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Wednesday, 8 October 2003
Page: 20820


Mr DANBY (1:22 PM) —I rise to support the amendment moved by the honourable member for Batman to the Maritime Transport Security Bill 2003. I have a particular interest in this bill because I have the honour, like some of the previous speakers, of representing a great maritime centre of Australia. In my case, I represent the unique waterfront community of Port Melbourne and have as many of my electors and friends many past and present workers on the Melbourne waterfront and in the Australian merchant fleet. These are great industries which this Australian government is rapidly destroying.

The purpose of this bill is to enhance Australia's maritime transport security by establishing a maritime transport security regulatory framework and by providing for adequate flexibility within this framework to reflect a changing threat environment. The bill seeks to implement the mandatory requirements in the International Ship and Port Facility (ISPS) Code and chapter XI-2 of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea 1974 to ensure that Australia is aligned with international maritime transport security regimes. It provides that identified Australian ports, port facilities within them and other maritime industry participants must operate within approved maritime security plans and that certain types of Australian ships must operate within approved ship security plans. It also provides for the issuing of international ship security certificates to Australian ships which have been security verified so that these ships will be able to enter ports in other SOLAS-contracting countries. It puts in place mechanisms to impose control directions on foreign ships that are not compliant with relevant maritime security requirements in this bill.

The honourable member for Batman has set out very clearly the opposition's position on this bill. We support both its intentions and its general provisions, but we believe the bill could have been more effective and brought before this House much sooner if the government had properly consulted with the whole of the maritime industry beforehand. We accept that this bill addresses matters of urgency, and we have no desire to delay the bill unnecessarily. But we have seen before that hasty or ill-drafted security legislation sometimes does more harm than good. I am sure that honourable members opposite recall the mess that the government got itself into with the ASIO legislation. That bill would have been passed much more quickly if the government had listened to advice before rushing to legislate, and I believe the same is true of this maritime security legislation.

We believe that the parliament has the right and the duty to scrutinise carefully both this bill and the regulations made pursuant to the bill. Therefore, the opposition reserve the right to propose detailed amendments to the bill when it has been subject to the scrutiny of a Senate committee. A bill of this kind, which affects vital Australian industries and the security and livelihood of many Australian workers, should always be the subject of proper consultation with the community. That the government failed to properly consult is not surprising. It is, after all, the same government that only a few years ago was willing to see Australia's entire maritime work force lose their jobs and be replaced by a set of semiskilled heavies trained by a shonky labour hire firm in far-off Bahrain. This government has no interest in the views of those who actually work in the maritime industry.

As the honourable member for Batman said, the current Australian government has been willing to sacrifice both the jobs of Australian maritime workers and Australia's national security with its open door shipping policy—a policy that puts the profits of foreign shipping companies ahead of both the employment of Australians and the security of Australian ports. Obviously the Minister for Transport and Regional Services has not read, as I have, the history of the courageous role that Australian merchant shipping played during the Second World War. I draw government members' attention to the very substantial role that merchant shipping provided in the security of Australia in the last international conflict, World War II, and to the incredible number of ships that were sunk along the Australian coast.

It seems very odd having foreign ships doing all of our coastal shipping, effectively, through the single-voyage permits that the government gives out willy-nilly. No security regime in Australian ports can succeed without the cooperation and participation of those who work in those ports and on the ships using those ports. Yet such is this government's hatred of the maritime unions—and we all recall why this government hates the maritime unions—that it has made no real effort to consult with the work force of the maritime industry, the very people who will have to carry out the provisions of this bill. It is precisely because we on this side of the House support most of the measures in this bill and want to see the security of Australian ports and ships improved that we think it is negligent of the government to have done so little to consult the work force and their representatives. It is, after all, Australian port workers and Australian seamen whose lives would be most at risk if there were to be a major terrorist attack on an Australian port, just as they did in Axis submarine attacks that I previously mentioned.

Let me now turn to the threat of terrorism in the maritime industry, both in Australia and in our region. This threat is not a new one, and the government has had plenty of warning that this was an issue it was going to have to address. It does not take much imagination to see that people who were capable of hijacking civilian airliners and using them as weapons for mass murder on September 11 would also be capable of hijacking an Australian cruise liner and holding it hostage or of hijacking a tanker full of liquefied natural gas and using it for a suicide attack on a port or a naval facility. In fact, it is logical to suppose that, as both airports and land based targets such as embassies and government buildings have improved their security, the attention of groups in our region such as Jemaah Islamiah will turn to softer targets, such as shipping. Not far to our north are some of the busiest ports and shipping lanes in the world. Up to 300,000 ships a year pass through the Strait of Malacca between Indonesia and Malaysia, including ships carrying two-thirds of the world's trade in liquefied natural gas. Hundreds of ships bound to and from Australian ports—some of them, despite this government's best endeavours, carrying Australian crews—pass through these waters.

Threats to shipping and port facilities are not idle speculation. We have seen the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, which killed 17 sailors. That was an attack on a fully armed warship. How much easier it would be to attack a freighter in an Australian harbour or an LPG carrier off the Australian coast. Last October we saw the attack on the French supertanker Limburg off the Gulf of Aden. Maritime terrorism is not a figment of the imagination; it is a fact, and this bill is a welcome but overdue response to that threat.

The al-Qaeda operative responsible for the Cole attack, Abd al-Rahim al-Nahiri, was captured by last November. He has told those questioning him that al-Qaeda is planning more attacks on American and British warships; but attacking warships will now be much harder, following the Cole incident. Terrorists always prefer soft targets, as Australia learned to our sorrow last October after Bali. Merchant ships, oil tankers, cruise liners and undefended civilian ports offer much easier and more tempting targets than armed and alert naval vessels.

The terrorist groups in our region have been dealt severe blows by the liberation of Afghanistan from al-Qaeda and the Taliban and by the arrest, by the Indonesian police, of the network that was responsible for Bali, including leaders such as Abu Bakar Bashir and, particularly, Hambali. There are extraordinary revelations emerging from Hambali's interrogation in the current issue of Time magazine, particularly his continuing targeting of people in this part of the world. Both al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiah are, unfortunately, still alive. Some cells are known to be planning new attacks in our region. The Singapore Straits Times reported recently that a JI group known as Unit Khos, which was responsible for the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, is still operational and is planning new attacks. Reports also said that, although al-Qaeda has been largely decapitated by the capture of many of its key leaders, Hambali's interrogation is revealing that, since the removal of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, a third generation of al-Qaeda operatives seems to have emerged. These groups operate as independent groups and are still in existence.

It is particularly alarming to learn that al-Qaeda is actually in the shipping business itself. Using some of the money channelled to it by so-called charities in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, al-Qaeda intermediaries are believed to have bought more than 100 vessels, mostly fishing trawlers but including some freighters operating under flags of convenience. As things stand at the moment, there is very little to prevent an al-Qaeda operative filling one of these vessels with explosives, sailing it into a port and then exploding it—or perhaps threatening to explode it as part of an extortion bid. The House may not know this, but a relatively similar incident happened in the Port of Melbourne in 1863, when a ship of the navy of the Confederate States of America, the CSS Shenandoah, sailed up the Yarra, trained its guns on the city of Melbourne and demanded to be given supplies and to be allowed to recruit new crew members, contrary to international law. Melbourne was completely defenceless in the face of this threat. I doubt whether it is much better defended in the 21st century.

As usual since this government has been in power, other countries are well ahead of Australia in taking steps to protect port facilities and shipping, as well as the lives of maritime workers and residents of maritime communities such as those I represent, against the threat of terrorist attacks. Since September 11, the Port of New York has greatly tightened its security, closing off access from the landward side and imposing strict registration requirements on vessels entering the port, which must now give 96 hours notice. In the Mediterranean—another vital shipping lane—NATO is undertaking surveillance of all merchant shipping. Recently Greek authorities seized a suspicious ship, heading for Sudan, which was found to be loaded with 750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate and 140,000 detonators. This is the same deadly mix that was used by the extreme right wing terrorists who were responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing. Ammonium nitrate was also the substance used by the Bali bombers. Can honourable members imagine the devastation that would result if a ship carrying such a cargo were detonated in an Australian port?

The Port of Singapore, one of the busiest in the world, has also taken the threat of terrorism very seriously—more seriously then we have. Malaysia has a comprehensive plan, and forces in place, to deal with the contingency of a ship-hijacking in its ports or coastal waters. Dr Mahathir's actions on these kinds of issues are, as usual, different from his rhetoric. We should not kid ourselves that such things can happen only in distant parts of the world such as the Gulf of Aden—although there is plenty of Australian shipping passing through that area as well. Lloyd's of London, who have a huge financial stake in maritime security, have repeatedly warned that South-East Asia is the area most vulnerable to this kind of attack on shipping.

Recently, Lloyd's reported that a group of Indonesian Islamists, who had returned from fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan and who called themselves Group 272, were planning to destroy an oil tanker in the Strait of Malacca. Such an attack would cause immense damage to Australia's trade—indeed to trade of all countries going through that vital shipping lane. But reports of this kind also open the possibility that a tanker hijacked by a group like this could be sailed into an Australian port.

I would like to be assured that Australia has a capacity similar to that of Singapore and New York to defend its ports and the people who work in and around them. I am sure that other members of this House who represent port communities, such as the members for Gellibrand, Sydney, Port Adelaide, Fremantle and Newcastle, would also like such an assurance. Unfortunately, I am not assured. As the member for Batman pointed out, the Morris-Sharp report, compiled by two former transport ministers, one of them from the minister's own National Party, pointed out the contradiction—some might say a Sharp contradiction—between this government's stated desire for greater maritime security and its policy of obtaining the cheapest-priced shipping services by allowing unrestricted access for foreign shipping.

This bill sets out a number of measures to improve the security of Australia's ports and ships. The opposition supports the general thrust of these measures, but the key question here is, as it is so often: who is going to meet the cost? The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services, who is here in the chamber, is on record as saying that the government does not pay for security. So presumably these costs will be passed on to industry. This House should not kid itself on this question, nor should it allow itself to be kidded by the government.

The security regime proposed in this bill for Australian ports will be expensive. As the honourable member for Batman pointed out, in the United States the federal government has allocated $US1 billion—or $A1.5 billion—to port authorities to upgrade security. The costs in Australia will certainly be proportional. The member for Batman estimated that the total set-up costs could be $300 million, with ongoing costs of $90 million per annum. Yet the government, in my view, has washed its hands of these costs. It has allocated but $15.6 million over two years for maritime security. This will be spent in the department to `put in place a regulatory regime'. The actual costs of implementing the measures in this bill will have to be borne by the states and by the industry. I suspect that the government's intention is to pass this bill and then say, `It's all the fault of the Labor state governments that port security has not been improved.' This is not a matter which should be subject to this kind of political game playing or buck passing. It is true that the maintenance of port facilities is a state responsibility, but this is really a defence matter, a national security matter. The purpose of this bill is not so much to regulate the conduct of Australian ports and shipping operators as to defend Australia against attack.

The federal government must face up to its responsibilities in this matter. Does the government seriously think that the foreign shipping companies and shonky stevedoring operators it favours so strongly are going to make the necessary investments? I really doubt it. Maritime terrorism is a threat to both the security and the economy of Australia, as well as to the lives and homes of the people I represent. Despite the good intentions of this bill, I am not yet persuaded that this government takes seriously its constitutional responsibilities for the defence of Australia—not sufficiently seriously, at any rate, to reverse some of the policies relating to maritime industries, policies which are undermining the very objectives that this bill is supposed to achieve.