The Week: Government Business

Story of the week is the Federal Government’s new mandatory data retention legislation, which stipulates that the communications metadata of all Australian citizens must be retained for no less than two years, and will be accessible by government agencies without a warrant. 

Even as I write the legislation is continuing its inexorable journey through the upper and lower houses of the Australian parliament, much as food makes its way through the upper and lower intestines of a large mammal. As with digestion, nothing has been particularly improved by the passage of this legislation. The federal opposition insist they conducted a robust party room debate on the subject, whereby standing members were encouraged to voice their concerns and air their reservations about the new laws.

What emerged however were a series of all but pointless amendments precisely calibrated to give the impression that Labor wasn’t merely rubber-stamping another government policy, without actually addressing any of the fundamental issues.

The government took one look at the proposed amendments, shrugged, and waved them through. The more strenuous amendments proposed by independent MPs and senators, as well as the Greens, were voted down

There's nothing to worry about though: it's just metadata. It's not like they're reading your emails or listening to your phone calls. What can you tell from metadata? Well, lots, actually.

The fun doesn't stop here, though. Next week will see the introduction of new site-blocking legislation, which is primarily designed to crack down on internet piracy. 

Given that Labor itself pursued even more sweeping and arbitrary laws when it was in office - Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull is adamant that this new regime is not an internet filter - you can expect that this legislation will also enjoy similarly spirited 'opposition'.

It is either revealing or coincidental that this legislation is being introduced now, just as Netflix launches in Australia. Along with other new Video-On-Demand (VOD) services such as Stan and Presto, it is anticipated that Netflix may lead to a dramatic long-term drop in piracy rates. 

Emergency Spectrum

Anyway, while our politicians spend time, resources and energy passing laws that are of debatable use, yet provide easy political capital, there are other important measures that are at risk of falling by the wayside. The federal government has finally released the terms of reference (TOR) for the cost-benefit analysis (CBA) for the creation of a national emergency services mobile network. Sounds complicated. Maybe that's why it has taken so long.

The need for a national emergency mobile network has existed for years. When completed, it will provide reserved mobile spectrum for Australian emergency services. Last March the Communications department announced that the CBA was imminent. November 2014 saw the announcement that Productivity Commission would look at the costs (and benefits!) of allocating spectrum to this service. 

Of course, the issue predates those time-frames, and even the current government. The Police Federation of Australia in fact made a submission to the previous government, requesting 20MHz in the 700MHz spectrum. This request was rejected, since that spectrum was being auctioned off, and just giving it away for public safety was a waste of money.

Anyway, today the terms of reference were finally released.  The final report is due in nine months.

Do Not Call

Some good news from parliament! As reported on ACCAN's website, inclusion on the National Do Not Call Register is now indefinite.

Whereas previous registration only lasted eight years, now the registration is permanent. We encourage anyone interested in not being pestered by telemarketers to register immediately. Bear in mind, however, that you can still be contacted by charities, political parties (sadly) and research companies (seriously?). 

Registration is free, and can be done here.