The Labor Party will fight to make changes to the controversial Assistance and Access Act 2018, or the AA Bill, regardless of whether it gets into power in this year’s federal election, according to Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy Ed Husic.
Speaking at the Safe Encryption Australia event, run by StartupAUS and InnovationAUS, in Sydney, Husic committed to changing some of the most problematic parts of the bill, which was passed into law in December last year, without any amendments being debated.
However, the shadow minister also called on the community to continue to be vocal in its discontent.
“We cannot afford to let this drift off,” he said.
Husic defended his position in voting the act into legislation in December in the first place, saying the national security agencies were saying they needed to have something in place.
“We do not rule out whatsoever an attempt from the other side of politics to blame us if, god forbid, something had happened over that period of time,” he explained.
His vote was cast based on a commitment from the Liberal government the proposed amendments would be discussed in early-2019.
“We expected to be able to debate them,” Husic said.
“That didn’t occur.”
At the event, Husic stressed that whether Labor wins or loses this year’s federal election, “our commitment is to push for these changes no matter what”.
The party will seek a solution that allows for “agencies to deal with bad actors, in a way that doesn’t wreck the tech”, he said.
“This is as much about national security as it is economic security — the ability of firms to use encryption, to share information amongst each other, and to do so without doubt about whether or not that has been interfered with or undermined,” he said.
In response to a question from the audience, Husic confirmed this is “absolutely” the position of the Labor Party as a whole.
“I have made a thorough pain of myself internally on this issue, and have pushed and pushed and pushed,” he said.
However, a number of other party members are also advocating for changes to the bill, and are “quite steadfast this reform has to occur”.
Changes need to address systemic weaknesses caused by the bill, as well as concerns about what it means for employees, better judicial oversight, and the threat to the economy.
“That is a Labor position. We are saying we will commit to that. Either in the current parliament or the next one,” Husic said.
However, he also urged the startup sector to keep talking about the issue, and to keep reminding politicians the problem is not going to go away.
“Ensure that all politicians recognise this as a priority and do something as a response.
“Keep reminding [them] the tech sector is important to jobs and economic growth in this country,” he added.
He also called on people working in tech to keep politicians — himself included — accountable “to make sure we fix these terrible laws”.