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Wednesday, 1 December 2004
Page: 33

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) (12:13 PM) —in reply—I thank honourable senators for contributing to the second reading debate on the Aviation Security Amendment Bill 2004. I welcome the support of both the Labor Party and the Australian Democrats. I will respond very briefly to a couple of points made by Senator Bishop. I guess it is in Labor's political interest to paint the government's security measures over the months and now years since the attack on the twin towers in the city of New York on September 11 as a patchwork. I guess that is a political point that they would seek to make. The reality, however, is that the Commonwealth government under the leadership of Prime Minister Howard and the National Security Committee of cabinet, and very skilled and dedicated people in the relevant portfolios, have worked to create an integrated and comprehensive response to a new threat to mankind and to civilisation.

That has involved a range of measures across transport, defence and civil emergencies to ensure that Australia and our allies have in place integrated responses that will give the best level of security and protection to the Australian people in this new security environment. It is a new environment. It is a new paradigm. It is a new threat that the world faces. It is a threat that advanced pluralistic democracies like Australia have to face up to. We are, in fact, defending what so many Australians have died for in wars. We are, in fact, defending liberty. We are, in fact, defending a democracy which is under challenge from those who do not like democracies, who do not like a pluralistic society and who do not like freedom of religion or freedom of expression. This is, to be fair to Senator Allison, a very important debate to have on the balancing of civil liberties, which we all hold so dear, and the security of the nation and of individuals as a whole. The government treads very carefully to balance that. In the measures before the Senate today there are a number of protections. For example, pilots or trainee pilots who feel that their rights are being infringed can go to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal if they think they have been unfairly dealt with.

Senator Bishop made a point about the progress of our aviation security measures. We do not—as others did, for what were clearly partisan almost pork-barrelling reasons—go around to key marginal seats saying, `We'll upgrade security at this particular regional airport.' Mr Latham, in his failed attempts to stir up some politics on this issue, went to a few marginal seats in the lead-up to the federal election and said, `We need to improve regional security so we'll improve screening at this airport.' Those airports generally correlated with key marginal seats that Labor were targeting—unsuccessfully, of course—in the election. Senator Bishop named a few of the towns that he thought should have upgraded security. It was sort of a marginal seats strategy, not a security strategy.

Our strategy was to have our decisions about regional airport security—and, in fact, the security measures that are before us in this bill—driven by a process involving sensible experts who could guide the government in terms of risk assessments. So we conducted a review of these risks in July 2003 and in December 2003, guided by the risk assessment process conducted by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, we announced an expansion of the nation's aviation security regime. In the process of implementing some of these measures we found there were some legislative barriers to action, relating to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority in particular.

We want to ensure that we have our pilots, trainee pilots and other people involved in the aviation sector checked by ASIO and given a security clearance so that we minimise the risk of people with ill will or ill intent getting into the sky in aeroplanes. Prior to September 11, it was a relatively benign activity. You and I, Madam Acting Deputy President Knowles, have spent a lot of our time in the general aviation sector and we know that probably all of the people in that sector in Australia perform a wonderful service for this country, particularly across the remote parts of the country, and that they pose absolutely no risk. But, since September 11, we now know that an aeroplane of virtually any size can be turned into an enhanced weapon. That is what we are addressing—it is a serious concern and it is a serious issue. We need to face up to it.

I think we are not helped by the Australian Democrats condemning either the government or the Australian Labor Party for passing measures that seek to enhance the security of Australia. The Labor Party have made it clear that they will support this bill. They have given us support on a number of occasions for pieces of legislation. I think gratuitous attacks on either the government or the Labor Party, saying that in some way we are trampling people's civil rights in these measures, are wrong. Senator Allison asked at what point would we stop. We will diligently assess the risks to Australian citizens in Australia and around the world using the best expert advice and intelligence that we can possibly muster. When that expert advice guides us to legislative actions that can improve the security of Australians—and, therefore, ultimately improve their liberty—then we will bring them to this parliament and argue for them. We will not stop, to answer Senator Allison's question, until the war on terrorism is won and until the security situation is safe again. I do not think anybody knows when that will be.

These are ludicrous suggestions—to use Senator Allison's own words—about measures for bus drivers and other people. There may well be a case at some stage for bringing new measures in, but we will be driven by expert advice from intelligence organisations and other experts. Senator Allison has criticised obliquely measures to improve the security around people who work in secure areas at airports. I think all Australians who are travelling would like to know that the people who move around secure parts of our airports have had security clearances. I think all Australians would feel that their civil liberties are improved by those sorts of measures. These measures mean that as you go through authorised areas to move in and out of airports you would know that to get through them you need to have had a security clearance. That is a measure that was obliquely criticised by the Democrats.

I want to address the measures that are being introduced in relation to the transportation and storage of ammonium nitrate—the material of choice for blowing up Marriott Hotels and other places around the world. I think most Australians would like to know that we have in place a rigorous set of measures to ensure that this substance—which is generally used for the fantastic purpose of improving plant production but can be abused and can, in the wrong hands, be used to destroy human life—is correctly used. I think most Australians would agree that that is a worthwhile and sensible thing for the governments of Australia to get together and work on, in consultation with the agricultural industry and the suppliers of ammonium nitrate.

Equally, these are measures to provide our security services with interception powers to ensure that they can try to get intelligence to try to pre-empt a terrorist attack. They are about using the best modern equipment to intercept telecommunications to ensure that our intelligence, security and police organisations can hopefully prevent an attack. I do not regard these measures as anything other than measures that ultimately improve the liberties of our civilians. I commend the bill to the Senate and wish it a speedy passage.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.