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Tuesday, 7 December 2004
Page: 19

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) (1:42 PM) —I thank senators for their contribution to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Amendment Bill 2004. This important bill is a step forward in protecting our national security. Senators Ludwig and Greig have made some points that I will refer to shortly. This bill will expand and clarify the circumstances in which ASIO can furnish security assessments and in doing so it will facilitate the full implementation of the nationwide licensing regime for ammonium nitrate. This regime will ensure that ammonium nitrate is only accessible by persons who have demonstrated a legitimate need for the product, who are not of security concern and who will store and handle the product safely and securely. The amendments to the ASIO Act will ensure that ASIO can adequately perform its role under this scheme to furnish security assessments for activities carried out in relation to or that involve ammonium nitrate. At the same time the amendments are sufficiently broad to cover issues that may arise in the future. In these ways the bill will help to ensure that the security assessment regime will continue to operate flexibly and effectively in our changing security environment.

I mentioned Senators Ludwig and Greig making some points and I will refer to those in turn now. Senator Ludwig was critical of the fact that only two states have implemented the national licensing regime while at the same time he suggested that the states are not the best placed to implement such a regime. The government believes that the licensing in this case is the responsibility solely of the states and territories. After all, the regulation of dangerous goods and explosives is a state and territory responsibility. All jurisdictions already have in place regulatory agencies for explosives and dangerous goods that will enable them to quickly bring ammonium nitrate under tight control. Those existing agencies will allow us to regulate ammonium nitrate nationally without creating new bureaucratic structures. Most jurisdictions have existing legislation or are quickly introducing new legislation and regulations to control ammonium nitrate. It makes sense, therefore, that states and territories have this responsibility. They have the mechanisms in place and they have the infrastructure. To do anything other than use existing state and territory regulatory authorities would mean duplication and would not be the most efficient way to implement a regulatory regime for ammonium nitrate.

The other issue that was raised was the belated response to the ammonium nitrate issue. This was a point raised by both Senator Ludwig and Senator Greig. It is important to note that this lasting regime involved liaison and agreement amongst all jurisdictions. This was a difficult and complex process, and in this context the length of time involved was not unexpected. The regulation of ammonium nitrate must balance security needs on one hand with legitimate commercial activities on the other. We needed to carefully consider the various options so as to achieve maximum effectiveness with minimal cost to legitimate users. We needed to consult with other Australian government agencies, with the states and territories and with private industry. We also consulted with overseas governments to benchmark international best practice. This consultation and policy development work was done as quickly as possible, bearing in mind that an effective and balanced outcome is better than a hasty response. I commend the bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.