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Tuesday, 31 October 2006
Page: 109

Mr BRENDAN O’CONNOR (8:47 PM) —I rise to support the amendment moved by the member for Brisbane because the Inspector of Transport Security Bill 2006 is deficient without the amendment being accepted by the government. I would also like to associate myself with the comments made by the member for Melbourne Ports, who is indeed the secretary of Labor’s national security caucus committee and who is very interested in these particular matters and spends a great deal of time considering them.

I wish I could say the same for the Minister for Transport and Regional Services or for the government, because it seems that there has been a great delay in this matter coming before us today and it is similar to a bill that was before us this morning, which dealt with matters that also went to our national security. As you might recall, Mr Deputy Speaker Causley, the Australian Citizenship Bill was important for our national security because there were provisions in it that extended the length of time a person would have to wait until becoming an Australian citizen. There was the provision of a 10-point plan arising from meetings of COAG where federal, state and territory governments considered a response to the bombings in London. That matter had been determined 12 months ago but we were debating it only today, because the bill had been delayed for that long.

Indeed the announcement to provide some authority for the inspector’s position in the Inspector of Transport Security Bill 2006 was announced in May last year. The actual appointment of the inspector was announced in 2003. Five years after the tragedy that occurred in New York and in other parts of that nation as a result of a terrorist attack, we are still trying to work out what particular inspectorial regime we want to oversee our national security. That is a travesty and it is a failure of this government.

I also want to comment upon the remarks of the member for Chisholm. The Labor Party did establish a task force to examine breaches of our national security and to examine where there were weaknesses. The report that that task force released about three or four months ago went to some of the problems that this government should be attending to. The member for Chisholm reiterated the concerns of that committee and referred to the particular experts that the committee spoke with as well as mentioning the remote areas that she found herself in when examining the particular concerns of security breaches in our ports.

If you listened to the debate that has occurred this evening, you would have to say that the government seems to have very little regard for this chamber, the bill, national security or indeed all three matters. Not one government member has spoken on this bill. The member for O’Connor rose during the debate and spoke for 20 minutes—he just did not speak on the bill. It does worry me when I do not see one government member wanting to explain why there is a delay, wanting to explain why there is not a full-time inspector, wanting to explain, for example, why this inspector cannot of his own motion ensure there is a particular inquiry which at the moment can only be undertaken pursuant to the powers of the minister. These are the sorts of matters that you would think government members would want to explain to the people of Australia via this chamber. But again we see a disregard for national security, a disregard for this place and ultimately a disregard for the concerns of Australians. I think that is a tragedy.

I will just refer to some of the matters that were raised by the member for Brisbane on the deficiency of the bill. I have already referred to the failure of the bill to provide the capacity for the Inspector of Transport Security to be able to hold an inquiry of his own volition. I think it is also fair to say that the government has failed to accept a number of amendments that would be more consistent with the principles enunciated in the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Act. The member for Brisbane has proposed that it would be more consistent if, before a recommendation is made to the Governor-General for the appointment of a person to the position of Inspector of Transport Security, the relevant minister consulted with the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives. That principle is similar to section 6 of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Act 1986 and I think it is fair to say that including the Leader of the Opposition in these matters would be a more reasonable approach to take. We ask the government to consider accepting that provision.

We would also ask that the government consider another amendment: that the relevant minister shall give a copy of the report furnished under subsection (1) to the Leader of the Opposition in the house of Representatives, but it is the duty of the Leader of the Opposition to treat as secret any part of the report that is not tabled in a house of parliament. That principle is similar to section 35 of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Act 1986. It seems that those improvements would be more consistent with the way in which these matters are dealt with and would provide a more effective set of laws.

Proposed section 64 of the Inspector of Transport Security Bill 2006 states:

... the Minister may table a copy of a final  report, or part of a final report, in the Parliament, if the Minister thinks that it is, on balance, in the public interest to do so.

We would argue that that should be a mandatory provision, that there should not be a discretion to table a report and that, indeed, there should be a requirement to table some report for public consumption, having regard to the sensitivities that this particular area attracts.

I think that these constructive proposals made by the opposition should be seriously considered by the government. We do not seek to impede the progress of this bill. Indeed, we have been encouraging its enactment for some time. Similar to another bill that was before us in this place this morning, we have been encouraging and cajoling the government to consider enacting this legislation immediately. It cannot be argued that there has been any effort by the opposition to stymie or in any way obstruct the progress of these two bills that have been before us today in relation to national security matters. There has, instead, been a failure to act by the government and a failure to act by the minister responsible.

It does worry and concern me—and I am sure it worries others—when I hear of some of the breaches of national security. Last Tuesday I was in Devonport with a number of people. As the member for Melbourne Ports indicated, the former member for Braddon used to raise concerns about the security breaches that are potentially able to be committed as a result of very lax security systems both at Devonport and Burnie airports. The fact is that that has not been attended to. In leaving Devonport on Tuesday, I found myself not having to have my bag screened in any way. I think this is a failure. It does worry me that the luggage is screened once I get to Melbourne airport after I have left Devonport. It is nice to think that the people at Melbourne airport will not be threatened if it is screened going into the airport, but I think it is necessary that there is greater security in our ports and our airports. There has been a failure in this.

There are some deficiencies in this bill before us. There have been some constructive proposals that have been put forward by the member for Brisbane that have not been listened to by this government, which sits on its hands and allows the national security of this country to be undermined by a failure to act.