Monthly Archives: October 2014


STOP SIGN AFP has defended its use of a controversial power that it uses to block websites image

The AFP has defended its use of a controversial power that it uses to block websites. Photo: Andrew Quilty

Australia’s top law-enforcement agency has defended its use of a controversial law that requires internet service providers to block websites government agencies deem illegal, without judicial oversight.

Speaking before a parliamentary inquiry, Australian Federal Police’s officials explained  they need section 313 of the Telecommunications Act, which requires telcos such as Telstra and Optus to assist government agencies to enforce criminal laws, protect public revenue and safeguard national security.

The AFP, financial regulator ASIC and an unidentified national security agency have interpreted the law to mean they have the power to order telcos to block websites hosting illegal material.

But internet providers such as  iiNet and industry bodies such as  the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) and the Communications Alliance have called for restrictions. They argue there is not enough oversight and that some providers had even received blocking requests from animal protection agency the RSPCA.

Section 313  allows an “almost unlimited range of government and law-enforcement agencies that can rely on the powers set out in section 313”, iiNet’s submission to the inquiry says.

That interpretation of the Act came to light last year after ASIC inadvertently blocked more than 250,000 websites by requesting a block on an internet protocol (IP) address as opposed to a domain name like As many IP addresses host multiple websites, the request resulted in many  legal sites being blocked.

ASIC has used the power to block websites being employed for investment fraud. It’s unknown what the RSPCA wanted to block.

AFP officials said they couldn’t comment on the ASIC incident but thought their use of the power was uncontroversial.

The AFP said it had used the power to block malicious software, child exploitation material and sites such as  online marketplace Silk Road, which are used by criminals to sell drugs and other illegal items. As the judicial process “takes time”, it said it preferred section 313 blocks over court orders.

To justify its position, the AFP used the analogy of blocking access to a building in the real world that was unsafe to access.

“We’re not asking for information, we’re simply saying this needs to stop,” said Commissioner Kevin Zuccato, acting Deputy Commissioner of Close Operations Support.

“An example for me would be the ability to go outside and identify that there’s a threat coming up the road and ask my people to erect bollards so that folks can’t get to this building. It’s simply saying ‘stop, you can’t enter’ and allows us to do what we need … ”

Department of Communications officials  attending the hearing admitted the blocks could be circumvented by the use of virtual private networks (VPNs), which allow web users to camouflage their location.

Between 2011 and 2013 the department estimated 32 requests to block websites had been made.

As far as it was aware, only three government agencies had used the power.

As a form of oversight, the department recommended agencies making use of the power report their requests to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

AFP officials said on Wednesday they would not have a problem with this. It added thatthe auditing of its use of the powers was already “robust” and that blocking of sites was only “used as a last resort”.

Getting websites taken down first was usually the preferred method, they said.

Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam has previously said the interpretation of the law opened the door “to wide-scale banning of sites” on the internet.

“It also means no one is effectively in charge; other government agencies could demand sites be blocked with no co-ordination or accountability in place.”

Henry Sapiecha


Wearing a burqa into parliament is ok ????

Then wearing a bike helmut or ku klux clan head garb should also be ok…!!

Perhaps coming in dress-up costume is fine too…Where does it all stop.

Ban one then ban them all. Allow one then allow all garments..???

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Is the Australian parliament turning into a circus..??

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Protesters test burqa policy

Anti-burqa protesters dressed in a motorcycle helmet, a niqab and a KKK uniform try to enter Parliament House with their faces covered.

A trio of men have attempted to enter Parliament with one wearing a Ku Klux Klan mask, and the others wearing a niqab and a motorcycle helmet as part of a protest against the burqa.

All three were forced by Parliament security to remove their facial coverings.

Three men cover their faces to protest the wearing of the burqa in public places.image

Three men cover their faces to protest the wearing of the burqa in public places. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Sergio Redegalli, Nick Folkes and Victor Waterson call their protest movement “Faceless” and oppose the burqa being worn in public spaces. They also expressed strong views against what they said was the “political ideology” of Islam which they said was “contrary” to Australian beliefs.

The Ku Klux Klan is a secretive, far-right organisation that has been responsible for violence against black Americans.

The protesters were stopped between Old Parliament House and the Parliament House forecourt and told by police that the men wearing the Ku Klux Klan hat and motorcycle helmet would be forced to remove their facial coverings but the person in the niqab would be allowed to keep theirs on.

Security turn away protesters with facial coverings from Parliament House image
Security turn away protesters with facial coverings from Parliament House

“One of the requirements of coming into Parliament House is that the motorcycle helmet is going to have to come off, your headdress is going to have to come off and your burqa … your identity will be checked,” the security guard told the protesters.

Mr Redegalli removed his Ku Klux Klan mask to reveal a niqab underneath.  He said “so I guess this is the time to say that I’m now allowed into Parliament House am I?” “No,” responded the security guard.

“Bit of a loophole, eh?” Mr Redegalli questioned.

Protester Sergio Redegalli removes a Ku Klux Klan mask to reveal he is wearing a burqa underneath image

Protester Sergio Redegalli removes a Ku Klux Klan mask to reveal he is wearing a burqa underneath. 

The group were screened as part of the regular entry procedures and all three emerged with their facial coverings removed.

“Because we’re males so there’s a bit of sexism there. It seems you’re allowed to wear a full face covering into Parliament if you’re a Muslim woman but no other group is allowed to have that same privilege,” Mr Redegalli said.

“That’s a lot better than we thought, so that’s a fantastic thing,” he said.

Protesters at Parliament House.image

Protesters at Parliament House. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The group said they opposed the decision earlier this month to overrule a ban on the burqa being worn in the public galleries over the Parliamentary Chambers.

Speaker Bronwyn Bishop and President Stephen Parry had been asked by Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi to consider banning the religious headwear being worn in Parliament.

On Monday, Senator Bernardi said the group’s stunt highlighted “just how ridiculous it is to allow anyone wearing an identity concealing garment into Parliament House”.

“The rules should apply equally to all Australians and all visitors to Parliament house irrespective of gender or ideology,” Senator Bernardi told Fairfax Media.

Senator Bernardi has been a long time supporter of Mr Redegalli’s attempts to protest against the burqa being allowed in Western countries.

In 2011, the South Australian Liberal backed Mr Redegalli’s six-foot high ‘Say Not the Burqa’ mural, which he painted in Sydney’s Newtown.

“I happen to agree with Mr Redegalli that the burqa has no place in Australia. I consider it a security risk and a symbol of repression and Islamic fundamentalism. Many Muslims (and opinion polls suggest a vast majority of other Australians) agree with me,” he wrote in 2011.

Nationals MP George Christensen has also publicly backed a ban on the burqa in Paliament, and tweeted in response to Monday’s stunt: “Where is the left-wing outrage at these three guys being told to remove their facial coverings at Parliament House?”

The Department of Parliamentary Services said in a statement that the men’s facial coverings were “protest paraphernalia” and they were asked to remove them because protests are allowed on Federation Mall in front of Parliament but not inside the building or on the forecourt.

“The policy requiring the temporary removals of facial coverings that came into effect on 20th October 2014 enables security staff to identify a person who may be a security risk.

“The visitors were requested to remove the items obscuring their faces as the items were deemed to be protest paraphernalia,” DPS said.

The department added that motorcycle helmets had long been banned from being worn in the building.

Henry Sapiecha

G20 security: Concern foreign spy services will get access to photos of Brisbane residents

The Queensland Council for Civil Liberties (QCCL) has raised concerns about foreign spy services like the KGB being given photographs of Brisbane citizens during next month’s G20 summit.

police surveilance via monitors 7 phones image www.intelagencies (1)

Security will be formidable during the Brisbane event, with thousands of police officers on duty.

Leaders from the world’s major powers will be visiting Queensland’s capital for the G20 in November.

Security will be formidable during the event and the thousands of police officers on duty will have the power to exclude people from a large area of Brisbane and take their photograph to share with all police on duty.

QCCL spokesman Terry O’Gorman said by law the photos would go to ASIO and the Immigration Department – and possibly foreign intelligence services from countries including Russia and China.

“[Russian president Vladimir] Putin is one of the most unattractive world leaders, as is the Chinese premier because they both lead countries that have appalling human rights records,” he said.

“The fact that the Chinese government and the Russian government would get my exclusion notice and my photograph doesn’t sit very easily with me at all and I don’t think it should sit easily with any Brisbane citizen.”

He said it was not known what authorities would do with the information and photographs in the future.

“We don’t we know what they’re going to do with it months and years from now,” he said.

“It’s bad enough that exclusion notices are given to ASIO and the immigration department.

“But to have a Brisbane citizen’s photograph given to the KGB? To be given to the Chinese Secret Service? These are the most totalitarian countries in the world.”

Queensland Government MP Lawrence Springborg said the G20 legislation was introduced to protect the community.

david-cameron-promo-gif-data image

It will be illegal for people to carry certain household objects such as eggs and glass jars in central Brisbane without a “lawful excuse”. Here are 17 of the prohibited items – in GIFs.

“When we have the most powerful people in the world coming not only to our shores, but to our very fine city, we have to make sure that people are safe and the community is safe,” he said.

“As an individual, I accept that, and most individuals do accept that.”

South Bank cafe manager Sophia Tsiros said she was concerned that protests could turn violent but she was confident police would be able to manage the situation.

“You’re running a business and you want to make sure everyone’s having a good experience when they come dine with you,” she said.

“The police have spoken to us and they seem to be putting quite a few police on the ground so I’m glad to hear that, but there is still a bit of concern in the back of your mind – ‘Could something erupt?'”

Meanwhile, the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) said the majority of insurance companies would cover residents and businesses for vandalism if their properties were damaged during protests.

An ICA spokesman said it would be highly unlikely for claims to be rejected under “civil unrest”.

Henry Sapiecha

Canadian shooting an example of Australian security agencies’ ‘worst nightmare’

Parliament House security beefed up

Following shootings in Canada, security in Parliament will be beefed up with enhanced security screening says Justice Minister Michael Keenan.

The rampage of a gunman through Canada’s Parliament on Thursday, just two days after a hit-and-run that killed a soldier in Quebec, has presented Australian security agencies with chilling real-life examples of their “worst nightmare” – do-it-yourself jihadism.

The attacks, which were apparently an answer to the call from Islamic State last month for followers to kill non-believers in the West, were carried out by young men who were well known to Canada’s intelligence and police.

Both men were recent converts to Islam and had attempted to travel to the Middle East to fight for the Islamic State. Both had had their passports suspended and were on a watch-list.

But Canada’s authorities were still unable to stop them.

The Islamic State has deliberately encouraged its followers to launch simple terrorist attacks that only result in one or two deaths.

They are relatively low-tech attacks that Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin has described as a “police officer’s worst nightmare”.

“Because it doesn’t require the same planning and it doesn’t require the same communication, picking up on it is very hard,” Greg Barton, a terrorism analyst at Monash University’s Global Terrorism Research Centre, said.

Australia, like Canada has prevented scores of its citizens travelling to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State. Forty-five passports were cancelled by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation last financial year – more than double the previous year’s 18 suspensions.

The passport policy is based on obligations by Australia under local and international law to stop people joining a proscribed terrorist group in an overseas conflict.

Authorities fear that those who come back from war will be capable of launching sophisticated terrorist attacks.

But the enduring risk of the policy is that extremists who want to wage war in the Middle East instead turn their attention to terrorism closer to home.

All of those who have had their passports rejected are tracked by Australian intelligence agencies and police, but it is impossible to muster the resources to monitor their movements all the time.

Professor Barton said the passport policy was justified but there was a desperate need for a “new type of case management” for those who have been prevented from travelling to the Middle East.

“It shouldn’t all just fall back on police and intelligence,” he said. “That’s insufficient. It requires social intervention.”

He said there was a scenario even more disturbing for counter-terrorism authorities than the “nightmare” of lone wolf attacks – a reconciliation between the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.

Iraqi terrorism analyst Hisham al-Hashimi has said the previously antagonistic rhetoric between the two extremist organisations has softened of late, and the “attacks by the United States and her allies [in Iraq and Syria] will unite the groups”.

Al-Qaeda fighters in Syria have recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. An al-Qaeda offshoot – known as Khorasan – made up of some of its most skilled operatives, is operating in the same region and planning terrorist attacks in the US and, possibly, elsewhere.

Evidence of a rapprochement between the two groups has yet to emerge, but Professor Barton said security agencies would be watching developments closely.

“It’s a perfect storm,” he said. “Al-Qaeda core working directly with IS on planning foreign attacks. Surely that seems like a greater possibility than ever before.”

Henry Sapiecha

Murdoch lashes out at Abbott on journalists terrorist law

News Corp co-chairman Lachlan Murdoch has invoked his grandfather’s reporting of Gallipoli to lash the Abbott government’s new national security laws that could jail journalists for up to 10 years.

Lachlan Murdoch arrives with Sarah at the annual Keith Murdoch Oration image www.intelagencies

Mr Murdoch said Australia’s press freedom was under threat and had already fallen dramatically by world standards.

“It might surprise you that today Australia ranks 33rd, just behind Belize, on the Freedom house index. 20 years ago we ranked 9th,” Mr Murdoch said during the Keith Murdoch Oration at the State Library in Melbourne on Thursday night.

Mr Murdoch said the government was frequently asking Australians to trust them ‘we’re from the government’, when attempting to censor the media.

“But trust is something that should not be a consideration when restricting our fundamental freedoms. Our freedom of speech and freedom of the press are not things we should blindly entrust anyone.”


Mr Murdoch singled out the government’s national security laws that could jail journalists for up to 10 years for revealing “special intelligence operations”.

Many, including human rights commissioner Tim Wilson, have condemned these laws, saying they would restrict legitimate scrutiny of Australia’s secret agencies.

Mr Murdoch said the government’s terminology, particularly “secret intelligence operation”, was ambiguous.

“It’s left up to government agencies at the time to decide. Would the Gallipoli campaign have been a special operation?”

Mr Murdoch’s grandfather Sir Keith Murdoch revealed the devastation of Gallipoli, which killed more than 8000 soldiers, in a letter to then Prime Minister Andrew Fisher, despite reports from the battle field being censored by the military.

“Incredible as it seems today, Fisher … had received little notice of the Gallipoli invasion.

“Would Sir Keith have been arrested … to spend the next 10 years in jail? And remember, the taking of that letter … a private communication to the prime minister, was tremendous overreach by the military at that time.

“A century ago, Keith Murdoch’s Gallipoli letter was Australia’s boldest declaration that our nation had the right to know the truth.”

Mr Murdoch also took aim at the previous Labor government’s attempts to introduce a public interest media advocate to oversee all media as the “most draconian attack on the press this country has ever seen in peacetime”.

Failure to comply with advocate could have seen the removal of the Privacy Act exemptions, which “are essential for journalists to do their work”, Mr Murdoch said.

“And, if all else failed, a single unnamed ‘super expert’ could apply his or her own undefined ‘public interest test’ and punish an organisation commercially,” he said.

“Censorship should be resisted in all its insidious forms. We should be vigilant of the gradual erosion of our freedom to know, to be informed, and make reasoned decisions in our society and in our democracy.

“We must all take notice and, like Sir Keith, have the courage to act when those freedoms are threatened.”

Henry Sapiecha

Australia about to seize assets of corrupt Chinese officials

chinese money handed over image

China is seeking Australia’s help in arresting citizens on corruption charges – but questions remain. Photo: Bloomberg

Beijing: The Australian Federal Police are poised to seize assets of corrupt Chinese officials within weeks, in an unprecedented joint operation with their Chinese counterparts.

In an exclusive interview with Fairfax Media, Commander Bruce Hill, the manager of the AFP’s operations in Asia, has confirmed Australia has agreed to assist China in the extradition and seizure of assets of corrupt officials who have fled to Australia with illicit funds running into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The joint operation will make their first forfeiture of assets within weeks, having agreed on a priority list of alleged economic fugitives who have taken residence in Australia – identified by Beijing as one of the most popular outlets for corrupt Chinese money.

Among the suspects identified by the AFP are naturalised Australian citizens and permanent residents who for years have laundered money under the guise of being genuine investment or business migrants from China.

“They don’t all of a sudden leave overnight and take a bag of money with them. In some cases they’re very carefully planned,” Commander Hill said, who explained that a typical scenario involves officials sending their spouses and children overseas, often using them as a conduit to shift assets offshore. With barely any assets to their name, the so-called “naked official” – as is the popular term for them in China – is then able to join their family overseas at the first whiff of trouble.

“As time goes on, they start to put [their funds] into legitimate assets such as houses and property and shares and bank accounts and then the money becomes their wealth,” Mr Hill, who is based in Beijing, said. “But it’s never been their money to start with in the first place; it’s the corrupt money flowing out of China.”

The sums of money believed to have been spirited out from China are staggering. The Washington-based Global Financial Integrity group, which analyses illicit financial flows, estimates that $US3 trillion flowed out of China illegally between 2005 and 2011.

Since taking power in November 2012, President Xi Jinping has directed a wide-ranging anti-corruption drive aimed at regaining credibility from a public disillusioned with endemic graft in the Communist Party, while also striking fear into his opponents.

The impetus for the joint operation has come from a campaign launched in July – called Operation Fox Hunt – to track down corrupt officials overseas, and to deter others from absconding.

“It’s extremely difficult for public servants to go abroad now,” said Lin Zhe, an anti-corruption expert at the ruling Communist Party’s in-house training institution, the Central Party School.

“The passports of department heads and above are withheld by the Organisation Department. When I first came to the Central Party School, there were many [international] exchanges, but this rarely happens now.”

The priority list agreed between the Ministry of Public Security and the AFP was culled from a broader list of “less than a hundred people”, Mr Hill said, adding that the assets being pursued by China in Australia were in the “many hundreds of millions of dollars”.

Mr Hill said the AFP were not party to any information Chinese investigators may hold relating to Communist Party links that a suspect may have.

“We only see what’s on face value, this person has committed an offence,” he said. “There is a human rights side; we need to make sure that we’re monitoring that as well, that this is not done for political expediency where we can.”

The federal government’s Significant Investor Visa scheme has proven overwhelmingly popular among Chinese investors, who account for 90 per cent of applicants so far. But the difficulty in verifying the source of Chinese income had led to delays in approvals.

In announcing a new “premium” investor visa last week, which allows applicants who invest $15 million to gain permanent residency after one year, the government said it would “strengthen integrity measures” to ensure the migration programme was not misused.

Asked if the new visa class could lead to more corrupt officials fleeing to China, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said it hoped to work with Australia to “trace fugitives and retrieve embezzlement from overseas”.

“The corrupt should find no safe haven in foreign countries,” he said.

With an extradition treaty with China yet to be ratified, Australia ranks high among the preferred destinations for Chinese economic fugitives, along with the United States and Canada. The Attorney-General can consider extradition requests for offences under the United Nations Convention against Corruption, to which Australia and China are both parties.

But immigration protection laws mean those accused have a series of claims, including applying for asylum, to avoid facing court back in China.

“All criminals will always go where the weakest link is,” Mr Hill said. “In the interim we’re trying to develop strategies to make sure these people don’t think they can just go to Australia and live happily ever after.”

Henry Sapiecha

Australian Security laws: Have we learned anything over 10 years?

The Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security has highlighted concerns about the proposed Foreign Fighters Bill – the Federal Government now needs to stop and take a breath, writes Katie Wood.

The foreign fighter laws won’t affect the vast majority of Australians, but they may just help the police and ASIO to prevent a terrorist attack in this country, writes Nick O’Brien.

Attorney-General George Brandis’ introduction of the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014 last month took me back nearly 10 years.

Back then, in response to the terrifying events of 9/11 and London bombings on July 7, 2005, the government introduced the Anti-Terrorism Bill (No.2) 2005 – a massive piece of legislation which ran to hundreds of pages and included a range of measures limiting freedoms of Australians.

Instead of allowing for an appropriate public and parliamentary debate about the necessity and scope of the new laws, the public was given just one week to make submissions about what were very significant new criminal measures.

Among those proposed measures were novel regimes called Preventative Detention Orders (PDOs) and Control Orders (COs), which imposed serious restrictions on the liberty of people who had not been convicted of any crime by any court.

For example, under a PDO a person can be held in secret detention for up to 14 days without being arrested or charged and without being able to tell anyone they are being detained, or for how long.

Of course, Amnesty International Australia and a wide range of other groups scrambled to make the Government’s deadline, criticizing PDOs and COs as regimes which flew in the face of the presumption of innocence – a great bulwark against unlawful detention and unfair trials.

Advocates were pleased when the Government added 10-year ‘sunset clauses’, or expiry dates, to the PDO and CO regimes, providing the opportunity to analyse whether it was necessary to have such serious provisions in our anti-terror laws.

The laws were passed with bipartisan support and the extended powers of the security agencies like ASIO and AFP have gone unchallenged by successive governments in the intervening 10 years.

Today, we are back at square one, with the government introducing a new suite of counter-terrorism laws aimed at further protecting our national security.

As a new terror threat emerges in the Middle East in the form of the group called Islamic State and we see Australians travelling there to fight, the government has introduced the Counter-Terror (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014, and is in the throes of slamming the law through Parliament in unnecessary haste.

For the Foreign Fighters Bill, the second of three Government anti-terror bills, just eight business days were provided for people to analyse the proposed laws and raise their concerns in submissions.

Notably, the Bill seeks to extend the PDO and CO regimes for a further 10 years with barely a discussion – and the government has not provided any reasoned justification of why this is required.

Amnesty International is not just concerned about the extension of the sunset clauses, however; there are many more parts of this Bill that require close examination.


For example, the components addressing ‘foreign fighters’ do not specifically pertain to foreigners who are fighting.

They are so broad in fact that they don’t even specifically target those Australians who choose to fight with terror organisations like IS or others.

They actually apply to any Australian travelling to ‘declared areas’ in which a listed terrorist organization is engaging in hostile activity.

Anybody travelling to those as-yet unspecified areas will face 10 years in jail unless they can prove they are there to visit family, for humanitarian reasons, for official government or UN business, or as a professional news journalist or news crew.


So, if the proposed law remains in its current form, archaeologists will face jail, business people will face jail, freelance journalists will face jail – the list is virtually endless.

And a new law against ‘advocating terrorism’ also needs much closer examination, as it appears such broad terminology is likely to illegitimately impinge on Australians’ right to freedom of opinion and expression.

For example, the law may well limit the ability of individuals to comment freely on issues relating to politically and religiously motivated violence, such as current events overseas in Iraq and Syria.

These proposed restrictions come after the swift passage of the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No.1), which introduced 10-year prison terms for anyone who discloses a ‘Special Intelligence Operation’ (SIO).

The first anti-terror bill also makes ASIO agents immune from prosecution – and accountability – for illegal activities they may commit during an SIO, and allow the spy agency to access computer networks to assist them collecting intelligence on ‘important’ security matters.

These are significant and virtually unchallengeable powers, which a less scrupulous government could easily exploit.

Thankfully, history is replete with examples where people have come together to devise means to provide checks against the misuse of that power.

Key examples of these checks include the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international covenants such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Encouragingly, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security recommended 36 major changes to the Foreign Fighters Bill on Friday – highlighting both the complexity of the bill and the serious concerns raised during the brief public consultation period.

In 2005, the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated:

Human rights law makes ample provision for strong counter-terrorist action, even in the most exceptional circumstances. But compromising human rights cannot serve the struggle against terrorism.  On the contrary, it facilitates achievement of the terrorist’s objective by ceding to him the moral high ground, and provoking tension, hatred and mistrust of government among precisely those parts of the population where he is more likely to find recruits.

No-one would deny that protecting people from harm is a key obligation of all governments around the world and no-one would deny that terrorism poses a serious threat to Australia.

However, instead of rushing through poorly drafted legislation which conflicts with well-established international human rights principles and the rule of law, the Federal Government needs to stop and take a breath.

The recommendations made by the joint committee have provided the perfect opportunity for a much more thorough examination of the laws to take place, to ensure that human rights protections are not weakened.

Let’s not pass another ill-conceived set of laws which will be still be around 10 years from now, or longer.

Katie Wood is Amnesty International Australia’s legal affairs expert and spokesperson. View her full profile here.

Henry Sapiecha


blue spy eye image

ASIO accidentally spied on itself. Photo: Jessica Hromas

How to spook a spy: spy on your own spooks.

Spying on their own is exactly what Australia’s domestic spy agency did.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation accidentally intercepted calls made by one of its own regional offices.

The interception was a breach of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act, which allows ASIO to use listening devices and computer access.

The breach, which was revealed in the agency’s annual report, was self-reported by ASIO staff and blamed on a technical glitch.

ASIO deleted the intercepted information and says processes have been put in place to prevent the error occurring again.


Henry Sapiecha


More than one in three financial advisers have failed to comply with laws around giving clients appropriate life insurance advice, representing an “unacceptable level of failure”, a damning report by the corporate watchdog has found.

Around 37 per cent of financial planners failed to prioritise clients’ needs and give correct advice, according to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, which reviewed more than 200 files from large and small advice companies.


Around 37 per cent of financial advisers failed to prioritise clients needs and give correct advice, ASIC says. Photo: Jim Rice

“This is an unacceptable level of failure, and the life insurance industry is now on notice to lift standards and professionalism,” ASIC deputy chairman Peter Kell said. “Both insurers and advice firms need to work on delivering a consistently better service for consumers.”

The report found that planners who received expensive, upfront commissions were more likely to deviate from giving appropriate advice.

The survey, which was conducted between September 2013 and July, found 82 per cent of financial planners net their remuneration through upfront commissions, compared with just 0.7 per cent who receive salaries.

“The industry as a whole needs to consider how remuneration and compliance practices can better support good quality outcomes for consumers,” Mr Kell said.

The report comes amid some of the most difficult business conditions on record across Australia’s life insurance sector.

Lapse rates, or the number of people who quit or scale back their life protection cover, is skyrocketing as households tighten their budget belts. Companies such as AMP, TAL and the life arms of Australia’s big banks have posted high lapses in recent years.

Insurance claims are soaring as lawyers encourage their clients to table claims on their life and income protection policies.

Insurance companies’ investment income have also dropped amid lower returns. Adding to the conundrum are advisers who switch their clients from one insurer to another in a bid to pocket higher commissions.

Simon Swanson, chief executive of listed life insurer ClearView Wealth, said there was “more work to be done to ensure there are good processes around advice”.

“It’s not just an advice issue as well – it’s a dealer group or AFSL [Australian Financial Services Licence] issue. The dealer groups [umbrella groups for advisers] have to take more responsibility,” he said.

He also argued that the industry needed more time to sift through a raft of regulatory changes stemming from the Future of Financial Advice Reforms, including advisers’ best interest duties, to tackle the challenges buffeting the life advice sector.

ASIC said a recurring theme in its surveillance was “the failure of advisers to give strategic risk advice to their clients”.

“It is the process of identification and prioritisation of needs and objectives that is the most important aspect of financial advice for consumers. It is a key reason why consumers look for financial advice,” the report noted.

The watchdog is putting the pressure on insurers to review how they pay advisers to ensure customers’ interests are priorities, and develop products that improve the affordability of policies.

It is also placing the onus on advisers to review and amend their business models to comply with the provision of compliant life insurance advice.

Henry Sapiecha

Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) raids home of ex-detective Mick Featherstone who has alleged links to gambling scams

Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) raids home of ex-detective Mick Featherstone who has alleged links to gambling scams image

Investigators have raided the home of a former Queensland police detective alleged to have been involved in gambling scams worth millions of dollars.

The ABC’s 7:30 revealed last month that Mick Featherstone, a former Gold Coast detective turned private investigator, is being investigated by Queensland’s Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) as part of a major probe into a network of Gold Coast-based sports betting syndicates.

The program detailed evidence obtained by the ABC showing Mr Featherstone’s close involvement in the setting up and running of online gambling companies alleged to have defrauded people across Australia of millions of dollars.

Officers from the CCC have since raided the Upper Coomera home of Mr Featherstone and his wife Zoei, removing phones and computer equipment.

Similar action was taken at the home of Mr Featherstone’s son Zach, who works for Phoenix Global, Mr Featherstone’s Southport-based private investigation company.

Henry Sapiecha