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Thursday, 27 May 2004
Page: 29440

Ms GRIERSON (11:09 AM) —I rise to speak on the Australian Federal Police and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2004. This legislation completes the integration of the Australian Protective Service into the Australian Federal Police. The purpose of this legislation is to enhance the powers of our federal law enforcement agencies to investigate multijurisdictional crime and to enable the Australian Federal Police to investigate state offences that have a federal aspect. The outcome of this legislation, if it is effective, will be better coordination of the activities of our federal law enforcement and protective agencies. That outcome is one we would all hope is achieved to keep our nation secure.

The two agencies that are being integrated are the workplaces of approximately 5,000 people. The agencies have had different and overlapping roles and it is important to know that, when they are integrated, the roles will become more defined, better understood and perhaps complementary to each other. Perhaps that has been the case, but now we need further assurances. The Australian Protective Service have a major challenge in our new security environment and we expect a great deal more from the protective security services provided here at Parliament House, and for our senior representatives—our Prime Minister and Governor-General—as well as at airports used by ordinary Australians every day. There is a need to see a greater presence of protective security services in maritime areas and in ports around Australia as well.

In looking at the changed environment and the need to integrate these two agencies, the opposition has been very supportive of this legislation. We do live in a changed global security environment and we are particularly aware of that in Australia. That has occurred since the September 11 tragedy in the United States. Following that terrorist attack, the Commonwealth government reviewed Australia's security and counter-terrorism arrangements. As a result of that review, as we have heard, the government determined that the Australian Protective Service should transfer from the Attorney-General's Department and become an operating division of the Australian Federal Police. The stated reason for that should of course be the test for this legislation. That reason was that it would allow the closest possible coordination between two of Australia's key counter-terrorist agencies. Better coordination between the AFP and the APS, it was proposed, would strengthen both organisations and their ability to fulfil their counter-terrorism responsibilities.

There has been a staged process of integration, and many of the members who have spoken already in this debate have outlined that process. The most recent change was in February 2003, when the protection portfolio was established inside the AFP. That is now where we are going to see some major impact with the new involvement of the Protective Service personnel. Since July 2002, joint operations and joint deployments have taken place and they have been experiences that, I hope, have allowed the Australian Federal Police to test that coordination and integration need and therefore make sure the transition process is a meaningful and successful one.

The most well known of those was the APS's involvement as part of Operation Alliance in Bali. I think that is worth revisiting, because the response to the Bali bombings was one of the most significant operations ever undertaken by Australian law enforcement agencies. It was led by the Australian Federal Police. It was a multijurisdictional response by Commonwealth, state and territory law enforcement agencies and it was a multinational response as well, which included our agencies working with agencies from as many as 10 countries. So we have had that test. We have to make sure that that response—which I think deserves great praise and acknowledgment as a job well done—is carried on now, not as a response but as a proactive approach that hopefully can prevent such incidents from happening again.

There have been other joint operations, which we should remind each other and the public of because there are many unsung heroes in the APS and the Australian Federal Police. For the people of Canberra and the ACT the January 2003 bushfires were a very important example of where the APS and the AFP assisted. Also, the deployment of the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Protective Service to the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands is an ongoing joint operation. It is one that we would hope would reassert and reaffirm Australia's commitment to its neighbours, not in a paternalistic or custodial way but in a joint partnership. They are major challenges being taken up by all our federal agencies. The other major involvement was providing AFP and APS security for the visits of President Bush and President Hu in October last year.

The opposition do accept that there is a need to change and to better coordinate our security, protective services and policing. We also assert that getting the balance right between protectionism and freedoms and a Public Service or a Commonwealth sector that works without fear or favour is particularly important. I will visit some of those issues in this speech. But the opposition have supported the legislation although we have taken on several concerns that were reinforced by, and explored very well in, the Senate inquiry. For me, those concerns are training, competencies and the definition of roles. There are internal, administrative and ongoing challenges for management. As an observer I know the standout examples, the big ones that I have just mentioned, but I also know some of the minor areas—I will mention them later in my speech—that I have concerns about. Getting the training, the competencies and the roles defined and making sure we get the best outcomes are concerns that I hold.

The other major area of concern has been the industrial area. The concerns of the CPSU were put forward at the Senate inquiry. They were concerned about workers in the Australian Protective Service achieving parity, having defined career paths, having some certainty about potential redundancies and having their entitlements and conditions protected. The APS officers will cease to be Public Service employees; they will become employees of the Australian Federal Police. They need to be assured that when they are transferred all entitlements, remunerations and employment conditions will be no less favourable to them. That has been explored at length by the Senate inquiry. I am sure that the AFP will be mindful of those concerns and the uncertainties that APS personnel face. I hope that they will be aware that those people have served well and need to be given some certainty to motivate them to give their best service to the AFP.

The committee noted that the AFP have no intention to make any officer redundant on transfer. Unfortunately, in the industrial environment we always experience that guarantee and it generally lasts for 12 months. We would want to make sure that we did not see change in that area. Very importantly, the committee also recommended that they review the progress of this integration within 12 months and reconvene to examine those concerns that have been raised. They recommended that the report to the committee should include an examination of the commercialisation of the Protective Service function. That has been a particular and major concern. Commercial tendering for services is an established practice by the Australian Protective Service. They have traditionally had a reliance on commercialisation for approximately 70 per cent of their budget. It is important that any tendering processes be separately accounted for—that any commercial transactions and commercial tendering processes be audited in a transparent way and have some independent oversight. It is a concern that I know the Australian Federal Police are very much aware of. It is certainly one that needs to be revisited in a review process.

In applying this legislation I think it is important for backbenchers like me to make note of the real-life situations that we come across in our daily lives that affect us as members of parliament and affect the people we represent. Every day at regional airports we see the presence of the Protective Service. In Newcastle Airport I see exemplary and professional approaches every day.

In the area of maritime security in our ports, I have a particular concern. If we have a new coordinated approach, it has to be a proactive one, and that has to involve communities. It has to involve working with sectors that are affected and are at the front line of security. Port users particularly are one of those sectors, yet I see very little APS or AFP presence in the regional Port of Newcastle. As a matter of fact, in Newcastle we have one Australian Federal Police officer who sits in a Centrelink office looking for fraud, I am told—perhaps by people cheating on their family tax benefits—or overseeing people's social security entitlements are correct. I am very dissatisfied with that sort of involvement in my own region, a region of half a million people, a region that has a major port that is responsible for over 50 per cent of the economic wealth of the state of New South Wales—a port that also deals with explosives, grains and fertilisers.

I particularly think that coordination of a proactive approach is essential, and I would certainly like to see that. We do have a Protective Service presence, but it is limited. Yet we do have a Family Court, we do have 31 Centrelink workplaces in the Hunter region and we do have Customs, Quarantine and AMSA. We also obviously have drug enforcement activities, consideration of illegal fishing activities, Family Court judges, Family Court magistrates and members of parliament and their officers. And I would have to say, on the public record, that I do not think there is a proactive approach. I would like to see that improved.

I would also like to raise other experiences that happen in this House. In Parliament House, as a member of parliament, I am always treated by the Australian Protective Service personnel with professionalism and courtesy. But there have been incidents that have occurred in parliament, in the chamber, that I have some concerns about, so I am raising them to make sure that some response is forthcoming.

When we watch people during times of war, we always see division in our communities, and we have seen that. We have seen it in our public gallery. People do have concerns and people are anxious. People are distressed over the decisions sometimes taken by this parliament. We have seen the removal of citizens, and I cite the most recent incident, where a woman was removed from the public gallery. I have concerns that procedures are perhaps not well enough established to be followed instantaneously without unnecessary aggression or undue force. So a person who did rise to express her obvious distress about an issue was instantly removed—touched, physically. I did not see any attempt to engage with that person to calm them, to speak with them, or perhaps to explain to them what the expectation is. The removal from the chamber was, I consider, less than gentle, so much so that personnel did come back to pick up teeth from the floor of the gallery. For the government members who perhaps look at me surprised, the incident was not in their view. It is distressing, and I would like to know that procedures are put into place in this House that mean that security is adhered to, but in a way that is perhaps a best practice model for anywhere in Australia.

The other instance—and the member for Hunter, one of my colleagues, has raised this with the Speaker on several occasions—was the bringing into the gallery of a camera during the visit of President Bush. It does seem to us, sitting there, that we rely on the screening. We want the public to be in the galleries, we want them to express themselves, we want them to be part of the process here—it is the public's house, the people's house—but we do not want them to ever bring in anything that can cause risk to the people we work with every day. A camera, being a metal object, should not have been allowed into that public gallery, and it does pose a risk. I think the members and the staff of this House need a very full explanation of how that was allowed to happen.

Finally, I also support the comments of the member for Barton that the amendment put forward in the Senate—by the Democrats—asserting that the freedom of the Australian Federal Police Commissioner to make public statements that are founded on the experience and knowledge of the police commissioner should not be fettered or restricted in any way. You would think that it normally would not be necessary to state that. But it was a very regrettable incident when Mick Keelty was publicly harangued and admonished by the Prime Minister. We would like to know that our senior public servants and senior representatives in our federal agencies, particularly in the area of security and policing, do their job without fear or favour, that they do it for the protection of the Australian people and in the best interests of the security of this nation.

In conclusion, the opposition does support this legislation. The coordination and integration of these two agencies is essential. It is a case of excellent initiatives being taken by two very different agencies. Without legislation they took the process into their own hands in many ways and moved it forward. The only concern we would have is that the process of integration should be reviewed, as recommended by the Senate inquiry, and that its effectiveness be guaranteed and assured for the Australian people by that review process.