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Police have committed a series of illegal metadata searches, including Western Australian police obtaining invalid warrants targeting journalists and ACT police accessing data 116 times without proper authorisation.
The breaches of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act are revealed in a Commonwealth Ombudsman report for the period July 2016 to June 2017, tabled in parliament by the government on Monday.
In addition to one instance of the Australian federal police accessing a journalist’s data without a warrant reported in 2017, the ombudsman discovered two instances where the WA police applied for – and obtained – a journalist information warrant from a person not authorised to provide it.
“This occurred due to a lack of awareness by WA police regarding to whom an application for a journalist information warrant could be made,” the report said. “In response to this issue, WA police took steps to quarantine all information obtained under the invalid warrants.”
The report also revealed that between 13 and 26 October 2015 “all authorisations within ACT policing were made by an officer not authorised” by the relevant section of the law.
“This issue affected 116 authorisations during the period,” it said. “This issue also affected a large number of authorisations dating back to March 2015, which precede the commencement of our office’s oversight on 13 October 2015.”
The government has just released a review of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal conducted by former high court justice Ian Callinan.
The structure of the AAT may sound a bit nerdy, but it is super important because the AAT reviews government actions including refugee cases and robo-debt decisions.
The report paints a picture of a massive backlog of cases – particularly in the migration division – and members without legal training struggling to write decisions. Throughout the last term of parliament, Labor accused the Coalition of stacking the tribunal with its mates.
The review recommended:
- Appointment of no fewer than 15 to 30 members to the migration and refugee division
- All further appointments, re-appointments or renewals of appointment to the membership of the AAT should be of lawyers, admitted or qualified for admission … and on the basis of merit
- The practice of seeking advice from staff by members should be restricted to 12 requests for the provision of relevant material from the library. Any request by a member, for the review of or advice on the drafting of decisions is not acceptable.
- Appointment of counsel assisting the migration and refugee division “as an advocate, as required, in the public interest”. “The presence in different and complex cases of such a counsel would relieve the member of the onerous duties that the members now have and assist unrepresented applicants.”
- Abolish the second tier of review by the general division of the social security and child support division
- Extend the power to make oral decisions to decisions to vary or set aside a Centrelink decision
Callinan also suggested consideration of “a new information rule conferring a wide discretion upon the AAT to receive or refuse evidence not before the original decision-maker”. That was because of evidence from several members of the migration and refugee division “that during delays in hearings not a small number of applicants contrived situations to support a favourable decision, or ground for appeal to the courts”.
The attorney general, Christian Porter, acknowledged that “since amalgamation, the tribunal’s workload has increased significantly, particularly in the migration and refugee division”.
“The government is carefully considering the recommendations from Mr Callinan’s report and is committed to improving the efficiency of the tribunal and maintaining the integrity of Australia’s migration policy.”