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Thursday, 7 December 2006
Page: 11


Mr RUDDOCK (Attorney-General) (9:42 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Since the events of 11 September 2001, the Australian government has adopted substantial measures to strengthen aviation security, including hardening cockpit doors, requiring passenger screening for all regular passenger jet flights, upgraded closed circuit television and monitoring capability, and enhanced cargo security clearances and checked baggage screening. We have also taken measures to strengthen maritime security.

The government is not prepared to rest on its laurels. We are committed to continuing to strengthen transport security.

In 2006, the government announced new measures to further tighten security at Australia’s air and sea ports. It has agreed to additional expenditure of $4.7 million over four years, including $2.9 million for the establishment of a regime to audit the activities of aviation security identification card (ASIC) and maritime security identification card (MSIC) issuing bodies.

Policy objective

Last year the government agreed to establish a centralised background checking service in the Attorney-General’s Department as part of a wider initiative to strengthen the ASIC and the MSIC systems. The government will coordinate background checks on people who work in the secure areas of airports and seaports, namely those who are required to have an ASIC or an MSIC.

The new division has been established, now known as AusCheck, and it will help the aviation and maritime industries to identify high-risk individuals who should not be granted an ASIC or an MSIC. AusCheck will apply a more consistent approach to the statutory requirements set for each scheme and to notifying the relevant bodies of the outcome of the background checks. AusCheck will operate on a cost recovery basis.

The government also decided that AusCheck will use the proposed National Documentation Verification Service to assist in determining the bona fides of applicants. It will also maintain a comprehensive database of all applicants and ASIC and MSIC cardholders. AusCheck will operate in accordance with the provisions of the Privacy Act 1988 and will ensure that information in its database is properly protected.

Once fully operational, AusCheck will also be able to manage other background checking schemes and minimise duplication of effort for individuals who need to apply for background checks for different purposes.

The decision to establish AusCheck followed a recommendation of Sir John Wheeler’s Airport Security and Policing Review and is an important part of the government’s ongoing commitment to improve aviation and maritime security.

AusCheck is scheduled to commence operations on 1 July 2007, which will allow it sufficient time to set up the information and computer technology and business process required, conduct a privacy impact assessment and consult with industry.

Outline of the bill

This bill will provide legislative authority to enable AusCheck to provide centralised background coordination and checking services for the Commonwealth, to manage a variety of schemes and to provide for AusCheck to establish a background checking scheme in its own right.

To ensure that AusCheck can be used to best advantage, and take on future background checking functions, the bill contains a series of generic background coordination and checking powers to be exercised in accordance with parameters to be defined by regulation for each scheme.

Under this approach the basic elements of Commonwealth background checking provisions will be centralised in this act. This flexible approach facilitates applying best practice background checking across Commonwealth administration.

The bill also provides for the establishment of a database of people who apply for background checks and of security cardholders, for the transfer of existing records of applicants and cardholders to AusCheck and for limits on access to, use of and disclosures from the database.

Providing for the transfer of existing records to AusCheck is necessary to minimise duplication of effort for applicants and to ensure that the database provides a comprehensive picture of the results of background checking prior to AusCheck’s commencement.

Conclusion

This bill provides a legislative framework and the regulations made under it will allow for the consolidation of background checking schemes. Initially AusCheck will only coordinate the checking for the ASIC and MSIC schemes. However, the core framework will facilitate the possible extension of AusCheck’s role to other background checking functions.

The creation of AusCheck as the centralised background checking service for the Commonwealth is in keeping with the public’s expectations that adequate security arrangements are in place. AusCheck will in time reduce duplication of effort where individuals require background checks for different purposes, and should in time help develop a more consistent and reliable approach to background checking.

The bill is necessary to provide legislative authority for those processes, to allow for cost recovery and to provide appropriate protections for the information that will be collected and stored by AusCheck.

The bill is another important step in improving air and maritime security specifically and national security generally.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Ms Roxon) adjourned.