It took until the eleventh hour but, as it had so desperately hoped, the government has managed to pass the controversial Assistance and Access Bill.
At 7:30pm on Thursday – the final sitting day of 2018 – the Senate voted 44-12 on the legislation.
Just hours earlier Labor had announced it would pass the laws, provided certain amendments were made.
However, this would have required the bill to be passed back to the House of Representatives for approval, pushing the final decision into the new year.
Labor eventually supported the bill unamended.
“Do I go home and say 'well I hope nothing happens and I hope that the Government's politics don't backfire on the safety of Australians'? I'm not prepared to do it,” said Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten.
It is anticipated that Labor’s amendments will be agreed upon when parliament resumes in February.
And while Shorten criticised the government for its approach on the issue – even telling the ABC that “terrorists don't knock off at five o'clock on the first Thursday in December” – the Senate’s vote handed the coalition a major win.
“I wanted to see those laws passed, they were passed. We had to drag Labor kicking and screaming to the table, but they were shamed into passing it last night and I'm pleased they did,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Sunrise.
“The Opposition wants to move some amendments and they’ll be able to do that when Parliament returns.
“That’s up to them. But we believe those laws were absolutely necessary and the amendments that we put through to the Bill yesterday reflected what had come out of the Joint Parliamentary Committee process.”
The latest amendments included a definition of “systemic weakness”.
Labor backs down
The previous day, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) handed down its bipartisan report on the bill, detailing 17 recommendations.
Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus was then barraged with amendments by the government.
“The government provided Labor with more than 167 amendments, totalling 49 pages, at 6:30am this morning, and yet more amendments at 9:22am,” Dreyfus said.
“Labor will move some minor but important amendments in the Senate to make the amended bill conform with the recommendations of the committee.”
Despite this, the legislation passed unamended, with an agreement to make the appropriate changes in the new year.
Thursday also saw a number of key members of the Labor party speak out strongly against the Bill, only to later vote it in.
“This Bill doesn't resolve, and may even make more difficult, the mutual legal assistance treaties and the CLOUD [Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data] Act problems in us accessing data from these providers overseas,” Labor Member Tim Watts said.
The backlash begins
As expected, it didn’t take long for outcry against the bill to sound.
Leading the chorus was Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow.
“Police and security agencies must be equipped with robust powers to protect our national security. However, these powers need independent oversight, to ensure any impact on our human rights is proportionate to the relevant risks,” said Santow.
“This new law will dramatically increase the access of intelligence and law enforcement agencies to the private communications of ordinary Australians, with implications for our right to privacy and freedom of expression.”
President of the Law Council of Australia, Morry Bailes, called on the PJCIS to resolve the situation.
“We now have a situation where unprecedented powers to access encrypted communications are now law, even though Parliament knows serious problems exist,” Bailes said.
“This is what happens when you compromise an established committee process and allow the work of Parliament to be rushed and politicised.
“Next year, as well as passing the remaining amendments, the intelligence and security committee needs to be brought back into the frame to get these laws right.”