Labor slams Abbott for 'politicising' data retention

Australian Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has accused Prime Minister Tony Abbott of 'politicising' data retention by calling for Labor to support the legislation's swift passage through parliament.

Australian Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has flagged that Labor won't be rushed into passing mandatory data-retention legislation, and has called out Prime Minister Tony Abbott for "politicising" the issue.

The legislation before the parliament would require telecommunications companies to retain an as-yet-undefined set of customer data for two years for warrantless access by government agencies for the purposes of law enforcement.

Given Greens and some cross-bench opposition to the legislation in the Senate, Labor will need to support the legislation in order for it to pass.

Late last month, Abbott wrote to Shorten, urging him to pass the legislation quickly. This letter was leaked to the media on the same day that Abbott held a press conference with the Australian Federal Police where he urged Shorten to back the legislation.

In a response letter from February 9, first reported by Fairfax and separately obtained by ZDNet, Shorten said that the legislation should not be "rushed in a manner that could compromise the Bill's successful implementation".

He also called out Abbott for seeking to "politicise the development and consideration of anti-terrorism legislation".

Shorten said that the government's resistance so far to reveal the cost to telcos for implementing the scheme prevents the parliament from properly debating the Bill. Both Optus and Telstra have declined to reveal their expected costs publicly, but Optus indicated that it was well below the hundreds of millions of dollars reported mid last year.

The proposed set of data to be retained is also a question mark for the Opposition, with the industry and government yet to finalise the exact data to be stored. Shorten called for the exact data set to be released publicly. He also expressed concern that the data set is to be mandated via regulation, rather than legislation, meaning that the attorney-general of the day can determine the exact data to be stored without parliamentary approval.

The Opposition leader also questioned the need for the data to be stored for two years.

Shorten indicated that the Opposition may look to amend the legislation before its passage to protect press freedom. Under mandatory data retention, law-enforcement agencies would be able to access the call records of journalists without warrants, threatening the legitimate leak of information from whistleblowers.

Shorten also requested briefings from the Australian Federal Police and Australian Security Intelligence Organisation on the role of telecommunications data in the police response to the Sydney siege.

The man at the centre of that incident was well known to police for many years prior to the incident.

In a YouTube video released on Sunday after Shorten's letter, the prime minister ramped up his calls for action on national security, indicating that he would make a statement next Monday.

"It's clear to me that for too long, we have given those who might be a threat to our country the benefit of the doubt," he said.

"There's been the benefit of the doubt at our borders, the benefit of the doubt for residency, the benefit of the doubt for citizenship, and the benefit of the doubt at Centrelink. And in the courts, there has been bail, when clearly there should have been jail."

Abbott said data retention "will make it easier to keep you safe, and we want to get this legislation passed as quickly as we can".

Parliament returns on Monday, and the parliamentary committee investigating the legislation is due to report by February 27.