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Wednesday, 17 March 2010
Page: 2763

Mr McCLELLAND (Attorney-General) (12:52 PM) —in reply—I thank members for their contributions to the debate. The government welcome the opposition’s support for measures contained in the Anti-People Smuggling and Other Measures Bill 2010 and we look forward to their assistance in ensuring its passage through the parliament.

People smuggling is a pernicious trade which jeopardises the safety, wellbeing and security of those being smuggled. The government takes a hardline approach to dealing with people smugglers, their supporters and their financiers. The government is determined to maintain its strong message to people smugglers that they will face the full force of the law. Domestic efforts to combat people smuggling have yielded strong results. Since September 2008, there have been 117 arrests and 28 convictions of people smugglers in Australia. There are currently 87 people being prosecuted in Australian courts for people smuggling, four of whom are organisers. The government’s strengthened offshore approach is also working. In the same period, Australian government cooperation with regional countries has resulted in more than 130 disruptions involving more than 3,500 people otherwise bound for Australia. Our regional partnership has resulted in the arrest of more than 100 people smugglers overseas.

The bill will amend the ASIO Act to enable ASIO to respond to serious threats to Australia’s territorial and border integrity, including people smuggling. This will support the government’s intelligence-led approach to combating people smuggling and is consistent with the all-hazards approach to national security. Can I make it clear: ASIO’s top priority will remain counterterrorism and counterespionage, and the bill will not change that. Further, the government remains committed to ensuring that national security agencies are appropriately resourced to fulfil their essential functions. For instance, in the 2009-10 budget, the government increased resources to our border protection and national security agencies by some $1.3 billion over six years. This included $685 million specifically for law enforcement and counterterrorism measures and $654 million to implement a comprehensive, whole-of-government strategy to combat people smuggling and enhance border protection. Within my portfolio alone, some $3.4 billion this financial year has been committed to funding our national security and border protection agencies. This is an increase of $186 million in this year alone.

ASIO has received increased resources to fulfil its important national security role. ASIO currently has around 1,720 staff—1,639 equivalent full-time positions—and this is projected to increase to 1,860 staff by mid-2011. Indeed, ASIO launched a campaign for that staff recruitment program last Friday. ASIO’s operational funding from government increased from $359 million in the 2008-09 financial year to $409 million in the current year, 2009-10, and is projected to increase to $412.9 million in 2010-11. ASIO has undergone very significant expansion in recent years. It has proven itself to be a highly professional and competent organisation that is capable of rapidly adapting and responding to a changing national security environment. The government is confident that ASIO will continue to respond effectively to both longstanding and emerging national security issues.

The government will continue to carefully monitor the resources of all Australian national security and intelligence agencies to ensure they are well equipped to protect our national security. The precise extent of ASIO’s people-smuggling role and the appropriate allocation of resources to support this role are, of course, matters for the Director-General of Security to determine, and we will rely on his expert advice.

This bill complements the government’s plan to combat people smuggling by strengthening Australia’s anti-people-smuggling legislative framework. Measures in the bill will address the often serious consequences of people-smuggling activities, including the potential for injury and loss of life on maritime ventures to Australia. They will target enablers and financiers of people-smuggling activities, they will act as a greater deterrent for people smugglers, and they will enable law enforcement and national security agencies to play a greater role in support of whole-of-government efforts to combat people smuggling.

The ability for law enforcement agencies to obtain evidence through telecommunications interception technologies and surveillance devices is also vital to combating people smuggling. The bill will make telecommunications interception available for the investigation of offences relating to people smuggling. The bill will also ensure that law enforcement agencies can make emergency authorisations for the use of surveillance devices for the new aggravated people-smuggling offence. These amendments will ensure that law enforcement agencies are equipped with the necessary tools to effectively combat people smuggling.

The government maintains a hard line on people smugglers and a responsible approach to genuine asylum seekers, consistent with our international obligations. The bill is consistent with this approach. Whilst imposing new offences and strict penalties for people smugglers, the new offence of supporting people smuggling will not target persons who pay for their own passage or for the passage of family members on that same venture.

It is important to recall that conflicts and turmoil around the world are driving a global surge of asylum seekers, just as they did in the period between 1999 and 2003. The bill is an important part of the government’s response to this surge, bolstering the government’s ability to investigate, prosecute and punish people smugglers. I thank the shadow minister for immigration, who has been in attendance during the course of the concluding stage of the debate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.