Australian spies who steal documents will face jail even if those documents are not disclosed to anyone else.
Coalition MPs on Tuesday approved new laws which would make it an offence for an intelligence official to take national security material without authority.
Under current laws, it is only an offence if the official discloses the material to a third party – as was the case with US intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Attorney-General George Brandis told the coalition meeting the bill did not put in place a new data retention scheme.
However he said Britain had recently done so and “this is the way the West is moving”.
There is a push within the federal police and intelligence agencies, in the interests of tackling terrorism, for the government to change laws so internet providers and telephone companies retain customer records for up to two years.
Such records could include the time and location of phone calls, text messages, emails and Skype.
The government is also working on ways to crack down on Australians who train or fight with terrorists in Iraq and Syria.
But these measures are not included in the legislation approved on Tuesday.
It is unclear when the laws will go to parliament.