Fairfax front pagesOctober 16, 2014

Fairfax front pages | October 16, 2014 The Border Mail, Albury, Victoria

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Dogs tip nearly $1m towards Giant deal

Tom Boyd of the Giants celebrates a goalThe Western Bulldogs’ decision to pay close to a million dollars of Ryan Griffen’s contract to play with the Giants for the next four years, as well as offering up their first round draft pick were critical in the GWS backflip in agreeing to trade Tom Boyd.

The Bulldogs had initially insisted on only a straight swap of their captain for Boyd but the decision to significantly increase the trade offer by adding their first draft pick – No.6 – and contribute a major part of Griffen’s contract was a game changer for the Giants who were also under AFL pressure to bring in seasoned players to quickly become more competitive.

Sources said the Giants were not finished trading and were positioning for further activity on the last day of trades, ahead of Thursday’s 2pm deadline.

Boyd, who has played nine AFL games after being taken at No.1 in last year’s national draft, has been offered a seven-year deal by the Bulldogs worth more than $6 million. In reality it is a six-year deal worth $1 million a year, which starts from 2016, as players in their first two seasons are on AFL-mandated contracts with standard payments based on number of games and where they are picked in the draft.

Boyd, who recently turned 19, will be on the mandated contract terms next year – which, if he played every game would enable him to earn about $200,000 – but then it is understood his contract will jump to slightly more than $1 million a year for the next six seasons.

Text messages from the promising young forward, while on a surfing holiday in Indonesia to his coach Leon Cameron and chief executive David Matthews, helped create the shift in the Giants’ mindset over their refusal to trade the young player.

The Dogs bold decision to throw everything at Boyd came out of a meeting at the home of Bulldogs president Peter Gordon attended by chief executive Simon Garlick and Boyd’s manager Liam Pickering on Tuesday night. It is understood it was at that meeting the Dogs agreed to add pick six to the offer of their captain Griffen and raised the idea of contributing to the cost of Griffen’s contract. There were direct negotiations on Wednesday between Garlick and Matthews to finalise the trade.

The Boyd camp had been strong in insisting that he would only go to the Bulldogs next year once his initial two-year contract was up and therefore sought to disabuse the Giants of the idea that they would be able to auction him to all 10 Victorian clubs next year for a better deal.

Once the Bulldogs offer was substantially improved to add pick six to Griffen, and the contribution to the midfielder’s contract, it was doubtful they would receive a better trade deal.

Furthermore, even the Giants felt other clubs would be unlikely to offer a financial deal of the length and scale of the Bulldogs’ offer for Boyd next year and so there was a risk of losing him for nothing through the pre-season draft.

The Boyd-Griffen deal capped the most dramatic day of action in the history of the draft and trading system in which not only was last year’s No.1 draft pick traded for a club captain, but three high-profile contracted players – two of them former All-Australians – whom their clubs had said would not be traded, were all traded, and a mega five-club, six-player deal was finally struck, while several other trades were also done.

On a hectic day, the complex deal involving Dayne Beams becoming a Lion, Levi Greenwood, Jack Crisp and Travis Varcoe becoming Pies, Mitch Clark a Cat, Heritier Lumumba a Demon and a clutch of draft picks changing hands, was finally completed.

Soon after that, Geelong moved pick 21 – which they had received the previous day from Brisbane for Allen Christensen – to the Saints for Rhys Stanley.

Carlton also completed its deal to move their draft pick seven to GWS for pick 19, Kristian Jaksch and Mark Whiley.

Gold Coast is offering picks 47 and 49 to Hawthorn for midfielder Mitch Hallahan, who wants to join the Suns. Hawthorn has asked for the club’s second round selection, 29.

Carlton is interested in delisted Sydney player Matthew Dick, who could be signed as a delisted free agent from November 1.

The outlier to all of this action was Essendon and Port Adelaide who went to mediation talks on Wednesday to try to break the deadlock in negotiations for Paddy Ryder to move to Port Adelaide, but to no avail. That negotiation shapes as the critical last-day deal to be done Thursday.

Australians remain top as richest in the world

Another day, another stellar global comparison for Australia.

The Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report has ranked us No.1 for median adult wealth, like last year and the year before that. What’s more, the report predicts Australia will keep top spot on that measure until at least the end of this decade.

But when it comes to average wealth, we’re ranked No.2 behind Switzerland. So which is better – a higher median or a higher average?

A good illustration of the difference between the median and the average is what happens whenever the super-rich Bill Gates arrives at a crowded bar – the average wealth of the crowd soars but the median stays pretty much the same – that is the wealth of the middle person if you lined up everyone in the bar from richest to poorest.

That makes the median the best figure for comparing the wealth of regular people in different countries, because the number is not skewed by the very rich.

The difference between a country’s median and average wealth is a rough indicator of how wealth is distributed across the population. The narrower the gap, the more evenly wealth is spread.

In the US, a country with a relatively high level of inequality, the median adult wealth of $US53,352 ($61,000) was just 15 per cent of the average of $US347,845. But that gap was much narrower in Australia, where the median adult wealth ($US225,337) was 52 per cent of the average ($US430,777).

Australia’s No.1 ranking for median adult wealth follows a No.2 ranking, behind Norway, on a more meaningful measure – the United Nations Human Development Index, which rates countries according to health, education and income.

But the latest World Happiness Report, published by the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network, ranked Australia 10th.

Fire which broke out at the Barangaroo construction site in Sydney in March spread quickly while workers lunched

The Barangaroo fire caused traffic chaos and forced thousands to evacuate. Photo: Rob Homer The Barangaroo fire caused traffic chaos and forced thousands to evacuate. Photo: Rob Homer

The Barangaroo fire caused traffic chaos and forced thousands to evacuate. Photo: Rob Homer

The Barangaroo fire caused traffic chaos and forced thousands to evacuate. Photo: Rob Homer

The Barangaroo inferno that brought Sydney to a standstill in March spreadunusually quickly while workers were at lunch, fuelled by highly flammable material probably ignited by heat or sparks, official reports reveal.

The documents show just how close an 86-metre-tall crane and huge concrete slabs came to collapse, as flames licked at the crane’s base and temperatures at the fire floor reached 1100 degrees.

The findings raise questions over work practices at the site before the fire, which caused traffic chaos, forced thousands of people to be evacuated and blanketed central Sydney in a cloud of smoke.

The March 12 fire at Tower 3 at Barangaroo South involved the ground floor and two basement levels.

A Fire and Rescue NSW investigation synopsis, obtained by Fairfax Media,suggests three possible ignition sources: heat produced by welding work, a spark produced by an angle grinder or freshly cut hot metal.

The report by an unnamed senior firefighter, issued about three weeks after the blaze, said the area where the fire began”consisted of several combustible materials”. In particular, it noted a “highly flammable” polyurethane filler that poses a “severe fire hazard when exposed to heat or flame”.

“It is my opinion that carrying out hot work [involving significant heat or sparks] in proximity to the volume and configuration of combustible material at the point of origin has resulted in an accidental fire,” the report said.

According to a timeline, workers operating on a steel column broke for lunch at 1.50pm, and a contractor raised the alarm five minutes later.

During the fire two-metre flames and smoke burst from vents around the base of the crane, which could have led to a “rapid collapse … it may twist and buckle and come down”, the report said.

Supports encasing recently poured concrete had been destroyed and “concern is whether [the concrete] can continue to support itself”.

A witness had reported smelling methane gas on the morning of the fire. The report said while the presence of gas may have contributed to the blaze, the area was well ventilated and there was no report of a leaking gas main on the day.

A separate internal report of the Barangaroo Delivery Authority said the rapid spread of the fire was “very unusual in construction” and was partly fuelled by the “chimney effect” of small openings in the structure above large, open basement areas.

A Fire and Rescue NSW spokeswoman said the possible sources of the fire have been referred to police and Workcover NSW.

Workcover NSW said it is still investigating the fire, including what work activities may have contributed and what controls should have been in place.

A Lend Lease spokeswoman did not answer questions about how the fire had affected the project’s deadline or on the insurance excess paid, saying it would be “inappropriate” to comment until investigations were complete.

She pointed to the company’s full-year results released in August, which put the post-tax financial impact of the fire at $6.2 million.

Major parties stand to reap millions from taxpayers under proposed donations laws

New laws proposed by NSW Premier Mike Baird have been hit with criticism. The major political parties stand to reap millions of dollars from taxpayers to fund their campaigns at the next NSW election under proposed laws announced by Premier Mike Baird, an outcome being criticised by a leading academic as “extraordinary”.

Mr Baird has responded to revelations at the Independent Commission Against Corruption of rorting of donations laws before the last state election by unveiling a new funding system to be in place for the March 2015 poll.

The Liberal, National and Labor parties will be be eligible for taxpayer funding of up to $4 per vote they receive in the Legislative Assembly and up to $3 per vote received in the upper house, the Legislative Council.

They will only be reimbursed for what they spend on an election. But they may spend – and therefore be reimbursed – up to $9.3 million each.

They also will be allowed to accept private political donations but their overall spending must stay within a $9.3 million cap.

In addition, up to a further $100,000 spent in each lower house seat may be reclaimed from taxpayers, effectively creating a second $9.3 million spending cap across the 93 electorates.

Anne Twomey, professor of constitutional law at the University of Sydney, says that as a result of the new scheme the major parties stand to be handed millions of dollars extra by NSW taxpayers.

Professor Twomey has calculated the money parties would be eligible to be reimbursed based on the 2007 state election (she deemed the 2011 election as atypical of the votes received by each party due to the Coalition landslide).

Based on first preference votes received in 2007 Labor and Country Labor could together claim up to $10.6 million in taxpayer funding under the new system. The Liberal and National parties could claim $9.7 million.

This means both parties would have their election campaigns fully funded by the taxpayer, instead of only about 75 per cent of their expenditure under the current system.

The new rules would allow all parties to bill the taxpayer for extras such as travel and market research. If it exceeded the first $9.3 million cap, this spending could potentially be reimbursed by distributing it across electorates under the separate $9.3 million spending cap.

Professor Twomey also noted that the total number of voters grows each election, meaning the new system naturally increases the potential pot of money that can be reclaimed by parties from the taxpayer.

“It’s extraordinary that after such a great deal of debate as to whether full public funding of elections is acceptable the Baird government has introduced full public funding by stealth without justifying its decision to do so,” she said.

“Does the public really want to spend many, many more millions of dollars on political parties when there are other priorities like schools, hospitals, roads?

“It may be the public thinks those millions could be spent on something more worthwhile than making life easier for political parties.”

The bill passed the lower house on Wednesday but debate in the upper house has been deferred until next week.

This followed concerns raised by the Greens and Christian Democratic Party that failing to get a candidate elected in the lower house would lead to their potential taxpayer funding being significantly reduced.

Sydney public transport: fewer complaints

“People … are telling us they are seeing improvements”: Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian Photo: Lisa McMahon “People … are telling us they are seeing improvements”: Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian Photo: Lisa McMahon

“People … are telling us they are seeing improvements”: Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian Photo: Lisa McMahon

“People … are telling us they are seeing improvements”: Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian Photo: Lisa McMahon

Grumbling about public transport might be as much a feature of Sydney as the harbour. But according to government surveys, Sydney residents are doing it less.

The light rail service from Dulwich Hill to Central was the only form of public transport to experience a drop in “customer satisfaction”, according to survey results released on Thursday by the Transport Minister, Gladys Berejiklian.

Satisfaction ratings for trains, buses, ferries and taxis all increased in the year to May. But the surveys also highlighted what caused commuters and occasional passengers the most angst.

For train and ferry passengers, the availability of parking near train stations and wharves remains the biggest issue. Just 13 per cent of train users said they were very satisfied with parking levels.

Bus passengers, meanwhile, nominated the lack of information about service delays as their biggest complaint. The infrequency of buses was also nominated by a large number of bus passengers as a complaint.

The customer satisfaction index was created by Ms Berejiklian’s Transport for NSW based on survey results.

The surveys also measure satisfaction by train line. The Carlingford Line (now called T6) scored the lowest level of satisfaction. The Hunter Line, which the state government plans to truncate, recorded the highest, while among inner rail lines the Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra Line also scored highly.

Ms Berejiklian said: “We know we still have plenty of work to do, but overall people using public transport are telling us they are seeing improvements.

“We will use this feedback to ensure we see even better results again next year,” she said.An earlier version of this report incorrectly referred to the Carlingford Line as T5.

WorkCover NSW bullying: Wayne Butler receives belated apology for poor treatment and dismissal

Bullied … Wayne Butler, the Workcover NSW employee, received an unconditional apology for the poor treatment he received by his employer. The Industrial Commission had already ordered that he be reinstated to his job. Photo: Phil HearneA belated and unconditional apology has been given to Wayne Butler who was bullied by the workplace safety regulator, WorkCover NSW.

The apology comes four months after a joint parliamentary committee found that bullying is rife in the ranks of the regulator.

The cross-party committee urged WorkCover to make a public apology to staff including Wayne Butler, an employee it was forced to reinstate after it sacked him for dubious reasons. The committee said this was important to help the organisation rebuild trust with staff.

A letter by Vivek Bhatia, chief executive officer of the WorkCover Safety, Return to Work and Support dated on Wednesday apologised for the way Mr Butler was treated during an investigation and for his dismissal. WorkCover accepts that he was exonerated and completely cleared of all allegations.

“This is an unconditional apology, made without any qualifications or reservations. I regret the way in which you were treated during the investigation and your dismissal and I acknowledge that you and your family did go through a difficult and distressing time. I would also like to extend my apology to your family as well,” the letter said.

“The STWS Executive Team and I, sincerely apologise for all statements made during the inquiry hearings which may have inferred that WorkCover held other evidence if misconduct by yourself. This is not the case at all.

“I confirm there are no matters to your conduct other than the allegations made against you in 2012. All of those 2012 allegations were not sustained even partially in a court of law, whose decision we accept without reservation.”

Deputy President of the NSW Industrial Relations Commission Rodney Harrison described an investigation WorkCover conducted into Mr Butler as little more than a “witch-hunt” and characteristic of “institutional bullying”.

Mr Butler had spent 12 years in WorkCover’s Safety, Return to Work and Support Division until being sacked in November 2012 following an investigation Mr Harrison denounced in June last year as “deplorable”.

The committee also recommended new anti-bullying laws for all workers in NSW in a report that was damning of WorkCover. It also called for independent oversight of the agency, which has responsibility for regulating workplace safety and providing workers compensation.

Greens MP and Industrial relations spokesperson David Shoebridge said the government apology comes just 48 hours before WorkCover is required to make its submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry into bullying.

“Without this continuing Parliamentary pressure it is pretty obvious that WorkCover would not have apologised,” he said.

“This apology is far too late, but I welcome the fact that it is unconditional and has finally been delivered.

“Mr Butler, like every employee in NSW, deserves to be treated with far more respect than he received at the hands of WorkCover.”

From Hipsters to Soul Mates

Cavemen: Christiann van Vuuren and Nick Boshier star in Soul Mates which debuts on ABC2 on October 23. Cavemen: Christiann van Vuuren and Nick Boshier star in Soul Mates which debuts on ABC2 on October 23.

Cavemen: Christiann van Vuuren and Nick Boshier star in Soul Mates which debuts on ABC2 on October 23.

Cavemen: Christiann van Vuuren and Nick Boshier star in Soul Mates which debuts on ABC2 on October 23.

In a yoga studio turned TV-set in Bondi Pavilion, it is difficult to spot where the ultra irony of the beachside burb ends and the mockumentary begins, such has been the success of the YouTube sensation Bondi Hipsters in nailing the parody of this generation’s zeitgeist cliche.

Christiann van Vuuren and Nick Boshier, whose alter egos Dom Nader and Adrian Archer are a perfect distillation of society’s grievances with the hipster trope, have come along way since shooting the early episodes of Bondi Hipsters in the lounge room of their friend’s apartment.

Decked out in flamboyant lycra ensembles, Boshier and van Vuuren are preparing for an afternoon shoot that will see Dom and Adrian attempt to navigate the perennial quandary of zen-seekers: the yoga fart.

Above the din of  TV  cameras rolling into position, van Vuuren’s directions fly thick, fast and ridiculous across the wooden-panelled studio: “As long as the person who sees the camel toe is behind the person who has the camel toe.”

As the production crew scuttle across the set, rushing to add the final touches before lunch break, a make-up artist manages to hold van Vuuren still for just long enough to seal Dom’s beard to his face.

Everything looks set to roll on an upmarket episode of Bondi Hipsters. Except, not quite.

The duo are midway through filming their latest, and undoubtedly most ambitious venture yet, Soul Mates – a  6-episode comedy series commissioned by ABC2, which sees Dom and Adrian’s Bondi Hipster bromance reincarnated across the time continuum.

“It’s a comedy show about two dickheads who bump into each other in other lifetimes,” Boshier says as he greets me on set, bespectacled in his character Adrian’s signature black-framed glasses (ironically lensless of course).

After two years of refining Dom and Adrian’s moral and sexual ambiguities for an internet audience, Boshier and Van Vuuren’s acting talents will be tested in a fresh set of characters: as cavemen in the neanderthal era, as Kiwi assassins in the ’80s and as agents in a time travel agency in the future.

“We haven’t done any TV before,” Boshier says, “and we haven’t done anything internationally before in TV.”

But this is what makes the duo’s swift rise from obscurity to mainstream all the more remarkable, and a testament to the internet’s power to juggernaut raw talent. Neither actor’s CVs are furnished with the formal acting qualifications you might expect of stars of a major network TV series.

The two men had already staked separate claims to the title of “viral sensation” when they met at a YouTube convention in 2011. A guest speaker at the convention, Van Vuuren had garnered worldwide attention with the Fully Sick Rapper – a video web series he created while quarantined in a Sydney hospital for six months with tuberculosis in 2010.

“It was the first time that I had come across Christiaan’s stuff, and I immediately thought our senses of humour were aligned,” says Boshier, who had achieved internet notoriety as “Trent from Punchy”, a foul-mouthed bogan from Sydney’s western suburbs. He was also part of the team behind the Beached Az whale series.

The young creatives kept in contact after the convention, riffing on ideas for collaboration. Some weeks later, in a setting that could not have been more ironically suited, van Vuuren and Boshier sketched out the idea for Bondi Hipsters.

“We caught up in North Bondi and had a breakfast, and had an avocado smoothie that we both agreed had a consistency of dragon semen,” says Boshier.

“That was the moment,” Boshier recalls, when van Vuuren struck with comedic timing: “so I have this idea of two hipster characters we can jam on.”

And so, in late 2011, Dom Nadier and Adrian Archer, the two self-absorbed fashionistas from Bondi, arrived on the internet, spruiking their nameless fashion label in their signature hipster argot.

“Why waste fahshun resources on printing labels? We’re trying to minhamise our environmentahl footsie,” Dom says, as he flicks his cigarette butt out the window.

From there “it started to naturally blend from a two-person thing to a three-person thing,” Boshier says, with Connor van Vuuren, Christiaan’s brother, joining the fold as a co-writer.

These days, the talented triumvirate are a professional outfit.  When Soul Mates hits TV screens in October, the brothers will celebrate their first co-directing TV credits under their production company, the Van Vuuren Brothers.

With Dom and Adrian, purveyors of the underground and undiscovered, now poised at the precipice of mainstream success, will the duo’s TV debut bring about their ideological demise?

“Christiaan wanted to kill them off immediately,” Boshier says, but hints that Dom and Adrian may well endure for as long as the millennial subculture does.

“Not to say we want to globally dominate,” he says, but  “we haven’t explore the lengths to which we can take these characters.”

Soul Mates, ABC2, Thursday, October 23, 9.30pm

Muslim groups, lawyers and academics call for Foreign Fighters Bill to be put on ice

More than 40 groups have signed a letter to Attorney-General George Brandis over the so-called Foreign Fighters Bill. Photo: Andrew Meares More than 40 groups have signed a letter to Attorney-General George Brandis over the so-called Foreign Fighters Bill. Photo: Andrew Meares

More than 40 groups have signed a letter to Attorney-General George Brandis over the so-called Foreign Fighters Bill. Photo: Andrew Meares

More than 40 groups have signed a letter to Attorney-General George Brandis over the so-called Foreign Fighters Bill. Photo: Andrew Meares

Muslim groups, lawyers, Amnesty International and Civil Liberties Australia have united to urge the federal government to delay passing its latest anti-terror law.

Forty-three groups, including the National Imams Council and Lebanese Muslim Association, have signed a letter to Attorney-General George Brandis warning that the case has not been made for the need for the so-called Foreign Fighters Bill.

The bill, which will bestow new powers on national security agencies to detain and investigate terror suspects and returning fighters, will be rushed through Parliament by the end of the month with the support of Labor.

“The government is seeking to rush this law through Parliament … doing so will deny our elected representatives and the community the opportunity to fully debate the proposed changes,” the group wrote to Senator Brandis in a statement delivered on Wednesday afternoon.

“The government must explain why all of these changes are needed. Australia already has laws to meet the threat posed by foreign fighters. Indeed, the government and its agencies have formidable powers to combat terrorism. In light of this, it is not clear why some of the changes in the bill are necessary, particularly where they could have a major impact on the human rights of every Australian.”

Several of the groups who signed the letters have already lodged detailed submissions to the Senate committee scrutinising the bill. It is due to report on Friday ahead of Parliament’s return on Monday.

The Australian Lawyers Alliance has raised concern the new law could be unconstitutional as it will allow security agents to search houses before applying for a “delayed notification” warrant and give the Attorney-General power to suspend a terror suspect’s welfare payments. In both cases, there would be no avenue to appeal to the courts.

The Muslim Legal Network, a co-signatory, raised concern in its submission that the new concept of “advocating terrorism” could preclude teachings from certain passages of texts such as the Koran and the Old Testament.

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, the independent regulator overseeing the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, has said the legislation is so wide as to redefine the meaning of “security” which could lead to any Australian who commits a criminal act overseas becoming a legitimate target of ASIO.

The organisations and individuals include constitutional expert George Williams of the University of NSW, international law Professor Ben Saul of Sydney University and Professor Hilary Charlesworth, of the Australian National University.

In its letter, the group pointed out that existing anti-terror laws do not lapse until 2015, allowing time to scrutinise new measures like the Foreign Minister’s power to proscribe certain areas of conflict as “no go zones” for Australians.

“These regimes risk encroaching on rights to freedom from arbitrary detention, free speech, movement and association, without specifically addressing the threat posed by foreign fighters,” the group said.

“Given the extraordinary nature of this bill, the undersigned call on the Australian Parliament to not pass the bill without a more comprehensive public consultation on the necessity of the laws and their compliance with domestic and international human rights obligations.”

A spokesman for Senator Brandis declined to comment.

Opposition grows to storage of photo and biometric data

There will be a major expansion of facial recognition imaging. Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said “a clear explanation” was needed from the government. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Privacy fears: the government has announced a significant expansion of its biometric data collection.

Photographs of millions of Australians will be stored by the Immigration Department, and this “biometric data” gathering could extend to fingerprinting and iris scanning under the Abbott government’s controversial counterterrorism laws.

The “foreign fighters” bill means there will be a major expansion of facial recognition imaging of Australians passing through international airports in a crackdown on passport fraud that could eventually apply to a wide range of biometric data – which could be shared with other government agencies.

Critics say the danger of such information being hacked is profound, given many personal electronic devices are now secured by fingerprints and iris scans.

The sheer scale of the personal information that would stream into the government’s databanks is set to open one of the first fissures in the largely bipartisan approach to national security, with Labor warning that the legislation poses a danger to privacy.

“It’s clear that this provision would be a significant expansion of biometric data collection by the government,” shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said.

“Australians deserve a clear explanation from the government about what protections will be put in place to protect the privacy and security of their information.”

The legislation specifically clears the way for all Australians as well as foreigners to be photographed when they leave Australia and when they return if they go through automated passport gates – which are set to become far more commonly used.

The department estimates that between 40 and 60 per cent of the 35 million travellers leaving and entering Australia each year would be photographed, many millions of them Australians.

The department can also share the biometric information for “specified purposes” according to the bill’s explanatory memoranda, though it does not explain what these purposes are.

The foreign fighters bill is being scrutinised by the high-powered parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security before a vote expected by the end of the month.

It would allow the government to collect and store fingerprints and iris scans without needing to pass new laws. This could instead by done through regulations, which can be blocked only if opposition parties muster a majority of MPs in either house.

The Privacy Commissioner, Timothy Pilgrim, told a recent parliamentary hearing into the legislation that under the changes, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection would hold personal biometric information to an unprecedented “extent and volume”.

The Immigration Department was rocked this year by an embarrassing data breach in which the personal details of nearly 10,000 asylum seekers were mistakenly made available on the department’s website.

Underscoring the extent of security concerns, the growing biometrics database would be secured by the nation’s top defence cyberspooks, the Australian Signals Directorate, according to testimony given by the department to the intelligence and security committee last week.

The ASD has indirectly suffered its own data breach recently in the case of renegade American intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, whose massive leaks of Western intelligence files involved some relating to the agency including, most spectacularly, details of Australian spying efforts against Indonesian leaders.

Privacy advocates are particularly worried about the consequences of biometric data being hacked because, unlike a passport or a tax file number, it cannot be changed.

“You can’t readily change your fingerprints or your face,” Australian Privacy Foundation chairman Roger Clarke said.

Labor MP Anthony Byrne, the intelligence and security committee’s deputy chairman, expressed deep concern at a public hearing last week about the privacy implications.

“I am deeply, deeply uncomfortable with that level of data being kept by that department, particularly given the potential for someone to break into that and basically lift hundreds of thousands of fingerprints of Australian citizens,” he said.

“Think about the privacy implications of that with iris recognition, which is used for laptops and computer systems. Iris scans are now being used on portable devices.”

Emily Howie of the Human Rights Law Centre said more debate was needed about the government’s counterterrorism laws.

“Australians’ right to privacy is often eroded through the use of new surveillance powers and technologies without proper legal safeguards,” she said. “Of course the government has a responsibility to protect the community, but it must do so in a manner that is reasonable and accountable.”