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Wednesday, 4 August 2004
Page: 25677


Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) (5:37 PM) —I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

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

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

AUSTRALIAN PASSPORTS BILL 2004

The Australian Passports Bill will provide a modern legal structure to underpin our world-class passports system.

The Government wants to ensure that Australians can continue to rely on a travel document of the highest integrity, which clearly establishes their identity and citizenship.

The Australian Passport Bill would replace the existing 65 year old Act. New elements include increased penalties for fraud, measures to reduce the number of lost and stolen passports, and an improved mechanism to prevent terrorists and other criminals from using passports.

Identity fraud is a major security problem—it has been estimated to cost A$1.1 billion annually.

The bill would increase the penalties for fraud up to A$110,000 or a 10 year jail term from $5,000 or 2 years jail in the current Act.

These penalties are the same as for comparable offences for people smuggling.

These penalties will apply across all indictable offences, such as false statements in applications and illegal use of a passport, including sale.

This will ensure that the Australian passport is not targeted by those seeking to commit identity fraud.

The new Act would enable us to combat identity fraud through the use of emerging technologies, such as biometrics.

The bill also contains a package of measures aimed at reducing the number of lost and stolen passports. The government's policy approach is twofold—to emphasise the importance of protecting passports and to stop the misuse of lost or stolen passports.

The bill contains important new measures to support national security and law enforcement objectives.

The new Act will explicitly allow for refusal or cancellation of a passport if an Australian is likely to engage in, is charged with—or has been sentenced for—specified serious crimes.

These crimes will include child sex tourism, child abduction, sexual slavery, drug trafficking, people smuggling and terrorism.

In these circumstances, the bill makes clear that it is the responsibility of law enforcement agencies to assess that a person should be prevented from travelling. The person's passport would then be refused or cancelled to complement the law enforcement objectives.

Existing powers to cancel a passport if a person could prejudice national security are retained in the bill.

These strong measures are necessary, particularly, to stop the misuse of lost or stolen passports and to stop terrorists and other criminals from travelling on Australian passports.

However, these powers must be administered fairly. Natural justice under the new Act will be maintained in a number of ways.

Firstly, the bill clearly states the entitlement of Australians to a passport. This provides a sound legal footing for any subsequent proceedings.

Secondly, the bill retains the comprehensive administrative review regime of the existing Act.

In this context, the Government's policy is that Australian passports law should not be used as an extension of the judicial system and should not be expected to impose any more restraint on an individual than a court would be prepared to impose.

In short, the refusal or cancellation of a passport should not be used as a substitute for arresting and charging a suspect. Such administrative action should complement the law enforcement action.

In addition, as some travellers can lose multiple passports through no fault of their own, the specific categories of circumstances in which action may be taken against them will be set out clearly. These categories will be subject to Parliamentary approval.

Another priority for the Government is that the new Act set out a clear statutory framework to protect privacy.

I consider that high standards of privacy protection are important to maintain community confidence in a system which holds the information of about 8 million Australians.

A key element is a transparent mechanism for obtaining information to verify identity and citizenship. The bill also proposes to regulate the disclosure of information for other limited purposes.

The bill retains the basic requirements for the issue of passports for children. These requirements are in place to protect children from abduction and to protect the rights of parents.

In some circumstances, where there is a dispute between parents about whether their child can travel internationally, officers of my Department are required under the current Act to make decisions to resolve the dispute. These decisions are made, with the best intentions, but outside the formal policy and legislative framework established under the family law system.

The bill proposes that, in such cases, a declaration may be made that the matter should be dealt with by a court.

In the short time available, I have set out the basic new elements of the Australian Passports Bill. I look forward to debate on this bill.

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AUSTRALIAN PASSPORTS (APPLICATION FEES) BILL 2004

This bill will establish a simpler structure to deal with changes in costs and validity of passports. This structure will enable the Government to respond rapidly to demands by Australian travellers for different types of passports and to increase fees and shorten validity periods for those who lose multiple passports.

This structure will also resolve the longstanding technical constitutional debate over whether passport fees were a tax or cost recovery.

Each year the Australian passports system provides 1 million Australians with passports at a cost of $100 million. It is important that this substantial operation is put on the soundest legal footing.

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AUSTRALIAN PASSPORTS (TRANSITIONALS AND CONSEQUENTIALS) BILL 2004

An important element of the Australian Passports (Transitionals and Consequentials) Bill will be the final stage of the introduction of the Foreign Passports (Law Enforcement and Security) Act. The Anti-Terrorism Bill (No. 2) 2004, introduced last week, seeks to amend the existing Passports Act to include offences and surrender provisions for foreign passports to parallel the offences and refusal and cancellation provisions in the Australian Passports Bill.

This Consequentials Bill, repeals all provisions relating to Australian passports from the Passports Act 1938 and renames it the Foreign Passports (Law Enforcement and Security) Act.

On a practical note, I should make clear that passports issued under the old Act remain valid.

Finally, I would like to say a word about consultation. 8 million Australians hold passports and it is important that the system reflects their needs. Officials in my department have engaged in extensive consultation with travel, banking and technology industries; with the Privacy Commission and the Family Court; with State Governments; and with privacy, human rights and consumer advocates. Key details of the bill directly reflect their input.

I thank them for their contribution to the development of this legislation, which will strengthen the capacity and integrity of the passports system.

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FAMILY AND COMMUNITY SERVICES AND VETERANS' AFFAIRS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (2004 BUDGET MEASURES) BILL 2004

This Bill gives effect to two beneficial Family and Community Services and Veterans' Affairs 2004 Budget measures that require legislation.

Firstly, the Bill will exempt all scholarships (or such components of any scholarships) that pay tuition fees or any student contribution amount on a student's behalf, or waive all or part of a student's tuition fee or any student contribution amount, from the social security and veterans' affairs income tests. This extends the exemptions announced in December 2003 in which Commonwealth Learning Scholarships and full fee-waiver scholarships provided by higher education institutions were made exempt from the social security and veterans' affairs income tests. This will apply to scholarships offered in the secondary, vocational education and training and higher education sectors, and will assist approximately 1,550 students at the present time. However, this number is expected to increase by up to 2,200 students per year by 2008.

Secondly, the Bill expands the eligibility criteria for carer allowance by allowing a carer to be qualified for carer allowance if they provide certain care for an adult with a disability, even if they do not live with that adult. This measure recognises that it may not always be possible or appropriate for the carer to live with the person for whom they are providing care, and yet these carers still make a valuable and significant contribution to the community. In many cases this care allows the person with a disability to continue to live in their own home, instead of going into alternative care. This measure recognises that people have different living arrangements, and allows them the flexibility to choose the arrangements that best suit their particular circumstances, without precluding them from receiving carer allowance.

The Bill also makes one technical amendment to correct an unintended minor drafting error.

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ANTI-TERRORISM BILL (No. 3) 2004

These provisions were originally contained in the Anti-Terrorism Bill (No. 2) which is currently before the Parliament.

However, since the introduction of that Bill, the Attorney-General has received correspondence from the Opposition offering to facilitate passage of Schedule 5 of the Anti-Terrorism Bill (No. 2) which deals with disaster victim identification and criminal investigation following a domestic mass casualty incident.

In the spirit of cooperation the Attorney-General agreed to excise Schedule 5 from the Anti-Terrorism Bill (No. 2) and progress it in a separate Bill, the Anti-Terrorism Bill (No. 3), in recognition both of the importance of this measure and its relatively non-controversial status.

This approach recognises the importance of our ability to respond if a terrorist attack or other mass-casualty disaster were to occur within Australia.

This Bill will amend the forensic procedure laws in Part 1D of the Crimes Act 1914 to ensure that, if a terrorist attack or other mass-casualty disaster were to occur within Australia, forensic services from all jurisdictions in Australia can work together, using the national DNA database system, to identify the victims of the disaster and conduct a criminal investigation.

The Government has moved amendments excising Schedules 1 and 2 from Anti-Terrorism Bill (No. 2) and included those provisions in this Bill.

Schedules 1 and 2 dealt with the need to ensure that a person who carries both an Australian passport and foreign passport cannot leave Australia on a foreign passport after the person's Australian passport has been cancelled by Australian authorities.

This Bill contains amendments to the Passports Act 1938 that will, among other things, give competent Australian authorities the power to request an order for the surrender of a person's foreign passport.

The amendments to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 will give the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation the power to demand a person surrender their Australian and foreign passports if the person is subject to a request for consent to apply for a questioning warrant.

This will prevent a person who may have vital information about a planned terrorist attack from fleeing Australia before ASIO has the opportunity to question the person.

The Government takes advice on what is in the national interest from our intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

I am advised that both the passport and victim identification measures are important and urgent and should not be delayed because the Bill in which they are contained have, as is the usual practice for the Opposition, been referred to an already over-burdened Senate Committee.

I challenge the Opposition to not respond in a predictable fashion and oppose the Bill simply because it does not meet their precise specifications.

I cannot imagine that even the Opposition believes it is acceptable that a person who carries both an Australian passport and foreign passport can leave Australia on a foreign passport even though that person's Australian passport has been cancelled by Australian authorities.

Securing our borders against incoming or outgoing terrorist suspects is an important weapon in our fight against terrorism, both domestically and internationally.

We are not interested in letting terrorists enter Australia.

Nor are we interested in exporting terrorists who are then free to pursue their deadly ambitions in other countries.

I trust that the Opposition does not need a Senate Committee to repeat these basic facts in order for them to acknowledge the importance and urgency of these measures.

Debate (on motion by Senator Mackay) adjourned.

Ordered that the Family and Community Services and Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (2004 Budget Measures) Bill 2004 and the Anti-terrorism Bill (No. 3) 2004 be listed on the Notice Paper as separate orders of the day.