Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie puts Albanese Government on notice over Samantha Murphy telco furore

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Remy Varga
The Nightly
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Senator Jacquie Lambie has blasted the Albanese Government over revelations telecommunications companies were charging investigative agencies for data.
Senator Jacquie Lambie has blasted the Albanese Government over revelations telecommunications companies were charging investigative agencies for data. Credit: The Nightly

Political powerbroker Jacqui Lambie has put the Federal Government on notice over telecommunication companies charging policing agencies for searches in investigations and has accused them of “being part of the problem”.

A fired-up Senator Lambie demanded the Federal Government “fix the problem” in question time on Wednesday, declaring it “shameful” that telcos charged and potentially delayed the investigation into missing Victorian mother Samantha Murphy.

“A mother is missing and the telcos are charging the police to help find her — how shameful is that?,” she said.

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“Is the minister aware that the telecommunications companies are slow to deliver vital data that could help with police investigations?”

Concerns about telcos charging for much-needed data in criminal investigations were highlighted after it took Victorian Police about a month to search the last known area in the disappearance of Victorian mother Samantha Murphy, who went missing after going for a run on February 4.

Senator Lambie said delays in handing over phone record searches obstructed investigations and demanded the Federal Government “fix it”.

“Bottom line is this minister, you have a problem here and I want to know how you’re going to fix it?,” Senator Lambie said.

“How are you going to fix it because they’re obstructionist to an investigation.”

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Senator Lambie says the Albanese Government is “part of the problem”. Credit: News Corp Australia

Senator Murray Watt, answering questions on behalf of the Federal communications portfolio, said he was concerned by reports that telcos were possibly profiting off investigations.

“I’ve already made clear that our government expects telecommunications providers to cooperate with police investigations,” he said.

“To supply whatever data they have available to them to assist with that and to follow the law in terms of what they charge for that.”

Senator Lambie said the Federal Government should be holding telcos to account and ensuring they provide information quickly to investigators.

“You are part of the problem,” she said.

“So the question, what are you going to do about it? It’s not working.”

The Nightly previously revealed questions were raised over how long it took for the data related to Ms Murphy to be handed over to investigators as well as the cost incurred in retrieving the cell phone records.

Veteran former Victorian homicide detective Charlie Bezzina told The Nightly police faced financial, legal and technical barriers in their attempts to access phone data in searches such as that for Ms Murphy.

“Anything from carriers that we require in terms of information comes at a cost,” he said.

“It’s frustrating because you then have to limit the amount of information you might be seeking because of the cost, which can reach thousands of dollars.”

The Telecommunications Act said providers must “neither profit from, nor bear the costs of, providing such assistance” to policing authorities.

One industry source said retrieving the information costs time and money and the telecommunications companies were simply recouping the cost of performing the searches, which involved diverting staff and resources.

In 2022, WA Police Commissioner Col Blanch revealed telco fees had soared from $600,000 in the 2018-19 financial year to $1 million over a period of 12 months.

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