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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31450


Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) (9:15 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Australian Passports Bill will provide a modern legal structure to underpin our world-class passports system.

The government wants to ensure that Australians can continue to rely on a travel document of the highest integrity, which clearly establishes their identity and citizenship.

The Australian Passport Bill would replace the existing 65-year-old act. New elements include increased penalties for fraud, measures to reduce the number of lost and stolen passports, and an improved mechanism to prevent terrorists and other criminals from using passports.

Identity fraud is a major security problem—it has been estimated to cost $1.1 billion annually.

The bill would increase the penalties for fraud up to $110,000 or a 10-year jail term from $5,000 or two years jail in the current act.

These penalties are the same as for comparable offences for people-smuggling.

These penalties will apply across all indictable offences, such as false statements in applications and illegal use of a passport, including sale.

This will ensure that the Australian passport is not targeted by those seeking to commit identity fraud.

The new act would enable us to combat identity fraud through the use of emerging technologies, such as biometrics.

The bill also contains a package of measures aimed at reducing the number of lost and stolen passports. The government's policy approach is twofold—to emphasise the importance of protecting passports and to stop the misuse of lost or stolen passports.

The bill contains important new measures to support national security and law enforcement objectives.

The new act will explicitly allow for refusal or cancellation of a passport if an Australian is likely to engage in, is charged with—or has been sentenced for—specified serious crimes.

These crimes will include child sex tourism, child abduction, sexual slavery, drug trafficking, people-smuggling and terrorism.

In these circumstances, the bill makes clear that it is the responsibility of law enforcement agencies to assess that a person should be prevented from travelling. The person's passport would then be refused or cancelled to complement the law enforcement objectives.

Existing powers to cancel a passport if a person could prejudice national security are retained in the bill.

These strong measures are necessary, particularly to stop the misuse of lost or stolen passports and to stop terrorists and other criminals from travelling on Australian passports.

However, these powers must be administered fairly. Natural justice under the new act will be maintained in a number of ways.

Firstly, the bill clearly states the entitlement of Australians to a passport. This provides a sound legal footing for any subsequent proceedings.

Secondly, the bill retains the comprehensive administrative review regime of the existing act.

In this context, the government's policy is that Australian passports law should not be used as an extension of the judicial system and should not be expected to impose any more restraint on an individual than a court would be prepared to impose.

In short, the refusal or cancellation of a passport should not be used as a substitute for arresting and charging a suspect. Such administrative action should complement the law enforcement action.

In addition, as some travellers can lose multiple passports through no fault of their own, the specific categories of circumstances in which action may be taken against them will be set out clearly. These categories will be subject to parliamentary approval.

Another priority for the government is that the new act set out a clear statutory framework to protect privacy.

I consider that high standards of privacy protection are important to maintain community confidence in a system which holds the information of about eight million Australians.

A key element is a transparent mechanism for obtaining information to verify identity and citizenship. The bill also proposes to regulate the disclosure of information for other limited purposes.

The bill retains the basic requirements for the issue of passports for children. These requirements are in place to protect children from abduction and to protect the rights of parents.

In some circumstances, where there is a dispute between parents about whether their child can travel internationally, officers of my department are required under the current act to make decisions to resolve the dispute. These decisions are made with the best intentions but outside the formal policy and legislative framework established under the family law system.

The bill proposes that, in such cases, a declaration may be made that the matter should be dealt with by a court.

In the short time available, I have set out the basic new elements of the Australian Passports Bill. I look forward to debate on this bill in this House. I present the explanatory memorandum to this bill.

Debate (on motion by Mr Fitzgibbon) adjourned.