Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 9 February 2012
Page: 658

Mr KEENAN (Stirling) (10:01): I rise today to talk on the Nuclear Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill 2011. The coalition supports the purpose of this bill which is to implement the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. The fact that we need to have this bill is a symbol of the age in which we live where terrorism remains an ever-present threat. That threat occurs from outside the country and, sadly, the threat of home-grown terrorism also exists, and we have seen that in spectacular ways. We have also seen the successes of our security agencies in tackling those threats in recent times. We should never forget that over the last decade many Australians have already lost their lives to terrorist atrocities. The previous coalition government recognised this and we presided over an unprecedented expansion of Australia's capabilities to combat terrorism.

It is very clear to me that, when the Labor Party came to power, they saw this unprecedented expansion of resources and capacity as an over-allocation to the security agencies. They have systematically undermined those agencies and they have systematically decreased the resourcing that is available to them whilst, at the same time, increased their levels of responsibility in a way that will ultimately jeopardise our national security. What these deliberate cuts mean is that our security agencies are being asked to do more with less. The pressures on the security agencies manifest themselves in various ways.

In the most recent budget Labor deliberately again weakened our national security by cutting away $12 million from the National Counter-Terrorism Committee. They also cut $1.4 million from the Australian Federal Police counterterrorism operations. As we know, the most important single weapon in the fight against terrorism is information. Unfortunately through these budget cuts the Gillard Labor government undermined the effectiveness of the Australian counterterrorism effort by thwarting the ability to collect information. We are gravely concerned about the cutbacks to the AFP's counterterrorism program. If this Labor government were serious about preventing terrorism, they would need to commit to appropriately fund the Australian Federal Police's counterterrorism and intelligence programs.

In contrast, the former coalition government provided over $10.4 billion of funding from September 2001 up to the 2010-11 budget to enhance Australia's national security and counterterrorism programs by increasing the capacity of our intelligence agencies. The former Howard government gave ASIO and the AFP significantly more resources and legislative teeth to stay ahead of terrorists and stop them before they acted. The coalition strongly supports our national security and law enforcement agencies and believes they should be resourced appropriately in order to fight this terrible crime. I want to turn to some of the broader cuts beyond the cuts to the intelligence agencies that have occurred to our national security agencies under this Labor government. It really is a litany of shame, and I believe that it is clearly an indicator of Labor's intention when they came to office to stop what they saw as the overallocation of resources to our security apparatus. They have deliberately set out to do this since 2007. Here are just some examples of where they have done this. They have cut $17 million from the air marshals program, which effectively ends the air marshals program. They have cut Australian Federal Police numbers at Darwin and Canberra. They have cut aerial surveillance, unbelievably, as they have presided over the collapse of our orderly border protection system.

They have savaged Customs at every budget, including cutting an enormous sum out of the ability of Customs to screen people as they come over the border as well as to screen cargo as it comes over the border. In the 2009-10 budget, for instance, Labor cut $58.1 million from the ability of Customs to screen cargo when it comes into Australia. What this means, of course, is that the ability for criminals to bring in contraband, and the ability of terrorists to bring in things as well, is enhanced by the fact that Customs is so dramatically under-resourced under this government. The rate at which cargo is screened has dropped dramatically—25 per cent in the case of sea cargo inspections. Astonishingly, there has been a 75 per cent cut in the ability of Customs to inspect baggage as it comes in through our airports. That is an astonishingly large opportunity and opening for criminals, and in the same vein it is an astonishingly large opening for people who might want to bring in weapons or even more diabolical things through our airports, because Customs just do not have the resources they need to do their job properly. Labor have also savaged Customs staffing numbers. Ninety staff were cut from Customs, on top of the cut of 250 that we saw in the 2010-11 budget. They have cut $9.3 million from Customs, apparently in a plan to reduce capital spending. Passenger facilitation, as I mentioned earlier, has had $34 million cut out of it. That means that passengers waiting at Australia's eight international airports wait for longer, and it also reduces Customs' ability to spot threats as they come into the country. Finally, this year's MYEFO estimated that $35 million will be cut from Customs over the forward estimates.

That is just Customs and Border Protection, but all of our national security agencies have been similarly hammered by this government. ASIO had $8.8 million cut from training and liaison. The government also cut almost $7 million worth of ASIO security checks for visa applicants. A sum of $12.1 million was cut over four years for 'operational efficiencies'—which of course is just a euphemism for cutting money—from AUSTRAC, which of course is an agency that is vital in fighting crime, and fighting terrorism in particular, because it tracks the flow of money, which is vitally important to stop these sorts of activities.

I think it is very clear that these cuts represent a very deliberate policy from the Gillard and Rudd Labor governments to stop what they saw as the overallocation of resources to national security. We are very concerned about it. The fact that the budget is in such a perilous situation means that it is going to be difficult for us to reverse that, but we have committed to funding all of those agencies properly. In my own portfolio in particular, we have made specific commitments to reverse some of the cuts that the Labor Party have made to Customs and Border Protection, and that will be vital if we are to go back to a situation where our borders are properly secured in terms of both who comes into this country and what comes into this country.

I turn to the substance of the bill that we are debating. I appreciate that I have been given broad latitude to talk about terrorism in general, whereas this bill really deals with something that is relatively simple in the fight against international terrorism—that is, the ratification by Australia of an international treaty that deals with nuclear terrorist threats. When we think of terrorism, the prospect of nuclear terrorism is possibly one of the most disturbing scenarios that could be imagined by people who are envisaging threats to the Western world and to Australia in particular. Clearly, with the collapse of the former Soviet Union, the ability of terrorists to access nuclear materials was enhanced, and the international community admirably responded with this international treaty that we are discussing in the Australian parliament today. The United Nations Ad Hoc Committee commenced work on the draft International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism in 1998. This was born against the backdrop of the postwar discussions I mentioned and the international community being aware of the alarming scenario of nuclear material or nuclear weapons being able to fall into the hands of terrorists. The only existing international convention at the time on nuclear matters was limited to nuclear material used for peaceful purposes and did not deal with nuclear material for military purposes. The United Nations Convention on Nuclear Terrorism was adopted by the general assembly in April 2005 and was opened for signature in September that year. The convention is a multilateral treaty open to ratification by all nations and is designed to criminalise acts of nuclear terrorism and promote judicial and police cooperation in order to prevent, investigate and penalise those acts. The convention includes a wide range of acts and potential targets, which include nuclear power plants and nuclear reactors. It covers threats and attempts to commit such crimes or to participate in them and instructs that offenders will either be extradited or prosecuted. The convention also encourages states to assist each other with criminal investigations and extradition proceedings and by sharing information to prevent terrorist attacks. This bill seeks to implement Australia's obligations under that convention.

As outlined in the bill's explanatory memorandum, the amendments create new criminal offences for possessing or making radioactive material, nuclear explosive devices or a device to emit material with radiological properties which may cause death, serious bodily injury or substantial damage to property or the environment; using or damaging a convention prescribed device or a nuclear device or threatening to do so; threatening to use radioactive material; or demanding another person create radioactive material, a convention prescribed device or a nuclear facility. Finally, it creates an offence for demanding another person to allow a third person to access or control radioactive material, a convention device or a nuclear facility.

Notably—and I think very importantly—members of the Australian Defence Force will not be liable for prosecution when acting in connection with the defence or security of Australia. The convention does not govern the actions of armed forces during an armed conflict. The exemption does not apply to serving personnel whose actions are not connected with the defence or security of Australia or who have otherwise been acting unlawfully.

It should be noted that the bill does not criminalise the unlawful possession and use of radioactive material—for example, material with a medical application. There must also be an intention to use or make available this material for a prohibited purpose such as death or property damage. Whether or not the intended outcome occurs is not relevant to the prosecution. It also stipulates that a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment applies to the offences created under the bill.

We obviously support, as a coalition and as an opposition, the objective of this bill to implement the United Nations convention. The convention is an important instrument in the international efforts to combat terrorism and the proliferation and use of weapons of mass destruction. We agree that ratifying the convention will send a very strong message to the international community that Australia remains committed to addressing the threat of terrorism. I think there would be very few members of parliament who would object to us ratifying this treaty. In many ways I think that this is the easy end of combating terrorism. The harder end is when it comes to the allocation of scarce resources and when there is a lot of competing pressures on those resources. Clearly, when it comes to those sorts of judgments, this Labor government have been left wanting by the cuts they have made to our national security apparatus, specifically by the cuts they have made against our counterterrorism abilities. I will call on them, in voicing the opposition's support for this particular measure, to look at reversing those cuts. It is something we will certainly do when we are in government.