill Shorten is all about politics. I’m about keeping Australians safe.”
Note for readers outside Australia: “Fair dinkum” is a quaint and nearly-obsolete Aussie phrase that roughly translates as “genuine.” In the modern era, it only finds a home in the mouths of public figures attempting a “man of the people” posture.
Whether or not the PM's bollocking had any direct effect, the opposition not only allowed the spy laws to pass – in the interests of getting them through in the last session before parliament rose for the year – it also dropped all of its proposed amendments, allowing the government to recall the House of Representatives early in the evening to green-light the legislation. The opposition's amendments will instead be argued over and tacked on early next year, it was hoped.
Shorten explained the opposition's decision thus: “I will not sacrifice the safety of Australians merely because Mr Morrison does not have the courage to deal with issues in the House of Representatives.
“If you agree to do the amendments you've already agreed to, to the encryption laws, in the first [parliamentary] week of next year, we will pass [the laws], unsatisfactory as they are, right now, because we're not going to go home and leave the Australian people on their own over Christmas.”
With that, the laws passed – and it seems Shorten was misled about the government's intent regarding the amendments. Attorney-general Christian Porter later issued a statement saying “the government has agreed to consider Labor's proposed amendments in the New Year if they genuinely reflect the recommendations of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security” (emphasis added).
The law is now awaiting to be signed off by Oz's Governor-General. Once the legislation is active, companies served with a request to install a backdoor have 28 days to respond.
It would be tedious to list every reaction to the passage of the bill, but this, from Greens senator Jordan Steele-John seems appropriate... ®