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Monday, 18 November 2002
Page: 6613

Senator ROBERT RAY (4:34 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the Senate endorse the resolutions at paragraph 3.1 of the report and approve the proposals for the reorganisation of the security function in Parliament House referred to in the report.

This report reflects the consideration by the committee of the in-principle decisions made by the Presiding Officers on security matters following the review by the Parliamentary Service Commissioner of aspects of the administration of parliament. The essence of these decisions is that a centralised security operation be created in the Joint House Department, with personnel transferred to that department and funds channelled through the chamber departments to support the function, that the interim Security Management Board now be established permanently and that the functions of the board be further developed by agreements made between all parliamentary departments and submitted for approval to the Presiding Officers.

The terms of appointment of the Senate Standing Committee on Appropriations and Staffing require that it examine matters affecting the staffing and administration of the Department of the Senate, including proposals to vary the staffing structure. Under a resolution of the Senate agreed to in 1987, the committee also examines and reports on proposed changes in the structure and responsibilities of parliamentary departments. With respect to the administration of parliamentary security, the committee has adopted two resolutions.

The first resolution refers to the statement by the President to the Senate on 11 November 2002, and endorses the proposals adopted in principle by the President for the reorganisation of the security function in Parliament House. The committee recommends that the Senate approve those proposals. The committee notes that, while the proposed reorganisation may improve the governance and coordination in the security function, it does not itself ensure that appropriate security measures are taken in Parliament House. In its second resolution, the committee therefore calls on the President to take appropriate measures to secure the building adequately, with the advice of Commonwealth security agencies and with appropriate consultation with, and notification to, senators.

The recommendation by the Parliamentary Service Commissioner on security covered the first of the three areas identified for investigation in the review commissioned last April by the then President, Senator the Hon. Margaret Reid, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Hon. Neil Andrew MP. The commissioner's report was tabled in the Senate on 3 October. Those other matters dealt with in the Podger report will be considered by the appropriations and staffing committee on 4 December. They will be fully reported to the Senate with, I hope, all documents made available to senators. That meeting on 4 December will further pursue matters associated with security in this building. I do not want to canvass the strengths and weaknesses of security in this building here in a public forum. I think it is more appropriately pursued in a committee of staffing and appropriations. But I do want to stress that we must take the security of this building seriously. I do not want any bravado from senators saying, `We do not want anything special done for us'—neither do I. There are 3,000 people who work in this building and they must take the highest of priorities.

It is essential that we take seriously any security concerns in a modern environment in this particular building. It may mean that for the greater good we have to restrict some of the liberties currently being enjoyed by staff and members of parliament in this building. We may have to consider that there should not be two classes of people in this building—staff and members of parliament—but just one, and that one rule should apply to all. But, nevertheless, I am sure the President and the Speaker are going to seriously address the issues and concerns of senators and appropriately consult them about any concerns that they have.

The whole design and concept of this parliament is to make it open to the people of Australia. We would not like to see that compromised. But, at the same time, the very fact that we get close to one million visitors to this building per year means we have to protect them as well as members and staff. So we should not shy away from serious considerations of proper security measures. I am sure the appropriations and staffing committee and the presiding officers will pursue this as stringently as possible. To recap: this is not the opportunity today to have a full discussion on the Podger report, but there will be such an opportunity presented to the chamber once the appropriations and staffing committee has looked at all its recommendations as to departmental mergers as well as all the other recommendations that it has made. We will report back and hopefully make all documents available to honourable senators.