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Tuesday, 15 October 2002
Page: 5122

Senator LUDWIG (2:37 PM) —My question without notice is to Senator Vanstone, the Minister representingthe Attorney-General. Is the review of counter-terrorism assets and capabilities which the government is undertaking in response to the Bali bombings the standard review that is undertaken after major terrorist incidents involving Australians, or is it something broader? If so, could the minister indicate the nature of the review, the terms of reference, the time frame and who, or which lead agency, will be conducting the review?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —That question sounds very similar to the one asked by Senator Faulkner, and the answer is essentially the same. However, it does give me the opportunity to provide some information on the security measures the government has taken to protect Australians from increased threats of terrorism, and I will take that opportunity. It is clearly understood that, from the time of the attacks on the United States last year, there has been a shift in the international security environment. The recent events in Bali have brought that reality home to Australians in the most horrific way. People understand that we cannot sit back and assume that we are safe from these sorts of devastating events. The Prime Minister has announced the review of our security arrangements and domestic security laws, and the advice I have is that that review is under way.

I will repeat the answer I gave Senator Faulkner and, if I see when I have a look at it that this question is in any way different, I will refer that as well to the Attorney. As the primary agency responsible for coordinating and managing the Commonwealth's protective security and counter-terrorism arrangements, the Protective Security Coordination Centre in the Attorney-General's Department is on 24-hour activation. The watch office plays a central role in the coordination of the Commonwealth's response to terrorist threats or incidents and forms a vital part of the national crisis management arrangements under the national antiterrorist plan. The Attorney-General's Department has coordinated a specific incident task force—or SITF—and guarding and security arrangements are being increased as required. The SITF is a committee made up of appropriate Commonwealth departments and agencies that are responsible for the coordination of the Commonwealth's response to terrorist and national security incidents within Australia. That committee includes representatives from the Attorney-General's Department, ASIO, the Federal Police, Defence, Foreign Affairs, Emergency Management Australia, DOTARS, PM&C and any other Commonwealth agencies as required. The Office of National Assessments has also established a watch office, which will be operating 24 hours a day. Emergency Management Australia has been asked by DFAT to coordinate the movement of injured people from Darwin to other states. Casualties will be transported by a combination of civilian and Defence aircraft. Forty additional Australian Protective Service staff will provide static security in Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney and Perth. Forty additional Federal Police close personal protection personnel have been deployed.

We need to be able to protect ourselves from the inexplicable and horrifying violence of terrorists, and the government moved swiftly last year to strengthen Australia's counter-terrorism capabilities. In the budget, the government committed an extra $1.3 billion over five years to upgrade security in Australia. In the Attorney-General's portfolio, an additional $426.6 million was earmarked specifically to bolster counter-terrorism abilities. Following the high-level review of Australia's security and counter-terrorism arrangements that was instigated, the government introduced a series of measures designed to strengthen Australia's counter-terrorism legislative framework. In the wake of the tragic events in Bali, the government has announced a review of both the adequacy of domestic terrorist legislation and our counter-terrorism capacity. While both were recently reviewed, the terrorist attack in Bali makes another such review a matter of responsibility to all Australians. As the Prime Minister has indicated, it could be necessary to further strengthen our domestic security laws in light of the Bali incident but, until the review is completed, it is not appropriate to hypothesise on what those outcomes might be.

Senator LUDWIG —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. It may assist Senator Vanstone if I add that the question I asked before went to the review of counter-terrorism assets and capabilities. Senator Faulkner's question went to the review of antiterrorism legislation. There is a difference. I understand that the minister has given an undertaking to examine the question and provide an answer, but my supplementary question goes to whether the review is the standard review which is undertaken after major terrorist incidents involving Australians or whether it is something broader. In other words, is it the usual question of undertaking an examination or a review after a major terrorist incident involving Australians, or is it something broader?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —I do not know that there is anything usual in the circumstances we are dealing with. Because of these circumstances the Prime Minister has decided that we should look at everything again, and we will.