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Tuesday, 29 November 2005
Page: 85

Mr RUDDOCK (Attorney-General) (8:00 PM) —I take this opportunity to thank all members for their contribution to the debate on the Anti-Terrorism Bill (No. 2) 2005. The contributions have been extensive, although not as extensive as some would have liked, but I acknowledge the many contributions. Members opposite have taken the opportunity to discuss a range of issues associated with counter-terrorism more broadly. Some of these issues are relevant to the bill that we have at hand but others not so relevant. The points made by members opposite build on themes identified by the Leader of the Opposition in his amendment to the motion for the second reading of this bill. I will not speak to it again, but let me just say that the government does not support the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition.

The bill before us focuses on a number of very specific matters, namely, law enforcement powers. In countering the domestic terrorism threat, the ability of our agencies to perform that task is affected by not only whether they have the necessary legislative powers but also whether the counter-terrorism framework is wide ranging and robust enough to support and complement their activities. Since September 11, 2001 the government has invested more than $5.6 billion in well over 100 measures designed to protect Australians at home and our interests abroad. The government’s record touches on all of those areas identified by the Leader of the Opposition and more.

Means of transport have been a popular target for terrorists, as we have witnessed in New York, Madrid and London, so the government welcomes the opposition leader’s view that transport security is important. The aviation security regime has been further strengthened with the commencement of the new Aviation Transport Security Act in March 2005. Since March this year, over 250 regional airports and airlines have come under the security regime for the first time. They now have detailed security programs and are required to follow stringent security procedures. The Prime Minister announced the government’s comprehensive response to the Wheeler review of airport security and policing on 21 September. This was followed by the agreement of the Council of Australian Governments on 27 September to new policing arrangements for our major airports as recommended by Wheeler. This bill further strengthens our aviation security regime by increasing Australian Federal Police and Australian Security Intelligence Organisation access to airline passenger information. In addition, it extends stop, question and search powers for police at transport hubs and other places of mass gathering.

The Australian government backs its commitment to a strong aviation security system with significant funding to assist industry. Since September 11 the Australian government has committed almost $500 million to aviation security initiatives, including more than $195 million to be spent in response to the Wheeler report and $35 million to regional airports to fund the upgrading of basic security infrastructure such as fencing, lighting and surveillance technology. The government’s air security officers now protect both domestic and international routes. We maintain a secure aviation transport system because we work with international aviation experts and in accordance with standards. We are active members of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, which establishes and monitors international aviation security standards. The United States Transport Security Administration has an officer permanently based here to liaise with Australian authorities on transport security arrangements. In addition, the Department of Transport and Regional Services works with our regional neighbours on capacity-building initiatives.

Australia has an internationally respected maritime security regime. The Maritime Transport Security Act 2003 implemented the International Ship and Port Facilities Security Code, which requires all ships, ports and port facilities involved in international trade to have developed risk assessments and security plans. Maritime transport security inspectors audited over 60 marine security plans between May and November 2005 covering ports, port facilities, port service providers and Australian flagged ships. In addition, some 110 inspections of Australian maritime industry participants and over 350 inspections of foreign flagged ships took place. We are progressively issuing maritime security identification cards to about 130,000 persons involved in the maritime industry. Australia is on the council of the International Maritime Organisation. Australia’s maritime security regime has been benchmarked by the United States Coast Guard this year, and the Japanese have been invited to examine Australian arrangements in 2006.

I have only touched on the government’s many practical measures in the area of transport security, and this is only a small part of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy, but this is where I take issue with the Leader of the Opposition’s approach to counter-terrorism. In the opposition leader’s speech in the second reading debate we saw the re-emergence of a few big-ticket items designed to create the illusion of a counter-terrorism strategy. These policies have not been thought through or developed. Take, for instance, the proposal for a department of homeland security. The Labor Party seeks to change Australia’s counter-terrorism arrangements for the sake of change. At a time when our agencies are busy actually combating terrorism, Labor wants to restructure them, re-establish their relationships and reorganise their resources to accommodate a bureaucratic change that is simply not justified. Australia has a well-practised national counter-terrorism set of arrangements which have been developed over many years on a whole-of-government basis. They have worked well in the aftermath of the September 11, Bali, Jakarta, Madrid and London bombings. The United Kingdom looked at the same issue and determined that it was not appropriate to start a department of homeland security in the United Kingdom context.

The opposition also seeks further distractions by creating additional levels of oversight for agencies that are already the subject of extensive and appropriate oversight. ASIO’s activities are scrutinised by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security and parliament, through ASIO’s annual reporting process and the parliamentary joint committee, and even the Leader of the Opposition himself is entitled under statute to regular classified briefings. Similarly, the Commonwealth Ombudsman, as well as the parliament and the judiciary, has oversight of Australian Federal Police activities. Further, the government is currently in the process of establishing a new independent statutory oversight agency for the AFP equipped with royal commission powers. In view of these substantial oversight arrangements, the government does not believe that oversight of aspects of the AFP by the Joint Committee on ASIO, ASIS and DSD is appropriate. The mandate of the committee was recently extended as a result of the Flood committee inquiry of 2004. That committee has a very substantial workload and the government is not inclined to expand it further at this stage.

Is the Leader of the Opposition genuinely concerned that existing oversight arrangements are not up to the task? Does he believe that extending investigatory powers, as we do in this bill, will tempt our professional law enforcement and intelligence agencies to run amok? If so, I do not share those concerns. I am impressed on a daily basis with the professionalism and integrity of our officials, but I am also conscious of the community’s expectation that powers be appropriately balanced with safeguards—not necessarily a new level of bureaucratic oversight such as a public interest monitor but genuine, robust safeguards that protect the community while ensuring that our officials are free to get on with the job at hand.

This brings me to the Anti-Terrorism Bill (No. 2) 2005. The government’s view remains that the proposed measures relating to preventive detention, control orders and sedition are consistent with our obligations under international law, including international human rights law. The legislation also contains, in our view, safeguards to ensure that its implementation in individual cases will also be consistent. For example, the bill provides that only appropriately qualified and experienced individuals, judges, federal magistrates and senior members of the AAT may make continued preventive detention orders to prevent an imminent attack or to preserve evidence of a recent attack. Each instance of preventive detention requires a case-by-case assessment of whether the detention is reasonably necessary to assist in the preventing of a terrorist attack or to preserve evidence after an attack.

A person who has been detained under a preventive detention order has the right to contact their lawyer, who may bring an action for judicial review in the High Court or the Federal Court for the purposes of challenging the lawfulness of the detention. Similarly, the bill provides that an interim control order can be requested by a senior member of the AFP, having obtained the Attorney-General’s consent. The court may make the order for a period of not more than 12 months if it is satisfied that, on the balance of probabilities, the making of an order would substantially assist in preventing the commission of a terrorist act.

A control order may not be made in respect of a person under 16 years of age and may only be made for a maximum period of three months for persons aged between 16 and 18 years. The subject of a control order may communicate with a lawyer, who may obtain a copy of the order. Once the order has been served on the person, the bill provides for a hearing so that the court can consider whether or not to confirm the order. The subject of an order and one or more representatives of the subject are entitled to adduce evidence, call witnesses, produce material and make submissions. Furthermore, all provisions in this bill will themselves be the subject of review by COAG after five years and there is the sunset of certain provisions after 10 years.

A lot has been said about the sedition provisions. Members opposite have made sweeping statements about the way these provisions will operate—statements designed not to inform the public debate but rather to promote unsubstantiated and unwarranted anxiety. Members of my own party have discussed the sedition provisions with me at length. Their comments are based on the genuine question of whether sedition provisions remain appropriate. That is why I have given an undertaking to my colleagues and to the parliament to have a look next year and to review the sedition provisions to further update, if necessary, the language used to describe them. That does not suggest that the measures themselves are inappropriate, and that is why I argue very strongly that they ought to continue in their present form in the bill, which is far preferable to the form in which they are in the present law.

I have noticed that the opposition have followed a familiar two-step process in critiquing the sedition provisions. Step 1 involves suggesting that the offence has broader coverage than it actually has. When the government argues convincingly that this is not the case, then it is suggested that the offence makes so little change that it is not necessary. That is step 2. Members opposite who have suggested that the sedition offences will limit fair commentary, artistic expression and critical and peaceful industrial and political and artistic process—

Ms Roxon —It’s not just members opposite.

Mr RUDDOCK —Yes, members opposite. They either have not read the bill or have elected to perpetuate a myth that is not founded on fact. Firstly, sedition requires the urging of force or violence or assisting an enemy engaged in armed hostilities with the Australian Defence Force. The urging must be intentional under the existing and proposed law. There is a good faith defence available where the communication is simply criticising government policy. The defences will cover all the things that are currently covered by the Crimes Act—for example, pointing out mistakes in policy or urging lawful changes to the law. The purpose of these provisions is to modernise the existing provisions designed to criminalise the making of comments where they consist of urging the use of force or violence against our democratic and generally tolerant society here in Australia.

Sedition has become a more relevant offence. As there have not been prosecutions for a long time, people have argued that in the present environment, where at times people are on the internet and elsewhere urging the use of force or violence to overthrow democratic institutions, these new factors might not warrant law dealing with them. The internet and computer technology have made it much easier to disseminate material that urges violence in much the same way that technology has made child pornography easier to disseminate.

I am pleased to be presenting this bill to the parliament. It represents a great deal of hard work by my department and portfolio agencies and extensive consultation between the Commonwealth and the states and territories. I believe this bill meets COAG’s stated objective of giving our security and law enforcement agencies the tools that they need to combat the domestic terrorist threat in the light of the lessons we learned in London. A report has been presented in another place. I am examining that report. I believe that, in it, there are some matters that I can further address. I will do so. The process in which we are engaged is to discuss with the states and territories those elements that were relevant to their referral of power. It seems to us appropriate that, if there are to be any further changes, they be consulted. Of course, that process also involves discussion with the government members committee and, ultimately, the government parties. When we have had that opportunity, we will quite probably bring forward some further amendments. I do not believe that they will be amendments of a substantial character but, in the main, I think they will reflect the desire to finetune some of the measures that were raised in the Senate committee report.

Finally, I suggest that the Leader of the Opposition, no doubt after having considered my comments, may even agree with the assessment and not press his amendment, given that the focus of his objections and those of his colleagues appear to be unrelated to the actual text of the bill. I commend the bill to the House and I look forward to further discussion before we conclude the passage of the bill.

Question put:

That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr Beazley’s amendment) stand part of the question.