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Wednesday, 1 June 2005
Page: 109

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON (5:16 PM) —The Maritime Transport Security Amendment Bill 2005 is an important part of Australia’s armoury in the fight against terrorism. In that context I want to make it clear at the outset that I am seriously offended by any suggestion from the member for O’Connor that any element of the trade union movement has been involved in protecting work practices or any individual who could be a threat to Australia’s security. It is about time he fronted up to the ongoing process that has been pursued by government in consultation with the employers, with some engagement of workers and trade unions, to actually make sure that the security regime that exists in Australia is second to none in the world. His comments this evening, unfortunately, reflect more on him and his ignorance of what has been going on with respect to the fight against terrorism than on any practical understanding of what is involved in the nature of the bill before the House this evening.

I have had some ongoing involvement with this issue as the former shadow minister for transport, and I have continued that strong interest as the Labor Party spokesperson for resources and tourism because, frankly, we are about cooperation with the government to make sure that the maritime security regime in this country is second to none. As noted by the Minister for Transport and Regional Services yesterday during the matter of public importance debate, it was under my watch as shadow minister for transport that the Maritime Transport Security Act 2003 and its associated regulations came into law. In the development of that bill we closely consulted workers, employers and the representatives of workers—the trade union movement—to work in a cooperative way with government to get the legislation right.

The opposition take the issue of maritime security very seriously, as we do the issue of aviation security. This is an area—and it is about time the government fronted up to its responsibilities—in which there is no room for complacency at all. Complacency can lead to Australia being placed at risk. Maritime transport security is a vital element of both the tourism and resources industries, my current responsibilities. I believe it is important that we as a nation are confident in our security settings. This bill is another endeavour to get our security settings right. But it is equally important those settings protect employment conditions and—dare I suggest it in the light of the comments of the member for O’Connor—the privacy of the people who work in the transport industries.

Let us go to the key objectives of the bill. Firstly, it is to extend the coverage of the maritime security regime to the offshore oil and gas facilities located within the territorial sea, in Australia’s exclusive economic zone and on the continental shelf. Secondly, it is about facilitating—and appropriately so—the introduction of a maritime security identity card to ensure that personnel working unmonitored in maritime security zones and offshore security zones have been subject to thorough background checks. That is nothing new to this parliament: we have debated it previously with respect to the aviation and maritime industries.

On the face of it these are reasonable and appropriate additions to the maritime security regime. They are something that we knew we would have to move on at a later time when we first developed the maritime transport security arrangements in 2003. This bill represents the ongoing work that has been undertaken by the department on outstanding maritime security issues. However, I do agree with the member for O’Connor on one issue: the devil is in the detail. It is on this basis that we are concerned to ensure that adequate scrutiny of the amendments and the associated regulations is built into the process. It is for this reason that I support the bill going through the House today and also its referral to the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee for further detailed consideration.

I am aware that the Department of Transport and Regional Services have undertaken a considerable amount of consultation on key elements of the bill, and they are to be commended for that. Unfortunately, the consultation process has not been completed, and I believe that there are a number of outstanding issues. In the case of the introduction of the maritime security identity card, these issues include but are not limited to, firstly, concern about privacy of information; secondly, transitional arrangements; thirdly, finalisation of the list of criminal offences that will be applied during background checking; and, fourthly, the ongoing issue of how similar checks can be applied to foreign seafarers, which I think is important.

Let us go to the extension of the security regime to the offshore oil and gas industry. In the case of the extension of the regime to the offshore industry, I am concerned that the union movement was not included as part of the consultation process. Instead, the government chose to consult with industry representatives without including any of the unions that cover the offshore industry. I make this point: this approach by the government is very short-sighted. In its zeal to demolish the union movement, particularly the maritime unions, the government fails to recognise that unions are in fact a security asset. Unions want to get the regime right because they want to make sure that the security of their workers at work is second to none, so they are entitled to be properly consulted.

We should also understand, unlike the government, that unions are made up of ordinary Australian citizens who have the most to gain from a secure maritime and offshore environment. They are not a barrier to making sure that we have the best security regime in the world. They are potentially the eyes and ears of the maritime and offshore industries. These individuals know what is going on on a daily basis and can monitor the environment in which they work. Why would the government choose not to include them in discussions about security? I just cannot understand why we adopt such an ideological approach. It makes no sense, and it is time that the Howard government acknowledged the important role of the unions in establishing and maintaining a strong security framework.

The opposition also recognises the need to further protect offshore oil and gas facilities from potential terrorist threat. That is not just about protecting Australia’s security; it is also about making sure that workers are protected at work—that they work in a safe environment. It is in the national interest, in their interests and in the interests of their families that they work in the safest possible environment. These facilities were not included as part of  the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code, as this code was developed by the IMO as an annex of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, which, interestingly, does not apply to the offshore industry. These maritime facilities, dare I suggest, are a far softer target for potential terrorism than the heavily regulated mainland ports, and this needs to be addressed. I remind the House that the Prime Minister established a task force to address these matters and, despite the unions being willing to participate in this process, they were deliberately excluded. When the task force finalised its deliberations and made recommendations in respect of the extension of the maritime security framework to the offshore industry, again the unions were not included in discussions, despite their clear role in ensuring the safety of their members, their industry and their nation.

I now go to the issue of maritime security identity cards. The second initiative included in this bill is the proposed introduction of a maritime security identity card, an initiative not being implemented in other countries and not identified as a requirement of the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code. Again, Labor and the union movement support the need for background checking of personnel with unrestricted access into secure areas of ports, ships and offshore facilities. Clearly, this is in the national interest and in the interest of workplace safety and is a key element of the security framework. But it is also in the national interest to ensure that security checking, restricting of access and other measures to protect the security of the port are not used as de facto means of discriminating against people who have made mistakes in the past where those mistakes are not related in any way to potential terrorist activity.

Let us be balanced with respect to the issue of these maritime security identity cards and the standing of people in the Australian community. Many have made minor mistakes in the past and they should not be discriminated against for the rest of their lives. Labor prides itself on giving people a second chance in life. I acknowledge with respect to this issue the balanced position adopted by the Minister for Transport and Regional Services in the MPI debate yesterday concerning the background checking of aviation workers. It was a balanced approach, following the development of the aviation security regime which is now in place. For that reason, I also stand in support of the initiative to make sure that background checks are carried out by ASIO. These checks are to establish any links between individuals and terrorist groups or any previous history of politically motivated violence. This issue has been discussed widely with industry, including the unions, and has bipartisan support.

It is the issue of criminal background checking that needs to be carefully managed. Let us be very careful in respect of this issue, because we can ruin many people’s opportunities and lives. If a person has made a mistake and paid their price to society, they should not be prevented from re-establishing themselves in the community. We have always prided ourselves as a nation on giving these people a second chance in life. They must have access to meaningful work, and the waterfront, the offshore industry and the shipping industry should continue to provide employment opportunities for these people. I take the view that criminal background checking by the AFP must be restricted to criminal convictions which directly relate to terrorist activities.

As noted earlier, the opposition fully supports ASIO checking for links with suspect organisations. In relation to criminal history checking, the department has given a commitment to the industry that it would identify a clear list of criminal activities and provide evidence about their links to terrorist activities. The department has made a commitment, following detailed consultations, that this list would be written into the regulations and that background checking by the AFP would be based on this list. Unfortunately, the process was not completed before the introduction of the bill and will now need to be scrutinised through the committee process to ensure it is not left open to interpretation or possible abuse.

I also refer to the costs of undertaking background checking and producing the cards. I understand that it is expected that some 100,000 cards are to be issued across the broad industry. It is Labor’s view that the cost of obtaining a card should not be borne by ordinary working people. This is a cost of doing business, and employers must meet these costs. It is no different in my view to other on-costs of employment such as insurance, provision of workplace facilities and leave entitlements. This issue was also not finalized through the consultation process with industry and will need to be addressed through the committee deliberations.

The privacy of personal details is another issue which needs further consideration. I contend that this information must be protected to ensure that employers do not use this process without proper justification as a de facto means of screening out certain types of individuals. I am also concerned about the transitional arrangements after the regime has been in place for nine months. We could see a situation in which, because of a level of discretion being written into the regulations, individuals or businesses will be able to shop around in relation to the interpretation of the rules. This could lead to inconsistency in the application of the regime.

An area the government has seriously neglected is foreign shipping, which I regard as potentially a gaping hole in Australia’s fight against terrorism. I want to touch on this issue because it is not covered by the legislation. It currently presents a major threat to Australia’s maritime and offshore security framework through the increased use of foreign ships in Australian waters and the degradation of the cabotage system. As I noted earlier in my contribution this evening, the government has congratulated itself on its adoption of the International Ship and Port Facility Code and its implementation under the Maritime Transport Security Act. This bill seeks to extend that regime to the offshore industry. That is good, and Labor supports it. We clearly support this legislation in full, and we adopt a bipartisan approach to securing our coastline. However, the government’s approach to security is to apply costs and burdens to Australian ports and ships—and now the offshore industry—while at the same down seeking to push down transport costs through the use of cheap foreign shipping.

The government is not only facilitating the increased use of cheap foreign shipping around the Australian coastline but has made no progress in ensuring that foreign seafarers are subjected to similar checking to their Australian counterparts. That is just plain wrong. It represents a major terrorist threat to the safety of Australia. In many cases these ships are manned by crews from countries included in the Prime Minister’s so-called arc of instability. They are permitted to carry around the coast dangerous goods such as fertiliser, often at the expense of Australian industry. At Senate estimates hearings last week, government officials revealed that 141 single-voyage permits and 40 continuous-voyage permits were issued in the first quarter of this year. Compare this with a total of 50 permits issued in 1990 when Labor was in government. These permits are in many cases issued to flag of convenience ships. These ships are flagged in tax havens such as Panama and Liberia and, as have I mentioned, are often manned by crews from countries included in the Prime Minister’s so-called arc of instability. What a recipe to threaten Australia’s security! These ships are often subsidised by foreign governments, and they do not meet the safety, environmental or labour conditions of our own fleet.

Foreign ships and crews are not covered under Australia’s maritime security legislation other than for the rudimentary checking of crew lists against international databases and for ship inspections at ports. Instead, they are covered by the legislation of their flag state. As if we can trust some of those flag states to be involved in guaranteeing the protection of Australia in the fight against terrorism! But the most important issue not being addressed is the carriage of high-consequence dangerous goods, notably ammonium nitrate. It is well known that terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda and its affiliates, have used ammonium nitrate as part of their deadly campaigns. We need only think of the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing, the 1995 Oklahoma bombing and the continual attacks on embassies in the 1990s. The government has made no attempt to restrict the carriage of these cargoes, despite all its security rhetoric. On the contrary, since 1 July 2004 at least five single-voyage permits have been issued for the carriage of ammonium nitrate between Australian ports. On five occasions we have been placed at risk through the neglect of the Commonwealth government. Under these five permits, 10,800 tonnes of this highly dangerous fertiliser were carried in and out of Australian ports.

The opposition contends that the carriage of dangerous goods such as ammonium nitrate by foreign ships must stop now if we are serious about the fight against terrorism. The safest way to transport ammonium nitrate, which we need for our economic wellbeing, and other fertilisers around Australia is on Australian ships with Australian working men and women carrying out that duty. What is so wrong about protecting Australia’s security whilst gainfully employing Australian seafarers? It is not un-Australian, it is pro-Australian. It is about time the government got the message that, by its neglect, it is placing Australia at risk in the fight against terrorism. With a secure ship and secure seafarers, we are protected and the exposure is minimised.

In closing, I remind the government that we are a nation of shippers and a shipping nation. We require a strong and viable shipping industry as a key component of our maritime security. Our key ally, the United States, recognises the value of a vibrant domestic shipping industry and continues to ensure its ongoing viability through the Jones Act. The opposition believes that certainty for potential investors in the Australian shipping industry will provide great benefits in security. It is time the government listened and recognised the security and other benefits that come from a viable Australian shipping industry. Flag of convenience shipping is cheap. It represents a serious threat to Australia’s security. The government stands condemned for walking away from its responsibility to protect Australian people with respect to the flag of convenience issue.

I call on the Minister for Transport and Regional Services to put his money where his mouth is on maritime security and to cease from abusing the cabotage provisions of the Navigation Act. These provisions were designed as a fall-back to ensure availability of service—not to destroy a vital industry and place Australia’s security at risk. Front up, Mr Anderson. Get serious about Australia’s security and take foreign shipping, which is a risk to our security, out of Australian coastal shipping. (Time expired)