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Thursday, 11 February 2010
Page: 1183

Ms HALL (1:02 PM) —I would like to start my contribution to this debate by agreeing with the member for Lyne in that when we do implement legislation we must always be careful that we do not lose more than we gain. I feel that the National Health Security Amendment (Background Checking) Bill 2009 is vital legislation as it is about ensuring the security of our nation by protecting it from biological weapons. The protection is given by establishing controls for the security of biological agents that could be used as weapons. These are known as security sensitive biological agents, which I will refer to from here on as SSBAs. One of the controls is that the minister may determine by legislative instrument standards for the security and status of persons handling SSBAs, determining the requirements in a standard related to the security status of the person who handles or disposes of the SSBA. In simple terms this means that there will be background checks on the person who is responsible for the SSBA to check whether they have a criminal record. A personal check will also be done on that person.

This legislation has become necessary as a result of a Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry in 2009 which found it to be necessary for the NHS Act to be amended to establish this background-checking scheme. The background-checking scheme will conducted by AusCheck. This has become apparent since the passing of the act in September 2007, and there has been extensive consultation with the stakeholders on the need for background checks of persons who handle or dispose of these materials. Community consultation has been imperative, because it goes to ensuring that all of the stakeholders and interested groups are able to have input into the legislation, are able to ensure that there is proper probity and are able to ensure that we do not lose more than we gain. There were workshops on the draft SSBA standards. A wide range of stakeholders were consulted on the need for background checks, including the Implementation Advisory and Consultative Committee, the Regulation and Standards Working Group and state and territory governments through the National Counter-Terrorism Committee secretariat. The Australian Government Solicitor has advised that the proposed changes will establish the SSBA background checks, which will permit operational details to be set out in the SSBA standards and in the AusCheck regulations.

This legislation will ensure that the minister is able to require personnel who handle or dispose of SSBAs to undergo background checks. This is very important with the very sensitive material that people are involved with handling or disposing. This legislation will require background checks to be conducted specifically under the AusCheck scheme with the right checks and balances in place.

The government has worked on this over the past 18 months with organisations that handle SSBAs and other experts in the field to ensure the smooth implementation of the checks and all aspects of the standards dealing with the security status of the person that is handling or disposing of the SSBAs. The proposed SSBA background-checking scheme has been the subject of extensive consultation. That makes me feel easier about it. I am very happy to support this legislation. I think it is vital legislation and it is legislation that goes to ensuring the security of our nation.