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Thursday, 9 February 2012
Page: 667

Mr HAYES (Fowler) (10:39): I also seek to speak on the Nuclear Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill 2011. This bill will make essential amendments to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Act 1987 in order to implement Australia's obligations under the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism of 2005. The convention aims at establishing an international framework for cooperation for the prevention, investigation, prosecution, and extradition of persons in breach, of offences relating to radioactive or nuclear weapons. While the convention has an international element to it, it requires signatory countries to that convention to address their domestic laws to ensure that they are complementary to those provided within the convention itself. That is essentially what we are doing through this bill.

Australia, as we have heard from previous speakers, has already enacted substantial elements of law set out in the convention within the Criminal Code Act 1995 and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Act 1987. This bill will fill the gaps to ensure that our legal requirements under the convention and its framework are fully met and, as part of the international organisation of various nations who are signatories to the convention, ensure that our laws are contemporary in that respect.

It is also important, given the role of Australia in terms of our region, that we show leadership on this matter. Complying with the obligations set out in the nuclear terrorism convention will allow us to lead by example within our region, ensuring that other regional neighbours witness our commitment to take steps to comply with the convention and, in doing so, ensure that we have a very strong legal regime set to combat issues of terrorism generally.

New offences will emerge as a consequence of the Nuclear Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill. It will create new offences with respect to possessing, making, using, damaging; threatening a nuclear facility; or a person being forced to use or develop radioactive material for the purposes of weaponry. To put this in context, this is not something where you need an abundance of nuclear physicists and a 20-year lead-up time to develop a nuclear device—as we would generally know it, an atomic bomb. We have the ANSTO facility at Lucas Heights, which is in my neighbouring electorate of Hughes, and we are also fast approaching a debate in this chamber concerning a nuclear waste facility, at a location yet to be determined. There is also our reliance on nuclear medicines for our health. All have a capability of having products used to develop such weapons, for use in terrorism.

As to these new offences, the penalty imposed is up to a maximum of 20 years imprisonment. The application of these laws will apply where an offence is committed within Australia by an Australian citizen or against an Australian citizen, our property or indeed a facility itself. The offence will therefore potentially involve foreigners acting against an Australian citizen or within Australia. As a result, the Extradition Act 1988 will also be amended to prevent a suspect offender from avoiding extradition from Australia by arguing that the offence was of a political nature.

As I indicated, in terms of choice of words, in terms of weaponry, it is not the wholesale production of a nuclear instrument that this legislation is aimed at. Indeed, it would cover that, but that is not its principal target. In the modern age, the prospect of having a dirty nuclear device, which is primarily associated with the disbursement of radioactive material, is something that, whilst very frightening, is very real. It is those devices that are in the forefront of the minds of our security agencies.

In supporting this raft of amendments, we need only look back to September 11. The common view is that it changed the face of the world, and indeed it did. In this place itself, whilst we were not a target in respect of that dreadful attack in the United States, we saw the potential of what it would mean to a country like ours. We enacted various pieces of legislation which some of the critics of this government and of the former government would deride by referring to it as draconian legislation. We took every step possible to ensure that Australia is fully protected against the advent of a terrorism attack. This is another step to ensure that we not only are vigilant but also have in place the tools necessary for those people that we put on the front line, who are out there to protect our community, to ensure that they can properly investigate, prosecute and bring to justice people who would otherwise be free to do what they will in terms of some terrorist ideal in our community.

Clearly I support the provisions outlined in this amendment but, in doing so, I also have regard for all those officers who are working in our law enforcement and security services to protect this nation against the advent of terrorism. It is a long bow to suggest that we have not been a target simply because we have been lucky. I think the reality is that it is because this nation has been vigilant and has not taken things for granted. We will withstand the criticism about deploying draconian legislation, but I think I speak in respect of the parliament generally that all sides will do whatever is necessary to protect our citizenry from terrorist acts.

I commend this piece of legislation to the House. I know it will not be the last in terms of fighting terrorism. Terrorism is something that will push the envelope of our understanding. Simply being able to block it in one aspect does not mean that it will not re-emerge elsewhere. As I say, I have nothing but praise for our people in our respective law enforcement organisations and our security organisations who commit their lives to the protection of this country, and I feel quite humble whenever I am in their presence. I commend the legislation.