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Monday, 13 February 2017
Page: 690


Senator RYAN (VictoriaSpecial Minister of State and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Cabinet) (17:30): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

The Government has no greater responsibility than keeping Australia safe and secure. As a result, we have committed to strengthening Australia's aviation and maritime infrastructure against serious or organised crime. We will strengthen background checking regimes, to ensure that individuals who pose a security risk or have links to serious or organised crime cannot gain access to the security-sensitive areas of our airports and ports.

The Transport Security Amendment (Serious or Organised Crime) Bill 2016, will address these issues and will ensure we keep illegal guns off our streets and our communities safe.

This Bill was previously introduced into the House of Representatives on 11 February 2016. It passed the House on 16 March 2016, but lapsed at prorogation on 17 April 2016.

Following referral to the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee in the last Parliament, the Bill was recommended to progress to the Senate without amendment.

The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission has determined that organised crime groups are a threat to the Australian way of life, and estimate that organised crime costs the Australian economy $36 billion annually. In 2015, the Government committed to a comprehensive package of action to tackle the growing problem in our communities of the crystalline form of methamphetamine (commonly known as the drug 'ice'). The National Ice Taskforce, in its final report released late 2015, estimated that there are currently well over 200,000 Australian users of the drug. This is a significant increase compared to the reported less than 100,000 users in 2007.

As a key priority, the National Ice Taskforce identified the need for targeted and coordinated law enforcement efforts to disrupt the supply of ice. Of note, was the recommendation that we harden the aviation and maritime environments against organised crime by strengthening the eligibility criteria for the aviation and maritime security identification card schemes (also known as the ASIC and MSIC schemes). This recommendation echoes those from several independent inquiries. These inquiries identified that the inadequacy of our aviation and maritime security measures to combat serious or organised crime, is an increasing risk to our communities.

The Bill introduces the additional purpose to the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004 and the Maritime Transport and Offshore Facilities Security Act 2003 (as I will now refer to as the Aviation and Maritime Acts) of combating serious or organised crime at our airports and ports. The additional purpose will apply solely to the ASIC and MSIC schemes, adding to their current purpose of safeguarding against unlawful acts of interference with our aviation and maritime infrastructure.

The ASIC and MSIC schemes are an important part of securing the aviation, maritime and offshore oil and gas sectors. Under the schemes, any person with an operational need to remain unmonitored in security-sensitive areas at Australia's airports, ports, Australian flagged ships and offshore facilities, must hold a valid ASIC or MSIC confirming they have passed a background check.

The primary purpose of the background check is to establish whether an applicant poses a security threat to aviation and maritime infrastructure. However, this check does not currently consider whether the individual poses a serious criminal risk within the security-sensitive areas of our transport infrastructure. This Bill will correct this by establishing the regulatory framework for introducing new eligibility criteria, which will be harmonised across both the ASIC and MSIC schemes.

The eligibility criteria under each scheme currently refer to a range of offences relevant to unlawful interference with aviation and maritime infrastructure as per the purpose of the existing Aviation and Maritime Acts. The criteria do not include offences arising from serious criminal activity, such as anti-gang or criminal organisation legislation, illegal sale and possession of firearms and other weapons, illegal importation of goods, or interfering with goods under Australian Border Force control. These will be included in the new harmonised eligibility criteria.

Under current eligibility criteria, an ASIC or MSIC applicant's status is based solely on the presence of a relevant offence in the applicant's criminal history. Under the new proposed criteria, less serious criminal offences will only become an aviation or maritime-security-relevant offence when a significant term of imprisonment has been imposed, while more serious offences will only require conviction. This approach places emphasis on the judgement of a court in determining the seriousness of the offence and hence its significance to the ASIC or MSIC scheme. This is a significant improvement to the transparency and accountability of the ASIC and MSIC schemes.

Shifting the focus from low level or minor criminal offences to higher risk offences is expected to provide positive employment outcomes because more applicants will be found initially eligible for an ASIC or MSIC. These applicants may be issued their ASIC or MSIC faster than current timeframes, reducing the impact to their employment and increasing the staff available to employers. However, strengthening the schemes will mean people with serious criminal convictions will no longer be eligible to hold an ASIC or MSIC.

Importantly, the changes presented by the Bill will not only improve the Government's ability to combat transnational and domestic organised crime, but they will also strengthen the schemes' existing national security purpose of protecting Australia's airports and ports against acts of terrorism and unlawful interference. The inclusion of new offences, such as foreign incursion and recruitment, will enhance the schemes ability to exclude persons convicted of offences of the highest severity.

Debate adjourned.