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Thursday, 9 February 2012
Page: 661


Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (10:14): I rise to speak in support of the Nuclear Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill 2011. The member for Stirling, who spoke prior to me, raised a number of specific cases with respect to funding allocations for national security and safety. I am certainly not in a position to respond to those comments individually, but I am sure that most of those allegations will be rejected by the minister. In the time that I have been in this place, this government has been absolutely committed to national security and national safety. The government has introduced a number of measures that reflect its commitment in this area. The member for Stirling spent most of his time attacking the government's funding of national security. Again, I have no doubt that the minister will respond to those allegations.

I make the observation, however, that good government is about reflecting the needs of the time. When circumstances change it is not unusual and not irresponsible for the government to change direction in how it manages its affairs. The reality is that if you look at the record of activities that the security organisations of this country have been engaged in, at the record of arrests that have been made and at the general level of safety throughout the country in recent years, you see that those organisations have performed exceptionally well. This government has now been in office for four years. We do not see the security breaches that we might have seen if the system and the various organisations were not working well. So, quite frankly, whilst the member for Stirling came in and attacked the government's record, I think it is a very proud record, which speaks for itself in terms of this government's commitment and its runs on the board in relation to security around Australia.

As other speakers have said, the Nuclear Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill implements the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. Minister O'Connor, in introducing the bill in November last year, stated:

The bill creates new offences for specific conduct that is prohibited by the convention.

This includes:

possessing radioactive material or a device

using or damaging a radioactive material or device or nuclear facility

demanding the use of radioactive material or device or nuclear facility

threatening or attempting to use or damage a device, radioactive material or nuclear facility, and

using radioactive material, or a device, or using or damaging a nuclear facility.

The offences will not be limited to conduct by Australians and in Australia, but will apply in a broad range of situations where the convention requires states parties to assert jurisdiction.

It seems to me that this bill in fact completes part of the process of adhering to the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. That convention was concluded in New York on 14 April 2005. The process, however, began nearly a decade earlier, when the United Nations General Assembly established an ad hoc committee through resolution 51/210 on 17 December 1996. It certainly was a lengthy process. Ultimately I can understand the difficulties that might have been encountered by the United Nations in trying to get the convention agreed to by as many countries as possible. It was ultimately signed off on 14 April 2005.

The convention establishes an international framework for criminalising specific conduct relating to nuclear material and other radioactive substances or devices. Australia signed the convention on 14 September 2005, as I understand did several other countries. The convention entered into force generally on 7 July 2007. Of the 115 signatories to the convention, to date 54 have ratified the convention and a further 23 countries have subsequently acceded to it. Australia's ratification of the convention will contribute to international efforts aimed at countering terrorism involving the use of radioactive material. It will ensure that persons who commit such acts can be brought to justice irrespective of the territory in which they are found and whether or not extradition agreements are in place.

The convention provides a framework for international cooperation in the prevention, investigation, prosecution and extradition of persons who commit relevant offences with nuclear material and other radioactive substances or devices. The convention is an important tool in the international fight against terrorism and the proliferation and use of weapons of mass destruction.

Regrettably, the threat of terrorism has become a fact of life around the world. It is not a new phenomenon. Terrorist acts date back many centuries. The word was originally derived from the French equivalent, which dates back to the reign of terror that followed the French Revolution. In recent decades, however, we have seen widespread acts of terrorism around the world. Most notably for Australians we all remember September 11, 2001, and particularly the Bali bombings of 12 October 2002 when 88 Australians lost their lives along with almost another 120 people—and many others were badly injured. It has changed the way we live, how we do business and even where we may choose to live or visit. The changes we have seen in the operations at airports is a prime example of this. Most importantly, it has added immense financial costs and time to the way we live.

The costs associated with counterterrorist strategies will continue to escalate as new technology creates opportunity not only for good purposes but also for evil purposes. Whilst this bill seeks to strengthen our efforts to counter terrorism, the reality is that countering terrorism will be an ongoing challenge for governments around the world. Again, as this bill very much reflects, it is an international problem and it does require international cooperation if we are going to have any reasonable degree of success in countering the terrorist activities of those who want to engage in them.

Terrorism is not only a product of conflict between two parties, as we quite often imagine, or between two different organisational structures. It is also often a product of a single, crazed person driven by an obsession or by fanaticism. We saw that only last July when 77 young people were killed in Norway as a result of the actions of a person who was clearly deranged and probably still is based on the latest reports I have read about his appearance in the Norwegian courts only recently. So terrorism comes in many forms. That is what makes it so difficult and costly to counter. But every action we take closes another opportunity for terrorism.

The observation I would make about this legislation is that it relates to nuclear terrorism. The word 'nuclear' is synonymous with 'fear' because of the magnitude of the destruction it can cause. It is a valid fear from what we have seen of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and from nuclear disasters in Chernobyl and, more recently, Fukushima. So it is understandable that when you mention the word 'nuclear' or 'uranium' people have some real concerns. The ongoing debates about the ability of countries to enrich uranium, who we sell it to, what it can be used for and how it is to be stored highlights just how sensitive an issue it is.

The other observation I would make with respect to the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, which this bill seeks to ratify, is that it is an international convention. As I said a moment ago, if we are going to fight terrorism on an international scale we are going to need international cooperation. The convention, as I have pointed out, has been signed by only 115 countries, which means that there are more countries in the world who have not signed it and are not party to the convention than are. That, in my mind, is of real concern because, as we all know, terrorism crosses borders and international boundaries. If a country does not sign the convention you have to immediately ask the question: why not? Why would you not sign something which to 115 countries appears quite reasonable? It is something which took nearly a decade to negotiate in order to ensure it was reasonable, and yet some countries still refuse to sign it. That is of real concern, because our best strategy in fighting terrorism is to have everyone around the world in unison in terms of the way we approach the challenge.

The last thing I want to say is that this bill does in fact strengthen Australia's case when we are endeavouring to encourage other countries in our region to ratify various other counterterrorism instruments. An upcoming opportunity to encourage our neighbours will be the Nuclear Security Summit, which I understand will take place in the Republic of Korea in March this year. Again this is case where, if we are going to encourage others to do the right thing, we have to lead by example. I know we have done that by signing the convention. Particular aspects of this legislation conclude some parts of the convention that we have not yet put into place, and this will certainly enable us as a country and as a government to say to others: 'We are playing our part. We are prepared to be cooperative in an international framework. You should do the same.' I commend the bill to the House.