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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 856


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (18:02): The opposition is occasionally and foolishly accused of being too negative. Many of the legislative proposals of the Gillard government are catastrophic and against the national interest. An opposition should always oppose legislation which is against the national interest, and we always will. But an urban myth has developed, fostered and propagated by the Labor Party spin machine, that we oppose everything. As a matter of fact, the opposition has supported the vast majority of the bills brought before the parliament by this government. You do not hear about that in the public debate because ex hypothesi such bills, being uncontroversial, do not generate news. The Nuclear Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 is such a bill. It is uncontroversial, like the vast majority of the legislation which the government brings before the chamber, and the opposition, agreeing with its effect, supports it.

The purpose of the bill is to add a new offence to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Act 1987 by implementing provisions of the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism—known as the 'nuclear terrorism convention'. The nuclear terrorism convention arose from a global initiative established by the United States and the Russian Federation in 2006. One of the fruits of the West's victory in the Cold War is that the United States and the Russian Federation are able to agree and jointly sponsor such beneficial measures. Commonwealth legislation already implements most of the convention obligations. This legislation seeks to ensure that all criminal offences provided for in article 2 of the convention are covered by Commonwealth law.

The amendments in this bill would create new criminal offences for possessing radioactive material or a 'convention device'—a term defined by the convention as including a nuclear explosive device or a device to emit material with radiological properties which may cause death, serious bodily injury or substantial damage to property or the environment; making a convention device; using or damaging a convention device or nuclear facility, or threatening to do so; threatening to use radioactive material; demanding that another person create radioactive material, a convention device or a nuclear facility; and demanding that a third person access or control radioactive material, a convention device or a nuclear facility.

Members of the Australian Defence Force will not be liable to prosecution in respect of acts done in connection with the defence or security of Australia. The convention does not govern the actions of armed forces during an armed conflict. That exemption does not apply to serving personnel whose actions are not connected with the defence or security of Australia or who are otherwise acting unlawfully. The bill does not criminalise the lawful possession and use of radioactive material—for example, material with a medical application. There must be an intention to use or make available the material for a prohibited purpose, such as death or property damage. Whether or not the intended outcomes occurs is not relevant to a prosecution. A maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment applies to the offences created by the bill.

The bill is directed toward the conduct that all members of the Senate would devoutly hope will never come to pass. Should such threats ever be contemplated, we must ensure that we have the legislative armoury to enable our security and law reform agencies to nip them in the bud. Accordingly, the coalition support the bill—as we do all sensible bills brought to the chamber by this government.