Cost of metadata laws will be $400 million, cost of inaction incalculable: Tony Abbott

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: Angus Mordant Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: Angus Mordant

Prime Minister Tony Abbott says metadata needs to be kept to catch criminals. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: Angus Mordant

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: Angus Mordant

The cost of keeping metadata for telcos and their customers will be as much as $400 million but Prime Minister Tony Abbott says the price of not storing electronic communication records is “incalculable” because it would lead to an “explosion in unsolved crime.”

Mr Abbott on Wednesday broadened the case for storing metadata as proposed in the third phase of new counter-terror laws by linking it to policing of paedophilia and white collar crimes.

He visited the headquarters of child safety group Bravehearts on the Gold Coast in Queensland with Liberal MP Dan Tehan, who is the chair of the Parliament’s independent and bipartisan intelligence committee, which is scrutinising the legislation.

Mr Abbott said the new laws that would force telcos to keep communications records for two years will help authorities deal with a “whole range of criminal conduct”.

“Metadata and its retention is more important than ever if we are going to be able to track what criminals are doing, whether it be criminals who want to commit terrorist offences, whether it be criminals who are committing corporate offences, whether it be people who are committing child abuse offences, so much of this kind of activity is being conducted online,” he said.

“We all know that people who want to abuse children often feed their habits online.”

Mr Abbott said the cost would equate to 1 per cent of the $40 billion communications sector, or $400 million, but said the price of not acting would be “incalculable”.

“The cost of losing this data is an explosion of unsolved crime, that’s the price of losing this data,” he said, adding it was a small price to pay for the “freedoms” and “safety” Australians deserve.

“And if we don’t get it, it will be a form of unilateral disarmament in the face of criminals… [Without it] our crime fighting agencies and our police are flying blind,” he reiterated.

Tony Abbott’s office says the $400 million price tag is a one-off implementation cost.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has previously said the government would contribute but has not specified how much the sector might be asked to pay. But he Prime Minister appeared to suggest it would be up to the sector to shoulder the costs.

“It’s very important that if you do business in this country you adhere to the rules, and the rules of being a telecommunications provider in this country should include keeping your metadata…for two years,” he said.

Parliament’s intelligence committee will publish its report on the metadata bill next Friday. The government is urging Labor to help it swiftly pass the legislation once the review is handed down. The opposition’s communications spokesman Jason Clare sits on the joint standing committee. He told Sky the evidence presented to MPs “is starting to show…a number of concerns with the legislation that will need to be addressed”.

He listed press freedom, data storage costs and what constitutes metadata as areas of concern.

Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm is opposed to the new legislation and his vote will not have any impact on the legislation’s passage if Labor supports the government.

Senator Leyonhjelm said the Prime Minister’s arguments for new spying powers exposed the estimated costs as just one of many reasons why the legislation is a “crock”.

He also warned that telco companies would be likely to store the data on overseas servers where it could be vulnerable to hacking and misuse.Follow us on Twitter

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