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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 860

Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (18:19): I also rise to speak to the Nuclear Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill 2011, and I acknowledge the contribution by Senator Ludlam. This bill implements the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, a treaty that was signed by Australia in September 2005 and which entered into force generally in 2007. Certainly the passage of this bill is well overdue. Despite many of its provisions already being covered under Australian law, it is important to strengthen our existing legislation and to better complement international regimes to prevent terrorism wherever possible.

Consideration of this bill by the Senate today is in fact timely, as Australia's ratification of the convention will be an important contribution to the second nuclear security summit, to be held in the Republic of Korea next month. The international convention was conceived and created as part of the redoubling of global efforts against terrorism and the changes in the way in which terrorism is and potentially could manifest. Taken together with the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, the International Convention for the Suppression of Financing Terrorism and the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, this treaty and the legislative change introduced by this bill contribute to a framework for international cooperation on terrorist offences, including investigation and extradition.

It goes without saying that over the last decade, especially since the tragic events of September 11, 2001 and the attacks on Kuta, Bali, in October 2002, the nature and challenges of asymmetric warfare have become clear. Global terrorist cells have become more widespread, just as they have become more sophisticated. Changes in warfare have necessitated a new legislative response. While the conduct of state actors in conflict has long been dealt with through international humanitarian law—that is, of course, the laws of war—the way in which non-state actors wield the same instruments of destruction requires a specific criminal response. In an age in which nuclear proliferation has been far too widespread and where too often the security around state-held nuclear devices has been vulnerable to degradation and exploitation by organised crime, there exists this terrible prospect that radical organisations willing to resort to political violence rather than peaceful expression may be able to acquire nuclear material.

This legislation, of course, responds to that awful possibility, reinforces Australia's criminal law against political violence in these especially extreme circumstances and sends a message to the international community that Australia stands committed to addressing the threats of global and domestic terrorism. The bill creates new criminal offences of making or possessing radioactive material or a convention device, damaging a nuclear device or a nuclear facility, threatening to use or damage radioactive material, and demanding that another person create radioactive material, a nuclear device or a nuclear facility. Whilst these offences are new under this bill, some other crimes captured under the international convention already exist under Australian law. Each of these offences carries a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment, reflecting the gravity of the offence conduct.

The bill inserts a number of new definitions for expressions relevant to the new offences. To ensure consistency with the convention which the bill will implement and in accordance with current drafting practices, the bill adopts the definitions set out in the convention. In recognition of the need to work in concert with our allies and partners overseas, these offences are not limited to conduct by Australians and in Australia but will apply in a broad range of situations where the convention requires state parties to assert jurisdiction.

Importantly, the bill makes a consequential amendment to the Extradition Act 1988 to prevent a person avoiding extradition from Australia for a convention offence by arguing that they had committed a political offence. Understanding the time, I will make the rest of my contribution short, but I would like to add that I strongly believe that the types of offences considered under this legislation are far, far from being considered statements of political expression. We must emphasise, however and wherever we are able, that recourse to violence, especially the types with devastating, enduring effects covered by this bill, can never be excused by any legitimate cause.