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Thursday, 16 June 2005
Page: 139

Senator COLBECK (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (6:01 PM) —The Maritime Transport Security Amendment Bill 2005 builds on the excellent work that has already been done in developing the Maritime Transport Security Act 2003. This bill further strengthens Australia’s maritime security regime, ensures that both national and international confidence in Australia’s oil and gas facilities is retained, strengthens Australia’s relations with international trading partners and provides the mechanism for dealing with a potential terrorist attack on oil and gas facilities. There are two parts to the bill. The first part of this amendment bill is designed to reduce the risk of terrorist attack on Australia’s offshore oil and gas facilities. Such an attack would have severe consequences for Australia’s economy and environment, as well as jeopardise the lives of industry workers. The second part of the bill provides additional measures to improve the robustness of the maritime security identification card—MSIC—scheme. The MSIC will be produced to cover all personnel who are required to have unmonitored access to a maritime or offshore facility security zone.

The amendment bill requires all offshore oil and gas facility operators and other prescribed offshore industry participants to undertake a risk assessment of their facilities and then to develop and comply with security plans. In developing this amendment, the government has consulted extensively with representatives from the offshore oil and gas industry, industry associations, employee associations and state and Northern Territory governments. I am pleased to report that industry is in general agreement with the proposal to extend the act to cover offshore oil and gas facilities and agrees with the need to have security risk assessments and security plans for offshore oil and gas facilities. DOTARS does not anticipate recovering government costs for oil and gas security regulation from industry.

Regulations will be introduced in early July 2005, which will confirm further information for the offshore oil and gas industry on the content and form of the offshore security plans. The MSIC will provide the maritime industry with a nationally consistent identification card that identifies the cardholder as having met the minimum background requirements to be unmonitored in security zones of a port facility, a regulated Australian ship or an offshore oil and gas facility. I take this opportunity to remind the chamber that the Maritime Transport Security Act 2003 currently provides the power to introduce the maritime security identification card. This amendment bill ensures that any information used by organisations to background check MSIC applicants is used and disclosed in accordance with the Privacy Act 1988 and allows for the regulations to be made to enable any reasonable cost to be recovered by any person involved in issuing an MSIC.

The government has undertaken extensive consultation to ensure that the MSIC scheme is both efficient and effective. This extensive consultation, a noteworthy model of collaborative work, involved the formation of a working group whose members included industry, employee and employer associations, port operators, facility operators and other government agencies that work in the maritime environment. In a similar way, the draft MSIC regulations are now being tested with all relevant and affected parties. The MSIC will ensure that only people who have committed serious crimes that pose a threat or risk to maritime security are disqualified or excluded from having an MSIC, depending on the nature of the conviction.

The government believes that this is a fair and just approach in balancing an individual’s right to rehabilitation after having discharged their debt to society while reducing the risk of a maritime terrorist incident occurring. Background checking for the MSIC will commence from 1 October 2005, and we anticipate the roll-out will span nine months to 1 July 2006. As senators are aware, the background checks involve a criminal history check by the Australian Federal Police, a security assessment by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and, if required, an unlawful noncitizen check by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs.

I want to take this opportunity to assure members that, during this roll-out phase, only the Australian government will have access to the background check information. Industry and employers will not have access to personal information about their employees. The MSIC will not be an access control card. Separate arrangements can be made by maritime industry participants regarding access control measures, which will need to be approved by the maritime security plans. From 1 July 2006 the MSIC scheme will be subject to a full audit and compliance regime conducted by officers from the Office of Transport Security.

I welcome the opposition’s support for the passage of this amendment bill. I understand the opposition has referred the regulatory framework to the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee to, in particular, undertake a detailed dissection of the MSIC regulations. The government does not want such an examination to hinder or effectively delay the introduction of this scheme. It is therefore the government’s intention to have the regulations made in July. As I have highlighted, the scheme commences its roll out from 1 October this year.

I urge the opposition to redefine the terms of its referral. The government believes the scope of the referral is not clear or specific enough. The amendment bill primarily addresses the incorporation of offshore gas and oil facilities within the maritime security regime. There are just six clauses to be amended by the MSI scheme. When one examines the notice of motion, the seven areas of interest highlighted would seem to relate more directly to the MSI scheme than to the offshore oil and gas sector. I commend the bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.