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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9089


Ms KING (BallaratParliamentary Secretary for Infrastructure and Transport and Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing) (13:33): I thank honourable members for their contribution to the debate. The Maritime Powers Bill 2012 and the Maritime Powers (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2012 provide a simpler approach to maritime enforcement through streamlining the operational framework of our on-water enforcement agencies.

The maritime domain poses particular challenges to the effective enforcement of laws. Enforcement operations in maritime areas frequently occur in remote locations, isolated from the support normally available to land based operations and constrained by the practicalities of sea based work. Under the current legislative framework, operational agencies use powers contained in at least 35 separate Commonwealth acts. This structure is inefficient and can lead to operational difficulties for the primary on-water enforcement agencies.

The Maritime Powers Bill provides a smarter and simpler approach to maritime enforcement through a single maritime enforcement law. This single role consolidates and harmonises the Commonwealth's existing maritime enforcement regime. The powers contained in this bill are modelled on powers currently available to operational agencies. The bill establishes a system of authorisations under which a maritime officer may exercise enforcement powers in the maritime domain. In addition to providing the necessary operational flexibility, this system of authorisations includes a range of safeguards to make sure maritime enforcement powers are authorised and exercised appropriately and for a proper purpose. The key safeguard is the requirement for the exercise of powers to be authorised on specific grounds by a senior maritime officer or a member of the Australian Federal Police. This provides clarity around who must make decisions to take enforcement action and ensures appropriate oversight in the exercise of powers. The types of authorisations available under the bill will cover a wide range of enforcement situations which arise in the maritime environment including fishing, Customs and migration matters. Enforcement powers under the bill will be exercised by officers of the Australian Defence Force, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, the Australian Federal Police and other persons appointed to conduct enforcement and monitoring activities in the maritime environment. The Maritime Powers (Consequential Amendments) Bill repeals maritime enforcement powers in a number of other acts where they overlap the powers in the Maritime Powers Bill.

I want to turn to some of the specific comments raised in the debate. The member for Stirling's statements about cuts to Customs are, frankly, pretty rich coming from a party that needs to make $70 billion worth of cuts and plans to sack 12,000 public servants if it wins the next election. The shadow Treasurer said earlier this year, 'For a start, 12,000 public servants in Canberra will be made redundant over a two-year period immediately upon us being elected.' The shadow minister has also refused to rule out cuts to Customs. When he was quizzed about this—

Mr Robert: Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order: relevance. The parliamentary secretary is wrapping up a bill on maritime issues. How that strays into comments made by a shadow minister prior to the last election is simply beyond the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): I thank the member for Fadden. The parliamentary secretary has the call and she will be, as she would understand, relevant to the bill that she is summing up.

Ms KING: As the member for Stirling raised the issues of cuts to Customs, I am being relevant to the bill and to the debate. When quizzed, the shadow minister said it was impossible for him to give any guarantee around that, so to attack the government on cuts in this debate is fairly rich. In fact, we have spent more than $1 billion a year on Customs and Border Protection, and it is getting results. Last year we seized more heroin, cocaine and amphetamines than ever before. Earlier this month we seized half a billion dollars worth of illegal drugs—the largest seizure of ice in Australian history and the third-largest heroin seizure. That is more than we often seize in an entire year. The amount of drugs and illicit materials we seize in air cargo has more than doubled since we came to office, and that is because we are investing in intelligence. It is important. Ask any expert in the field and they will tell you that intelligence is the key to catching crooks and seizing drugs and guns. We are investing in intelligence, and we ask the opposition to do the same.

Some of the members who have spoken, particularly the member for Cook, have raised concerns about the operation of various powers under the bill. I remind those members that this bill does not enlarge or reduce any such powers. The bill, importantly, harmonises existing provisions across a range of laws to provide a smarter and simpler approach to maritime enforcement. The explanatory memorandum raises matters regarding the implementation of Australia's obligations with respect to nonrefoulement and under a range of international legal instruments. The issues exist in relation to current legislative powers and will continue to exist in relation to the legislation as harmonised in this bill.

The member for Cook also queried whether the government has fully engaged with the relevant stakeholders. I assure the member that, over the several years during which the harmonisation process has been carefully undertaken, all relevant departments have been fully engaged. The members opposite also seem keen to use this bill to debate the question of asylum seekers and the recent expert panel report. I remind members that this bill is not directed to those matters. This bill is an important regulatory step to simplify and harmonise on-water enforcement operations.

In conclusion, the Australian government is committed to ensuring that Australia's laws are effectively monitored and enforced in the maritime domain. The unique aspects of the maritime environment merit a tailored approach to maritime powers. These bills ensure flexibility in the exercise of these powers, allowing maritime officers to deal with quickly changing circumstances in often difficult and dangerous situations. These bills will streamline and modernise Australia's legal framework for maritime enforcement and thereby support the hardworking Australians who work on our behalf to uphold Australia's maritime laws. These reforms are just one aspect of the government's work to provide Australia with a modern legal framework.

I table a revised explanatory memorandum and commend these bills to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill a second time.