I thank honourable members for their contributions to the debate and the support for this bill across the chamber. The Intelligence Services Amendment (Establishment of the Australian Signals Directorate) Bill 2018 implements the recommendations of the 2017 Independent Intelligence Review to establish the Australian Signals Directorate as an independent statutory agency within the Defence portfolio, reporting directly to the Minister for Defence, as endorsed by the government.
The bill will amend ASD’s functions to allow the Australian Cyber Security Centre, or the ACSC, to cooperate with industry and to operate within ASD, in accordance with recommendation 3(b) of the review. In broad terms, the bill will separate ASD from the Department of Defence and establish it as an independent statutory agency within the Defence portfolio, under the control of the director-general of the ASD from 1 July 2018. The agency will from this date report directly to the Minister for Defence.
Establishing the ASD as an independent statutory agency outside of the Department of Defence will provide the agency with greater independence in how it recruits and retains its specialist workforce. The report by the review was very clear in its views on ensuring ASD is best structured into the future to meet its responsibilities and the requirements of government. In this context, the report of the review noted:
… ASD will be better placed if it remains in the Defence portfolio but if it is in a position to operate with greater independence from the Department’s requirements, especially those in relation to its capacity to recruit, retain, train, develop and remunerate its specialist staff.
For ASD, the option of continuing to operate within the Department of Defence’s employment framework, even with some specific exemptions, is not the most effective way forward. It would increase the risk of losing additional critical talent, skills and capabilities. ASD needs to be more in control of its own destiny.
In relation to the employment of staff, ASD would operate outside of the Public Service Act framework. This will provide ASD with greater flexibility to recognise the skills of its specialist workforce. This structure will reflect the need to retain those individuals with highly sought after skills, such as those with science, technology, engineering and maths qualifications. ASD will be required under the bill to adopt the principles of the Public Service Act in relation to employees of the ASD to the extent that the director-general of ASD considers they are consistent with the effective performance of the functions of ASD.
In addition to changes to how ASD will engage and remunerate its specialist staff, the bill implements the recommendations of the review by amending ASD’s functions to include providing material, advice and other assistance to any person or body listed in the act””rather than Commonwealth and state authorities only””on matters relating to the security and integrity of information that is processed, stored or communicated by electronic or similar means, which will allow the ACSC to liaise with industry. The bill also amends ASD’s functions to include preventing and disrupting cybercrime. This section will provide ASD with a function to prevent and disrupt by electronic or similar means the use of information and communication technologies to commit or facilitate serious crime by people or organisations outside Australia. Serious crimes, such as child exploitation, will be captured by this new function.
The bill provides for the establishment of ASD on a statutory basis and the appointment of the Director-General of ASD to control ASD and its staff. It provides that the Director-General of ASD must brief the Leader of the Opposition about matters relating to ASD. It gives the Director-General of ASD powers to employ persons or employees of ASD outside the framework of the Public Service Act 1999. And it amends other legislation as appropriate to replace references to ‘director of ASD’ with ‘Director-General of ASD’ and to remove references to the Department of Defence.
The bill also includes an additional function for ASD to protect the specialised technologies and capabilities acquired in the performance of its other functions. ASD cannot perform its important functions without being able to protect its tools to ensure that ongoing utility and protect Australia’s national interests.
The bill also has a number of transitional provisions to ensure that good governance of ASD continues during the implementation of the new arrangements. The establishment of ASD as a statutory authority puts the ASD on a similar footing to ASIS and ASIO as a national security and intelligence asset. Given ASD’s increased national responsibilities in relation to cybersecurity, and also the critical operational support it provides the Australian Defence Force, ASD will now have the appropriate statutory functions to ensure it is well placed to support ADF operations and its national responsibility for combating cybercrime, including the provision of advice to the private sector into the future. Also, to correct the record, the bill will not be making consequential amendments to the Crimes Act that were outlined in the second reading speech relating to assumed identities, as those matters will be addressed in a later bill. I commend the bill to the House.