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Tuesday, 19 October 2010
Page: 815


Mr SIMPKINS (6:13 PM) —As I was listening to the member for Fowler concluding his contribution, I began to think that it has been a little bit more than 10 years since I finished my role as one of the operations majors with the Australian Army for Joint Task Force Gold, Joint Task Force 112, which had responsibility during the Olympic Games in Sydney for counterterrorism security in Sydney. In the intervening 10-year period, if I had not been elected to this place perhaps I would have been wasting a fair bit of my time since then. Fortunately, I have the honour of serving here now.

When I think back to those days working on the Olympics for over two years, and the exercises that we undertook and the threats that we planned to counter, I realise how fascinating I have always found security matters. Although I served in the Australian Federal Police for a couple of years before I joined the Army, and then served 15 years in the Army, I have always found matters to do with security particularly fascinating and interesting. So I am glad to be able to stand up and make a contribution on the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement Bill 2010.

I would like to begin by speaking on the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill. I understand that many of the amendments arose from reviews and inquiries that have taken place over the past three years. National security is, of course, very serious business and, when faced with an immediate threat, a government must immediately respond. Consequently it is right to review legislation further down the track to ensure that the balance between safety and security and rights and liberties is appropriate. We should recall that in the last 10 years there have been a number of significant events that have demonstrated to us that this nation is not immune from the impacts of terrorism and that national security is a consideration despite the air-sea gap around our island continent.

In the year 2000 we had the highly successful Olympic Games—which I have mentioned—in Sydney, with a number of events, such as the football, in other places. The games were a magic moment for our country, with no security incidents. However, on 11 September 2001, just a bit more than 12 months later, terrorism struck our close ally, the United States of America, and thousands of people lost their lives, including 10 Australian citizens. This attack showed that the attack on civilian targets was very much on the agenda for al-Qaeda and served as a warning for the future, even for us here in Australia. Again, it was just over a year later, on 12 October 2002, that 202 people, including 88 Australians, were killed when Jemaah Islamiah, a radical Islamic terrorist group, bombed the Kuta district of Bali. Clearly there could be no doubt that Australians were being specifically targeted and therefore at a far higher risk than we may have considered we were facing in the past.

On 5 August 2003 the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta was the subject of another bomb which killed 12 and injured 150. The link between the 2002 Bali bombing and the 2003 Marriott bombing attacks was Hambali, said to be al-Qaeda’s man in South-East Asia. Also—and we should note this as well—he had been working on al-Qaeda’s anthrax program. On 9 September 2004 a bomb located in a van was detonated outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, killing either nine or 11 people nearby, depending on the reports of either Indonesian or Australian sources at the time. On 1 October 2005, 26 people were killed when bombs were exploded in two locations in Bali. Three explosions took place and three unexploded bombs were later found. Again, Bali is noted as being extremely popular with Australians and this attack was clearly intended, in part at least, to kill and injure Australians.

I also note that the United Kingdom was subject to terrorist attacks on the public transport system in 2005 and 2007, which demonstrated the risks of home-grown terrorism, or attacks on the nation by those who are actually citizens of that nation or at least residents. On 17 July 2009, the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta was again bombed, with the loss of nine lives, several of which were Australian—and we have made comment on that before in the parliament. It was a matter of just weeks later when five Australian citizens, four of Somalian origin and one Lebanese man, were arrested for plotting an attack on the Holsworthy Army Base in Sydney. The fact that those who seek to come here and not stay in their original country and then find such fault with that country that they wish to carry out terrorist attacks is a phenomenon that is increasingly facing the wider Western world. Indeed, there have been cases of native-born people and, for all intents and purposes, people of Anglo-Saxon origin, who have also taken up violence. It is therefore essential that laws be enacted first and foremost to provide sufficient protection to the general population. However, as I said before, it is right that such laws be the subject of review, and so it is that we find ourselves with this legislation before the House. Indeed, apart from the external parliamentary reviews over the last three years, this year the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee saw changes to the legislation from what was introduced into parliament earlier in the year.

In the case of this bill it is my view that the seven main amendments that it contains fundamentally represent procedural changes, and I really do not find any great strengthening in the laws from what is proposed. Indeed, I would say that the strengthening that is mentioned in the Attorney-General’s second reading speech about entering premises without a warrant is confined to emergency circumstances. I believe that the really strong laws were introduced by the former government. On the soft side, there have been changes to the period of investigation—detention being reduced to seven days and some hours. While I personally feel that this change is unwise, I understand that the AFP and the Australian Crime Commission support such a change, and I appreciate their expert view on this matter. We will see how that will turn out in the longer term.

On the high side, I am glad that the government have not introduced this bill with the proposal in the discussion paper to provide detention as an option only on the basis of reasonable belief. Instead, thankfully, they have left the standard as ‘on suspicion’. We would all be aware that the vast majority of Australians supported these laws when they were first brought into parliament by the last government, as most Australians desire protection and would say, ‘If you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.’ While I am not as confident as the minister that the safety of Australian people is best provided for in these amendments, we are supporting the bill as it is drafted, and it is worthy to remember that the laws that were introduced by the last government, in essence, remain strong.

In making comments on the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement Bill 2010, I would say that, as it is proposed that I will be a member of the new committee, I look forward to its operation. As we know, it will be established because of the outcomes of the discussion paper on proposed reforms to the counterterrorism and national security legislation. The committee will replace and extend many of the functions of an existing parliamentary joint committee, and I look forward to the committee’s oversight being extended to the Australian Federal Police. Clearly I share the view that the Australian Federal Police must be able to do its job, and we as a parliament, particularly this new committee, should ensure that the AFP’s structures, functions, procedures and powers are modified as required to reflect changes in trends of criminal activities. I look forward to this opportunity to serve on the committee and fully support the passage of this bill.

To conclude, I would say that strong and effective laws to protect national security were delivered by the Howard government, and they were borne out of the serious and threatening circumstances of the time. The risk remains with us right now, and in the future we should exercise extreme caution before we retreat from them, as I believe that the safety of citizens depends on this parliament always having the right laws in place.