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Thursday, 9 February 2012
Page: 681

Mrs GRIGGS (Solomon) (11:45): I also rise to speak on the Nuclear Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill 2011. As my colleagues have already stated, the coalition does support this bill. According to the Bills Digestthe purpose of the bill is to:

... implement the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism 2005 (the Convention) by creating new offences for criminal conduct relating to nuclear material and other radioactive substances or devices prohibited by the Convention.

The Bill also amends the Extradition Act 1988 to ensure the new offences will not be regarded as political offences for the purposes of extradition.

As set out in the bill's explanatory memorandum, the amendments proposed by the bill create new offences for possessing radioactive material for a nuclear explosive device or a device to emit material with radiological properties which may cause death, serious bodily injury or substantial damage to property or the environment; making a convention device; using a damaging convention device or a nuclear facility or threatening to do so; demanding another person create radioactive material, a convention device or a nuclear facility; and demanding another person allow a third person to access or control radioactive material, a convention device or nuclear facility.

Under these amendments, Australian Defence Force members will not be prosecuted 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. However, this exemption does not apply if any serving member's actions are not connected with the defence or security of Australia or if they are otherwise acting unlawfully. Also of note is that the bill does not criminalise the lawful possession and use of radioactive materials if, for example, it is being used for medical applications. There must, however, be an intention to use or make available the material for a prohibited purpose, such as death or property damage.

In terms of prosecution, whether or not the intended outcome occurs is not relevant to a prosecution and there is a maximum penalty of up to 20 years imprisonment for the new offences created by this bill. In terms of committee considerations of the bill, the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties expressed its support for the convention and, ultimately, recommended that the binding treaty action be taken. The committee stated that ratification would:

... 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.

Those were just two of the compelling reasons why the committee supported Australia undertaking the proposed binding treaty action. The committee further commented that implementing legislation would 'further strengthen Australia's strong counter-terrorism legislative framework', that the ratification would 'send a message to the international community demonstrating Australia's continued commitment to addressing the threat of terrorism' and that it would 'strengthen Australia's case in encouraging regional countries to ratify the 16 international counterterrorism instruments'.

The committee also made comment on the inordinate length of time between the signing of the treaty in September 2005 and the tabling of it in parliament. I also consider it quite extraordinary that it has taken six years to table this treaty in parliament given the importance of antiterrorism measures and, in particular, the concerns about nuclear terrorism activities. The background to the United Nations convention dates back to when the UN Ad Hoc Committee commenced work on the draft International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism in 1998. History shows that, at the time, the only existing international convention on nuclear matters was limited to nuclear material which was being used for peaceful purposes. In April 2005 the general assembly adopted the UN's Convention on Nuclear Terrorism. Some five months later, in September of that year, it was open for signing.

As stated by the member for Stirling and others, the convention is a multilateral treaty open to ratification by all nations and is designed to criminalise acts of nuclear terrorism and to promote judicial and police cooperation in order to prevent, investigate and penalise those acts. It includes a wide range of acts and potential targets, which include nuclear power plants and nuclear reactors. I am sure everyone agrees that the convention is an important instrument in the international effort to combat terrorism and the use of weapons of mass destruction. The convention includes threats and attempts to commit crimes or to participate in them and instructs that offenders will be either extradited or prosecuted. The convention also encourages assistance between each other with criminal investigations and extradition proceedings by sharing information so as to prevent terrorist attacks.

On terrorism, others have already stated that the coalition genuinely supports counterterrorism measures which include nuclear terrorism measures in Australia and abroad. I am not sure why the Gillard Labor government does not place the same emphasis on national security as we do. I would have thought that if it did it would ensure that our national security agencies are resourced appropriately to enable them to focus on international and home-grown terrorism. If the Gillard Labor government were serious about ensuring that our national security agencies were appropriately resourced, why did it cut $12 million from the National Counter Terrorism Committee in the 2011-12 budget? And why did it cut $1.4 million from the AFP's counterterrorism operations? At a time when people do not feel our borders are safe and are worried about terrorism, at a time when people do not think they can trust the Gillard Labor government, why does the government cut national security agency funding?

As already stated by the member for Stirling, we all know that the most important weapon in the fight against terrorism is information, and unfortunately the Gillard Labor government just cannot be trusted to ensure that our national security agencies and the AFP have the intelligence-gathering powers they need to identify preparation and planning for terrorist acts so as to stop them before they are carried out. Like other members of the coalition, I am deeply concerned by Labor's cutbacks to the AFP's counterterrorism program. To prevent terrorism you do not cut back funding; you ensure that the programs are appropriately funded. And that is what Labor has to do. Labor needs to commit appropriate funds to the AFP's counterterrorism and intelligence programs.

When the coalition was in government the contrast was clear, as it provided over $10.4 billion of funding from September 2001. This was to enhance Australia's national security and counterterrorism programs by increasing the capacity of our intelligence agencies. As we heard from the member for Kooyong, the former Howard government provided ASIO and the AFP with more resources and legislative support, which ensured that they had the resources that enabled them to stay ahead of the game and to stop terrorist activity before it occurred. History shows us that the coalition strongly supported our national security and law enforcement agencies. This support is strong today. It is essential that these agencies be resourced appropriately so they can do their job—that is, to fight crime effectively.

In conclusion, as I said at the beginning, the coalition supports the intention of this bill to implement provisions of the UN convention. As already stated by my colleague and friend the member for Stirling, the coalition agrees that ratifying this convention will send a strong message to the international community that Australia is committed to addressing the threat of terrorism.