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Thursday, 16 June 2005
Page: 134

Senator LUDWIG (5:37 PM) —I rise this evening to speak on the Maritime Transport Security Amendment Bill 2005. This bill amends the Maritime Transport Security Act 2003 in two important ways. Firstly, the bill amends the act by extending its coverage to Australian offshore oil and gas facilities. Secondly, the bill amends the act to allow for the introduction of the maritime security identification card, or MSIC as it will now be known. The MSIC will be introduced to cover unmonitored personnel who are required to access what are called maritime security zones, which are now going to be known by the acronym MSZ. The MSZs may be areas in ports, areas surrounding ships or areas on ships.

The bill will bring the security of offshore oil and gas facilities in line with existing maritime security arrangements, providing a regime for these facilities to reduce the risk of unlawful interference. There will be two main industry groups affected by the bill. The first are the operators of offshore facilities. The second will be the various service providers for these facilities—notably, helicopter charter operators, ship based equipment providers, store supply services and the like. Under the bill, offshore oil and gas facilities will be required to develop security plans that consider the risks and assess the needs of the operators, including the special nature and location of the facilities. The offshore facilities vary from conventional steel fixed platforms and concrete gravity platforms through to miniplatforms, monotowers or monopods and minipods; floating storage off-take units, or FSOs; and floating production storage off-take units, or FPSOs. You can imagine all that floating offshore.

The bill also puts in place the same risk based security planning for offshore oil and gas service providers—that is, contractors of specialist offshore related services or port related services, such as helicopter and supply vessel service providers. DOTARS have indicated that they expect to receive 40 security plans and anticipate that the cost of developing a security plan will be of the order of $50,000 for each facility. In accordance with stated government policy, that security is the cost of doing business. DOTARS have confirmed that they will recover costs from industry. DOTARS have indicated that they expect to receive draft security plans from the facilities by 1 July 2005 and expect to have the security regime in place by 1 October 2005.

In that sense, the government claims some urgency in the passage of this legislation, and we will certainly be watching to ensure that those outcomes are achieved. At present, there is no regime in place that requires background checking of people working in Australian ports, ships and offshore oil and gas facilities, as is the case in the aviation industry and in the maritime industry in comparable Western countries. Anyone who requires unmonitored access to a maritime security zone will be required to have an MSIC. This will include, amongst others, dock workers, truck drivers and rig workers. Applicants apply for the MSICs from an issuing body. Private companies, employee unions or industry associations, amongst others, can apply to be an issuing body as long as they have the capacity to perform this regulatory function.

DOTARS has indicated that issuing bodies will not be given access to personal information gathered through background checking; rather, following the background checks, the relevant issuing body will only be advised as to whether the employee can be issued with an MSIC or will not be issued with an MSIC. The estimated cost of issuing an MSIC is approximately $150, including $50 for the cost of conducting relevant background checks. The legislation provides that regulations will be made to enable the issuing body to recover the cost of issuing the MSICs. Although the framework for issuing MSICs will be set out in regulations, these regulations have yet to be issued. At present, the bill merely allows the bodies that will be responsible for issuing the MSICs to recover the costs associated with administering the process, including the background checks. However, we have yet to see whether these costs will be passed on to employees who are required to be security checked.

MSICs will be issued after the completion of several background checks, including a criminal background check by the Australian Federal Police and a security assessment by ASIO. If required, an unlawful non-citizen check will be conducted by DIMIA. As yet, we have not been informed as to the level of criminality that will prevent an individual from receiving an MSIC and the appropriateness of how this level of criminality is to be determined. While the major unions involved in offshore platforms have been consulted, there are concerns that those unions representing individual trades may not have been consulted, although common issues will obviously arise with regard to all unions and their members. In the context of the security failings in Australian airports that have emerged in the last few weeks, it is worth noting that the issuance of a security card is no panacea against the potential for unlawful interference at Australian port facilities, ships or offshore installations.

The government’s principal approach to maritime security protection is by legislative and regulatory means. In 2003, the opposition welcomed the passage of the Maritime Transport Security Act to enable Australia to expeditiously develop and implement a nationally consistent maritime security framework. I will say that again, given what has happened in the last couple of weeks: it was to expeditiously develop and implement a nationally consistent maritime security framework. However, legislation and regulation alone are incapable of preventing security threats and breaches at our ports, on our ships and at our oil and gas facilities.

In April this year the Australian Strategic Policy Institute published a damning report into the state of Australia’s security arrangements called Future unknown: the terrorist threat to Australian maritime security. This report identified, amongst other things, inadequate security checks of crews from foreign-flagged vessels arriving in Australian ports. In 2002 a total of 115,000 foreign crew arrived. The report also identified the absence of a nationwide approach to manage the security of high-risk ships such as foreign naval vessels and those carrying dangerous goods like ammonium nitrate. Security arrangements vary of course from state to state and port to port. The report also identified a lack of coordination between relevant agencies, including Customs, Navy, the Department of Transport and Regional Services and the states. It also identified a lack of consistency between state and territory jurisdictions in their legislation covering maritime security. In addition, it identified a lack of critical information and data to properly assess the vulnerability of Australian ports.

Despite its often shameless and consistent ‘tough on security’ oratory, the government is undeniably failing in key structural areas. The concerns raised by ASPI are not new. Federal Labor has been highlighting maritime security problems month after month, year after year, but the concerns are now clearly articulated by an expert body specifically established by the government to provide frank strategic advice. However, the only response to this report to come from the office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Anderson, was:

… it was unlikely the Government would adopt the recommendations … we’re continuing to look for any holes that might emerge in our maritime security net.

It is high time the government not only looked for these holes in our maritime security arrangements but acknowledged that they in fact exist and constitute a significant threat to Australia’s national security. The government must listen to this independent expert advice and act swiftly to remedy the litany of threats to our maritime security. We do need now a commitment from the government that they will address these problems and assure the Australian public that their borders are secure and the government are on the job. Yet while these and other security breaches have taken place, the government appear to have been completely asleep at the wheel. Despite the announcement of the establishment of the position of Inspector of Transport Security in December 2003, with a budget of $1.6 million, the position was not filled until December 2004. In the most recent Senate estimates hearings it was revealed that, having been filled, the position has now been left vacant for months.

The Inspector of Transport Security was established with a mandate to investigate major incidents and systemic transport security weaknesses to ensure security vulnerabilities are identified and addressed. That is what it was set up to do. Yet this week we have witnessed the Minister for Transport and Regional Services equivocate as to what he knew about the litany of serious allegations of drug smuggling and potential terrorist activities in our airports. Given the epidemic of security failures that we have seen at our airports, there has never been a greater need for independent oversight. I suggest that the minister reinstate the inspector and allow him to get on with his mandate posthaste.

At the heart of Australia’s maritime security concerns, there is in any event a fundamental lack of resources available to these agencies to patrol Australian maritime borders. With some 37,000 kilometres of coastline and a great deal of critical offshore oil and gas infrastructure, our Customs and Naval maritime patrol boats are being asked to perform the task of securing the nation’s borders and infrastructure with nowhere near the resources that are required. Indeed one expert has said that to cover the same amount of land as they are required to cover of the ocean would be equivalent to having something in the order of only 50 police cars to patrol the whole of Australia. We are, it is clear, totally underequipped in our ability to fight illegal activity in our maritime zone.

Australia’s maritime border control arrangements also remain hopelessly fragmented. At least eight government agencies, including Defence, Customs, Coastwatch, the Department of Transport and Regional Services, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service and the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, administer at least 11 pieces of legislation relating to maritime security. Under those 11 pieces of legislation the powers and authorities given to officers of the Commonwealth vary considerably. There is no dedicated chain of command in the preparation of briefs of evidence. Who is in fact the prosecuting authority? What powers are available for coercion and when can they be exercised? This is a completely unsatisfactory state of affairs for the legislative and legal framework that applies to border protection. Yet the government has failed to provide any comprehensive review to examine the inconsistencies across this raft of legislation and to assess what needs to be done to coordinate the approach.

In port security the situation is no less alarming. We have recently heard the Deputy Prime Minister talk about regulating Australia’s ports at least from the point of view of infrastructure planning, but nowhere has corresponding argument been presented regarding the need for national supervision of our port security. In our ports we presently have a situation where hundreds of thousands of empty cargo containers are shipped into Australia without being screened and, in some instances, such as in Sydney, are stored adjacent to a major international airport—in fact, on the border of the metropolitan area. There is a failure to prevent cargo ships that do not report the contents of their cargo—despite legislative requirements to do so—from entering our ports. One recalls the Prime Minister in a fanfare announcing a reporting zone. You can all recall that. In fact, there is effectively no interdiction capacity for these vessels, meaning that all too frequently potentially dangerous cargo is being unloaded at Australian docks and left, as we have been advised by government officials, for a couple of days before Customs establishes the content of that cargo.

The maritime nature of Australia’s strategic and geographic environment, however, makes us particularly vulnerable to maritime terrorism. There have already been attacks on oil facilities and personnel in the Middle East such as the attempt on the al-Basra oil terminal off southern Iraq on 24 April 2004. Al-Qaeda has identified Australia as a legitimate target on seven separate occasions and it has carried out threats and actions intended to damage Western economies, particularly the oil and gas industry.

Numerous studies have been undertaken to assess the economic risks from maritime terrorism. In terms of maritime trade, for example, one study found that closing down all US ports for a period of seven to 10 days would cost the US economy some $US75 billion. By way of comparison, Melbourne’s ports handle $A70 billion in trade every year and support some 20,000 jobs whilst Sydney’s ports handle about $A45.5 billion in international and domestic trade and generate more than 17,000 jobs. The secure flow of maritime trade and production is therefore essential to the economic and national security interests of Australia, the region and the globe.

While the opposition support the passage of this bill, we maintain that there are a number of concerns about the operation of the regulatory scheme, particularly with respect to the issuance of the MSIC. It is true in this instance that the devil is in the detail and, while the government has provided us with a draft form of the regulations that will operate under the bill, we are informed that these may still be the subject of change. Nowhere in the draft form of the regulations is there a commitment to maintain and protect the privacy interests of individuals with respect to the information gathered through security checking, nor is there a clear outline of who will bear the costs of receiving the MSIC—will it be the employer or employee? In that dogfight the employee is probably likely to lose, and there should be an assurance from government about these issues. There is no discussion about the adequacy of compliance or oversight of security initiatives at Australian ports, nor is there any consideration of why it is that foreign seafarers—some 120,000 who arrive in Australia yearly—are not subject to the same security-checking requirements as Australians. For these reasons, while the opposition supports the passage of this bill, it is appropriate that a reference has been made to the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee for a comprehensive review of the regulatory framework that will operate under the act.