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Thursday, 27 March 2003
Page: 13895


Mr DUTTON (12:02 PM) —The Criminal Code Amendment (Terrorism) Bill 2002 is a key element in the government's legislative package on counter-terrorism—a package of legislation that has seen the government move quickly and decisively to prepare laws that will ensure Australians are protected against the evils of terrorism. Following the dreadful devastation committed in the United States in September 2001 and, in particular, following the sickening attacks in Bali last year, I believe our Australian community spirit has only strengthened. The Australian public has a mentality of never give in, and certainly our resolve as a government and as a people to protect our way of life has again only been strengthened. In this spirit, the Australian people understand that it is crucial that we are able to identify, prevent and, if necessary, punish those who would harm or threaten to harm our families, our friends and our communities.

The government have already developed a range of measures to provide our security and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to do just this. Since the horrific attacks of the past two years, the government have shown their commitment to improving our national security and protecting all Australians by providing a number of measures. Firstly, we have increased intelligence capability, including more ASIO investigators and overseas intelligence officers, more resources for ASIS and a 24-hour ASIO monitoring and alert facility. Secondly, we have upgraded Federal Police capability, which includes new joint and federal, state and territory police counter-terrorist investigation teams and a new counter-terrorist coordination centre. Thirdly, we have strengthened defence forces with additional highly trained counter-terrorist personnel in our special forces, a further counter-terrorist Tactical Assault Group and a 300-strong incident response regiment with specialist skills and equipment to deal with chemical, biological, radiological and explosive threats.

This government has also acted to upgrade emergency services, tighten border controls, improve security for air travellers and protect our critical infrastructure. As I speak today, the Australian defence forces are engaged in the difficult conflict in Iraq, working in the Australian interest to rid the dreadful Saddam Hussein of his weapons of mass destruction and to ensure that terrorists are not able to acquire and use these weapons against innocent people, including Australians.

Our goal today is to ensure that our security and intelligence agencies have the capability to do their absolute best to protect Australians at home. And we are almost there. Last year, the government introduced a package of legitimate legislation to ensure that law enforcement and security agencies had this capability. We inserted new provisions in the Criminal Code to make it an offence, punishable by life imprisonment, to murder, commit manslaughter or intentionally or recklessly cause serious harm to an Australian outside Australia. We amended security legislation to make it an offence to engage in a terrorist act and be a member of a terrorist organisation. We made it an offence to provide or collect funds for a terrorist organisation and it was this government that amended the Telecommunications (Interception) Act so that people suspected of terrorist related activities could be better investigated. And we are still working to give ASIO an enhanced capability to investigate and combat terrorism.

Obviously, we are a government which is completely committed to protecting the Australian people from all manifestations of terrorist activity. You only have to look at our dedication to removing weapons of mass destruction from the regime in Iraq to appreciate that. Today we need to pass this amendment to the Criminal Code to ensure that our new legislative framework is fully effective. The current federal terrorism offences contained in part 5.3 of the Criminal Code, which are offences relating to terrorist acts, terrorist organisations and terrorist financing, commenced on 5 July 2002.

The scope of those offences is limited, by reference, to the mix of existing Commonwealth constitutional powers they rely on. These constitutional powers are extensive but they are also complex, and it is impossible to rule out that there may be some gaps in coverage. Any legal complexity or uncertainty could potentially become a focus for litigation about the effectiveness of the new federal terrorism offences. That is why the Criminal Code Amendment (Terrorism) Bill 2002 is important, because it will assist in ensuring that the new legislative framework is fully effective by enabling comprehensive and national coverage.

The bill will in effect re-enact the terrorist offences in division 101, the terrorist organisation offences in division 102, and the financing of terrorism offences in division 103. Once re-enacted, terrorism offences will be capable of operating throughout Australia without any potential limitations arising from existing limits on Commonwealth constitutional powers. The government is committed to ensuring that our laws are as watertight as possible, and this bill and the referral of powers by the states will do just that. They will rule out arguments about potential gaps in the Commonwealth's power in certain specific circumstances. The states will have referred powers to the Commonwealth so that there can be no question about the legitimacy of the laws.

This bill signals a new commitment of cooperation between the states and the federal government in the fight against crime and terrorism. At this time I would like to make mention of the newly formed Australian Crime Commission, the body that has taken over from the National Crime Authority. My friend from Moncrieff spoke briefly about the Australian Crime Commission in his closing comments. I commend him on the efforts he has made in respect of the support that he has provided to the police agencies, both federal and state, in the seat of Moncrieff on the Gold Coast, south of Brisbane. It is indicative of the support we are seeing now and the cooperation that is taking place between the federal and respective state and territory governments.

The Australian Crime Commission at its very core aims to do just that—to provide a working relationship, to try and eliminate duplication between the states and the Commonwealth and to try and provide for a safer and more harmonious community, which is one of the great objectives of this government. The Australian people believe very strongly in providing for and securing our way of life; it is at the heart of the Australian way. The Australian Crime Commission, in my opinion—and certainly the body that preceded it, the National Crime Authority—goes a long way towards serving that purpose.

Today I wanted to take the opportunity to pay tribute to the many people—the investigators, the operatives, the intelligence analysts and the staff generally—who are attached to the Australian Crime Commission and to commend the efforts that they undertake on a daily basis in the overall aim of providing sound protection to the people of Australia. This bill delivers on the government's commitment to ensure that we are in the best possible position to protect Australians against the evils of terrorism. For that reason I commend the bill to the House.