Tony Abbott is stepping up the pressure on Labor to swiftly pass new data retention laws, which are now expected to cost up to $400 million a year.
The Prime Minister revealed the cost, which Labor has been seeking, before he delivers a major national security speech to parliament on Monday.
The legislation, introduced in October but yet to pass either house of parliament, mandates telecommunications companies keep metadata for two years.
Metadata is information collected from devices, including phone numbers used, how long people talked to each other, the e-mail address from which a message was sent and the time the message was sent.
It is used by police and intelligence agencies to investigate such crimes as terrorism and child sexual abuse networks.
Talking to child protection advocates on the Gold Coast on Wednesday, Mr Abbott warned there would be an “explosion of unsolved crime” without the changes.
“If we don’t keep this data, our crime fighting agencies and the police are flying blind,” Mr Abbott said.
The $400 million cost represented one per cent of the $40 billion telecommunications sector.
“It seems like a small price to pay to give ourselves safety and freedom.”
Asked if industry would have to pay for the measure, Mr Abbott said: “It is very important that if you do business in this country, you adhere to the rules.”
‘Important step forward’: Shorten
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the cost figure was an important step forward.
Labor is expected to bring forward amendments to the legislation, but has backed two previous tranches of counter-terrorism laws.
The opposition says the bill must consider the rights of individuals, privacy principles, the potential extra cost of internet services and protect journalists and whistleblowers.
Greens spokesman Scott Ludlam said the government should scrap the bill, as there was no evidence that mandatory data retention reduced crime or improved public safety.
Senate crossbencher David Leyonhjelm said it was outrageous Australians would be paying $20 a head for the government to “snoop” on everyone.
“They’re looking for a needle in a haystack trying to control these terrorists and all they are doing is building a bigger haystack,” the Liberal Democratic Party senator said.
Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson said checks were needed to prevent information from being hacked or being accessed without authority by telco employees.
“I have natural deep instinctive reservations of the significant holding of peoples’ private and personal information by very large services available for access by government,” Mr Wilson said.
Labor communications spokesman Jason Clare said the Prime Minister needed to reveal how much the new scheme would cost business and consumers.
“If the Liberal government is intending on imposing a new internet tax on households to pay for this, then it must be upfront about that,” Mr Clare said.
“We can’t afford something as important as national security laws to be sidetracked by Tony Abbott’s determination to avoid being straight on this.”
A parliamentary committee is due to report on the bill on February 27.