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Wednesday, 23 October 2002
Page: 5783

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Forestry and Conservation) (6:51 PM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows

The Howard Government is committed to the war against terrorism and to ensuring that our law enforcement and intelligence agencies have the best possible tools to fight that war.

In June 2002 we passed a package of counter-terrorism legislation designed to bolster our armoury in the war against terrorism and deliver on our commitment to enhance our ability to meet the challenges of the new terrorist environment.

The Security Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Act was an important element of that package.

That Act introduced a number of criminal offences relating to terrorist organisations.

Those offences include an offence of intentionally being a member of a terrorist organisation; directing the activities of a terrorist organisation; and providing training to or receiving training from a terrorist organisation, among others.

An essential element of each of those offences is that they relate to or involve a “terrorist organisation”.

The Act defines a terrorist organisation as:

· an organisation directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning etc a terrorist act; or

· an organisation specified in regulations made under the Act.

Listing of organisations sends a clear and unequivocal message to those who might involve themselves with those organisations that if they do so they will face the full weight of the law.

Listing also facilitates the investigation and prosecution of those engaged in supporting or carrying out the activities of terrorist organisations.

Given the delay and uncertainty that could be involved in waiting to prove an organisation's engagement in a terrorist act in court, listing organisations by regulation is a more effective method of specifying terrorist organisations in most cases.

Listing of organisations serves a number of purposes.

It puts people on notice not to deal with the listed organisation.

And it provides certainty to law enforcement agencies that they can act against the organisation immediately, without the significant delay that is likely in completing a criminal prosecution.

The procedure for making regulations is set out in the Act.

In broad terms, before regulations can be made, the Attorney-General must be satisfied that:

· the Security Council of the United Nations has made a decision about terrorism that identifies the organisation; and

· the organisation is directly or indirectly engaged in terrorism.

Under the Act in its present form regulations made now that list an organisation as a terrorist organisation will not come into operation until after the Parliamentary disallowance period has ended, in 2003.

This is because there are insufficient sitting days in the remainder of the sitting schedule to satisfy the required waiting period.

This means that the Government cannot, under the existing law, complete the listing of a terrorist organisation—such as a terrorist organisation believed to be involved in the Bali bombing— until next year.

As a result, even though there may be known members of a terrorist organisation here in Australia, this will limit the ability of authorities to investigate them and, if there is enough evidence, to prosecute them, until well into 2003.

This is totally unacceptable.

We need to be able to act swiftly against the perpetrators of terrorist acts.

Currently the Act provides that regulations cannot come into force until the end of the 15 parliamentary sitting day disallowance period in both Houses of Parliament.

This is an unusual provision, and one that does not apply to regulations made in the ordinary manner.

Normally, regulations come into effect immediately they are signed and gazetted but they can be disallowed by Parliament if a notice of motion of disallowance is given in either House of Parliament within those 15 days.

This bill removes the provision that prevents terrorist organisation regulations coming into operation straight away.

It does not remove the preconditions to making the regulations in the first place.

The Attorney-General still needs to be satisfied of the matters set out in the Act before he can make a regulation, and that decision is still subject to parliamentary scrutiny and judicial review.

This bill merely changes the day on which such regulations come into effect.

The bill amends the Act to provide that regulations made under the Act will come into operation immediately in the usual way, but they will also be subject to disallowance by Parliament in the usual way.

When the bill is enacted, our intelligence and law enforcement agencies will then be able to take immediate action now against specified terrorist organisations and their members for their criminal conduct.

The events in the United States on 11 September 2001 demonstrated the enormous loss of life and devastation to communities that terrorist acts can cause and highlighted the need for measures to be taken to prevent future attacks.

The events in Bali on 12 October 2002 brought that reality tragically close to home.

Australia cannot afford to be complacent about the threat that terrorism poses to our community.

The Government has a clear responsibility to cooperate with global counter-terrorism measures and to provide our security and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to combat terrorism.

The Howard Government is committed to the war against terrorism and ensuring we have the best possible tools to fight that war.

This bill will allow our security and law enforcement agencies to act swiftly against perpetrators of terrorist acts uncovered in the course of investigations and enable no stone to be left unturned in bringing them to justice.