Husic says Labor is committed to reforming Australia's encryption laws

Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy Ed Husic has reminded voters of his party's tech-related plans, including its commitment to tweaking Australia's encryption laws.

Days before the federal election, Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy Ed Husic has taken the opportunity to reaffirm that "win, lose, or draw" the Australia Labor Party will be reforming the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act.

Free PDF

Australia’s encryption laws: An insider’s guide

Australia now has world-first encryption laws. This guide explains what the laws can do, what they cannot do, and how Australia ended up here.

Read More

Saying the Bill was having a "devastating" impact locally while speaking with media in Sydney on Tuesday, Husic said it was the federal opposition's commitment to push through changes, rather than repealing it.

"Firstly, this has been an awful Bill in the way it was rammed -- put through Parliament. I know a lot of people feel very strongly about Labor's role in that," he said, pointing to Labor's capitulation.  

The shadow minister said he was focused on two elements regarding the Bill, with the first being its impact locally and abroad.

"A recognition certainly that this is having a devastating impact locally. The number of firms that have told me, and even some overseas firms have said, 'This is not worth the risk, storing data on Australian soil with the laws the way that they are constructed and operating at the moment'. It's a serious issue," he said.

Read also: Amendments to Australia's encryption laws stranded before election

The second part of Husic's focus is to go back to the 17 recommendations, made by a parliamentary committee, to reform the Bill.

"It triggered around 170 amendments that we thought needed to be done, some of these amendments should have been put through in the current Parliament ... our commitment is to make sure that those happen -- whoever wins -- we'll push this, win or lose or draw, whatever, our commitment is to reform the Bill," he continued.

"We're still committed to making the changes necessary to ensure that the Bill is reformed, improved, and the worst aspects are taken out."

Husic said making changes was better than repealing the encryption legislation, as governments are trying to grapple with how to stop people using digital platforms to cause harm.

"Governments are trying to find the balance, we want to make sure we've got that balance right and we want to make sure that the impact we're seeing on the sector currently -- that we side step all that through the reforms we believe need to happen," he said.

Touching on another reform he wants to pursue if Labor is successful on the weekend, Husic said that in order to fully embrace a data economy, the public's concerns around the way their data is being accessed, used, and on-sold need to be addressed.

"Another reform piece is just the number of government bodies that are responsible for data management or data policy in government -- there's a half a dozen of them," he added.

With Labor on Monday announcing it would create 5,000 placements at TAFE, free of charge, for tech-related courses, while also saying it would push major government IT suppliers to ensure one in 10 employees working on major government digital projects are digital apprentices or trainees, Husic again expanded upon his party's plans on Tuesday on how it will deal with Australia's skill shortage.

Husic pointed to the SMART Visa which, originally announced in May 2017, would see the introduction of a new visa reserved for "world-leaders" in Science, Medicine, Academia, Research, and Technology (SMART) in direct response to the Coalition's 457 visa reform.

"We're trying to get some momentum and focus on the skills shortage locally," he said. "We could fill every single vacancy here in Australia with a local and I'd still think there was a world for skilled migration.

"If people are doing something smart, somewhere else in the world, and they want to be here -- we should bring them here because we need to ensure the knowledge base is continually replenished."

Additionally, Husic said Labor wants an Australian Skills Authority to determine what skill requirements are needed within certain sectors. He also wants government to probe what is being done to train locals, saying the goal is to "help meet local business needs".

He also wants to help older Australians transition into other roles by upping their digital literacy.

On cutting the federal government's Entrepreneurs Fund and the Industry Growth Centres that were established under former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his AU$1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda, Husic said he would prefer the funding for startups to come from the private sector rather than from taxpayers' pockets.

"We haven't announced any co-investment funds this campaign, there's a specific reason for that. I've resisted them because from my point of view I'd rather private capital support investment in a lot of early stage firms, and what I want us to invest government dollars in is human capital," he said.

"We won't be putting a lot of money forward in an investment vehicle because we're constantly being told venture capital is having its golden years at the moment and the money is coming in, so we'd rather it happen that way than government putting forward taxpayers money."

The shadow minister responded with "watch this space" on Tuesday when asked if any further election promises would be made before Saturday.

AUSTRALIAN ELECTION 2019