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Monday, 21 March 2011
Page: 1232

Senator JOHNSTON (12:15 PM) —The opposition supports the Defence Legislation Amendment (Security of Defence Premises) Bill 2010. Indeed, we have a very fine committee report from the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee. I will say very briefly, in the short time I have to talk about this—because it is non-controversial—that this legislation arose from two high-profile incidents. Firstly, there was the theft of 10 LARS rocket launchers, wherein a former army captain was imprisoned in relation to 21 offences relating to the theft of those rocket launchers. Secondly, the other major incident that brought this legislation on—or the mischief to be arrested, if you like, which is behind this legislation—was the arrest and charging of five individuals with planning an armed attack on the Holsworthy army base, for which three of those people were convicted. The offences in question were both extremely serious and stood out as matters demanding a response. Indeed, there was a Defence response, with an internal inquiry.

The legislation brought forward quite properly by the government and the minister is to provide protection to defence bases and facilities. The facilities and infrastructure of the defence estate support the activities of over 90,000 people right across Australia. In relation to the estate, Defence in its submission to the committee noted that it is:

... the largest and most complex land and property holding in Australia. It provides the facilities which directly enable the generation, projection and sustainment of operational capability. The Defence estate also supports our personnel, providing them with a safe place to work and their families to live.

There are approximately 88 major defence bases or defence premises in Australia. The defence estate, which covers 3.4 million hectares of land, comprises approximately 370 owned properties and an additional 350 under lease. The estate includes 34,000 structures and consists of training areas; command headquarters; airfields; ship repair and wharfing facilities; accommodation; depots; warehouses; explosive ordnance storehouses; training, education, research and testing facilities; and office buildings. The estimated gross replacement value of the estate is over $64 billion.

Accordingly, you can see the nature of the importance of this legislation, which, amongst other things, strengthens the legal regime for Defence Force members who may be required to use force involving death or grievous bodily harm, establishes a statutory regime of search and seizure powers and updates the existing trespass offence and associated arrest powers in the Defence Act 1903. The powers introduced in the new part confer security functions including identity and authorisation checks and search and seizure powers on three classes of officials otherwise termed ‘defence security officials’, including defence contracted security guards, security authorised members of the Defence Force and defence-security-screening employees who are Australian Public Service employees of the Department of Defence.

The role of defence contracted security guards is principally restricted to performing the consensual security functions. The non-consensual powers are largely reserved for the security authorised members of the Defence Force and the defence-security-screening employees. Whilst all three classes of officials are empowered to use force in restricted circumstances, including that to restrain and detain a person, the principle that underlies such action is that such force shall be necessary and reasonable. The power to use force likely to cause death or grievous bodily harm is restricted to security authorised members of the Defence Force, only in the context of a current or imminent attack on defence premises which is likely to cause death or serious injury to persons on those defence premises. Other defence security officials are not so empowered or authorised. So, broadly speaking, we have defined circumstances where particular and specified defence security personnel can exercise lethal force in circumstances which must be necessary and reasonable, which I think is a great benefit to establishing a clear matrix and legislative framework for people to go about the business of protecting our national interest.

In closing, the committee made a number of recommendations, all of which are very important. But the particular one I want to draw attention to is the need for the Department of Defence to bring forward memoranda of understanding so that there is a clearly identified matrix on the table as to how matters should proceed between state and federal police and then defence personnel in dealing with such threats. I look forward to seeing and being told about memoranda of understanding between state and federal police officers, relating to defence locations around Australia in particular states, as to what the proforma activity and standard operating procedure will be in the interaction between police and those authorised defence personnel who have the capacity to do non-consensual searches and who also, in reasonable and necessary circumstances, use lethal force. I commend this bill and I commend the government on its amendments.