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Monday, 25 October 2010
Page: 1470

Mr SIMPKINS (5:21 PM) —I welcome the opportunity this afternoon to make some comments on the Defence Legislation Amendment (Security of Defence Premises) Bill 2010. We all remember where we were on the night—it was night here in Australia—of 11 September 2001. That was the night we saw the vision of aircraft being flown into the World Trade Center towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington. It demonstrated the extent to which our enemies will go. It demonstrated that, in the pursuit of terrorist objectives, attacks on the defenceless will occur. And it demonstrated the evil nature of Islamic extremists.

On the night of September 11 I was serving as the brigade major, or G3, of 13 Brigade in Perth. That evening was parade night at the Army Reserve, so it was somewhat fortunate, from our perspective in Perth, that everybody was on base. That assisted us to immediately comply with the orders that came very quickly out of Canberra to lock down the base—to lock the gates and start patrolling. From that night on, security changed markedly. The system of base security alerts was modified and remained high for a very long time.

The level of security has been greatly enhanced in the years since. We have come to know that we face threats not just from external organisations such as al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiah but also from within. There is, you might say, a fifth column in this country. There are people who do not wish us well. Unfortunately, some of those who do not wish us well have benefited from the refugee, immigration and welfare systems in this country and yet try to tear down the majority culture that created the very systems that assisted them. If it were not such a deadly serious matter we might laugh at the irony of it all.

We recall the Sydney terrorist plot in 2005, when five men were arrested and then charged with planning terrorist attacks in Sydney. Their trials commenced in late 2008 and concluded in mid-2009 with sentences of between 23 and 28 years. In 2005, a number of men were also arrested in Melbourne. Among those now-convicted terrorists was Abdul Benbrika, who was a person who had eluded and worked the immigration system to avoid deportation before finally obtaining authority to stay by marrying an Australian Islamic woman of Lebanese descent. It has been widely reported that for the 19 years leading up to his arrest in 2005 he received welfare payments and did not ever work. Together with government payments for his family of seven children, that enabled him to devote his time to studying the Quran and then teaching others. He was an increasingly radical Islamic cleric. He was drawing others to him to assist in his plans for terrorism. Fortunately, this was recognised by some in the Melbourne Islamic community, which resulted in the police and security agencies being tipped off and the initiation of Operation Pendennis. Operation Pendennis resulted in a total of 17 arrests in Melbourne and Sydney and the closing down of Benbrika’s plans to attack the MCG.

In August 2009, five people were arrested for allegedly planning an armed attack on Holsworthy army base. Three were of Somali origin and two of Lebanese. It has been said that they were members of the Somali based Islamic terrorist group al-Shabaab. It has been said that they planned to attack the base and kill as many soldiers as they could. For those who are not of military background I can say that there would not normally be any soldiers wandering around Holsworthy Barracks with loaded weapons with which they could defend themselves. Therefore, the vast majority of service personnel, whether they were in uniform or not, would have been greatly vulnerable to such an attack. The fact that the police and security agencies under Operation Neath were able to thwart this plan was greatly welcomed.

It is in the context of our very recent history that this bill is now before the House. This bill will put in place a legal basis for upgraded security at bases, in particular at the entrances and around the perimeters. In the case of future attack or of action being taken against a base or personnel on a base, this legislation will allow the reasonable and necessary force to be applied. As a former Army officer I have a good recollection of how base security used to operate and I therefore looked very carefully through this legislation. I was looking for amendments that would facilitate the sort of security that could oppose the attacks that were planned by the sorts of home-grown terrorists that have been detected in recent years. Before speaking on the specifics of the amendments, I will relate an experience from 1992 which demonstrates one way to conduct security at military bases.

In 1992 I was fortunate to be selected to go to the United Kingdom to participate in a command post exercise named Exercise Duang Rat. Apparently, it was named after a Hanoi restaurant where this command post exercise was originally devised by some planners. It was a combined exercise that included American, British, Canadian, Australian and even New Zealand personnel and was conducted at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, in England. In 1992 the threat from the IRA still existed. The CPX was not like most command post exercises. It was not 24 hours a day for several days; it was nine to five. That gave us the opportunity to visit the local culture, which I appreciated—I would remind members that I was not the older, mature person that you see before you but was in my 20s at the time. However, the British Army decided that they would put on a bus for all these officers visiting from overseas. They did not want these people from the base, who were visiting the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, out in the local pubs because they considered that the IRA could very easily have sympathisers and agents locally who would take advantage of the situation in whatever way they could. So they put on a bus and took us out to a more distant pub to enjoy the cultural experience. When they faced exactly that sort of situation they came up with a specialised plan.

Although we do not face that sort of situation—the organised terrorism that the IRA waged upon the United Kingdom—we nevertheless face certain levels of threat. There was quite a difference in the approach to base security from that in Australia. Here, contract security manned the gates at our bases—at that point I was close to Enoggera in Queensland. But when we came back through the gate at Sandhurst later that evening, armed Gurkha soldiers were on the gate. As we wandered along the dark paths between the front gate and our accommodation at Victory College it was not uncommon to come face to face with a couple of fully armed Gurkhas patrolling the grounds. That was a different set of circumstances, there is no doubt about it. Yet it does therefore pose the question: had the plot to attack Holsworthy Barracks had got to the point of these people turning up with weapons, what could actually have been done to counter that attack with the amendments to the Defence Act that have been put forward in this legislation? With that thought I would like to turn to the legislation more specifically.

Firstly, the three types of defence security officials are now clearly defined: under section 71B, again, the contract defence security guards; 71C, security authorised members of the Defence Force, who are actually uniform members of the defence; and 71D, defence security screening employees or, in other words, contractors, uniform military personnel and members of the Australian Public Service. All three have certain amounts of responsibility but it is only the uniform security authorised members of the Defence Force that have the full range of responsibilities under the legislation.

Section 71H—the power to request evidence of identification and the authority to pass an access control point and to undergo a limited search—has a certain appeal. It is held by all defence security officials. Under 71H a person may be refused access and, if actually on defence premises, restrained and detained if they have refused to identify themselves or submit to a search or if they have complied and they are deemed to be a threat if allowed access or likely to commit an offence, and in those cases they can be restrained and detained.

As the minister has already said in his second reading speech, in practice the normal application of consensual identification and search powers will be applied by the contract security guards, normally at low and medium threat levels. I do particularly appreciate the provisions of sections 71R, 71S and 71T which provide for non-consensual search for persons about to pass a defence access control point, vehicles about to pass defence access control points and persons already on defence premises in circumstances of risk and reasonable belief. Although these provisions would more frequently be applied in responding to high levels of threat, this is nevertheless good as these powers are clearly defined, and that is appreciated. And to pick up on a point that has been raised as well, the increase in the penalty for trespassing from $40 up to a maximum of $5½ thousand is certainly appropriate.

In the limited time I have left to speak, I make mention of the four principles of security. These are to deter, detect, delay and respond. This bill, as the minister has said, rightly serves to deter, detect and respond. Increased and better defined powers will provide a disincentive to those who seek to wrongly enter or attack defence premises or defence personnel. The better use and control of identification will shore up the shortcomings regarding defence. The ability of defence security officials to refuse access, to identify and to search all provide an accurate image of bases and defence facilities that are harder to access and where a more focused culture of security will put those up to no good under more pressure. The legislation will provide additional deterrence in making our bases more secure and safer and, with regard to the principles of detection, should those who have criminal plans not be deterred by the increased security regime then their attempts to actually access or attack on defence premises will face an increased likelihood of being detected. This will come either through the identification search or the authority the defence will have to use CCTV, and then that can be passed on to enable prosecution.

Although the security principle of delay is not covered in this legislation, I believe in the past 10 years there has been an increased appreciation of base security by the base commanders. I believe that increased physical security arrangements to do with fencing, lighting and surveillance would be a basic responsibility of base commanders. It is certainly the case that there are officers who are held up with administration for base security and it is their responsibility to identify the shortcomings and then raise those shortcomings through the chain of command. If they do not do that then they are deficient in their responsibilities. If they make practice of doing that then obviously the chain of command has to address those issues because if the physical security needs of the base are deficient then a lot of what is proposed here can be undone so very easily.

In conclusion, let us look at what could have happened in August 2009 when those men were arrested in planning their attack. What would have happened if they had turned up with weapons ready to attack? The reality is that there would likely have been almost no-one available with live ammunition who could have responded and so, in the future—not that we need to go into it here because these are matters of security on base—there has to be access to weapons and live ammunition so that a response can be generated. I think that is the case regardless of whether there is a high-level threat at the time, because, as we know, these threats can come at short notice. There has to be a willingness to respond. So we look forward to what the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee can come up with and we look forward to the passage of this bill at some point in the future when any problems have been fixed. (Time expired)