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Thursday, 27 May 2004
Page: 29449

Mr McARTHUR (11:51 AM) —I commend my colleague the member for Flinders and support his remarks about the Australian Federal Police. His knowledge of these matters is greater than mine. I do commend his remarks in terms of the activities of the Australian Federal Police in regard to the Bali bombings and their excellent cooperation with the Indonesians. As I understand it, that was a very successful cooperative venture between both those police forces. Likewise, I support his comments on the activities of the Australian Federal Police in the Solomon Islands and on the internal policing activities of the Australian Federal Police. Also, I commend the member for Dickson for his comments and obvious understanding of these matters, which is due to his professional background in this area. The Australian Federal Police and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2004 will provide greater security for the personnel of the AFP and the Australian Protective Service in their activities with regard to counter-terrorism and drug trafficking. The member for Dickson has a background in this area. I think he provides probably the best knowledge in this parliament, and his contribution was very worthwhile.

My own interest in this bill is from my membership of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on ASIO, ASIS and DSD. I have had an ongoing interest in matters of national security. Obviously, this bill and its policy thrust provide an arm for the government of the day to provide security, particularly at airports—which most members of parliament fully understand—around this parliamentary precinct and in the electorate at large.

I have a particular interest in national firearms legislation and its possibilities. We should develop a national program that identifies firearms, their location and the owners of those particular firearms. Whilst that is a debate for another day, this legislation is a forerunner of the government's general thrust—and, I think, of those members of the opposition—that the Commonwealth is now in a position to take the lead in this whole area of security and firearms legislation. The Howard government took the lead in the firearm buyback in 1996. In my judgment, further progress could be made to ensure that the legal owners of firearms are identified and that they fully understand the law. If we had national legislation, we would be in a better position to deal with those persons in the Australian community who have illegal firearms.

This legislation also brings to the fore the difficulty that the Australian Federal Police have in dealing with the state police and state jurisdictions. All of us in this parliament would be aware of the difficulty in the fact that state police forces are run and paid for by state governments and are under their control. In recent times we have seen, particularly in Victoria, some considerable debate about the effectiveness or otherwise of state police forces. That leads on to the difficulty that the Australian Federal Police have with cooperation in handling certain crime matters, and it leads to problems of national security.

We do have an interesting fundamental debate before us today. Although this legislation is of a somewhat technical nature, it does indicate that the government and the opposition, supporting this, are moving towards a situation where the Australian Federal Police become the key element in protecting national security—that they provide the wherewithal to investigate crimes including, as other speakers have talked about, drugs crimes which lead to the quite difficult issue of the development of organised crime; so that the Australian Federal Police have that role at the national level as they integrate with the state jurisdiction.

This bill, whilst it is of a technical nature, does incorporate the thrust that the Australian Federal Police have a role, the Australian Protective Service have a role and, if they could be combined as the bill is suggesting, the integration of these two services will strengthen the ability of both these groups to provide security in this new and modern age. This change in the security and counter-terrorism argument is now upon us. This parliament and the Australian people, although they are somewhat isolated from the rest of the world, are now in the 21st century of terrorism and counter-terrorism. The government needs to ensure that the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Protective Service are well equipped to provide a service activity that will protect Australians, buildings and airports.

In terms of the details of the bill, this is the final stage of integrating the Australian Protective Service with the Australian Federal Police. It unifies both organisations under the same employment framework, reduces doubling-up, streamlines both organisations for greater efficiency, forms an important part of the government's coordinated approach to reducing red tape in the public sector and strengthens our approach to tackling terrorism. The other significant component of the bill will bring about an important resolution of the April 2002 Leaders Summit on Terrorism and Multijurisdictional Crime—those matters that I have been referring to. It will enable the Federal Police including the Protective Service to tackle crimes in the states that have a federal aspect. Again, I mentioned that in my earlier remarks. It enables the Federal Police, when investigating a Commonwealth crime, where it becomes apparent that state offences have also been committed, to investigate the crime in its entirety. Many of us in this parliament have come across the difficulty that, because of the jurisdictional problem, there have sometimes been jealousies between the Federal Police and state police forces.

The background to this is that the Australian Protective Service was established by the Australian Protective Service Act 1987 and is the Commonwealth's most senior provider of protective security services. It covers security of persons and places where the Commonwealth has a security responsibility. The aviation industry is illustrative of an environment where we see the APS at work. As I mentioned, most members of the parliament see that activity at the airports around Australia. The Australian Protective Service provides first response security at airports, diplomatic and consular premises, Defence establishments and other Commonwealth buildings. While the Australian Protective Service has a primary responsibility for these activities, they also come within the jurisdiction of the Australian Federal Police. It is important to identify similarities between these two functions. The need to integrate the Australian Protective Service with the Australian Federal Police has come about in a government strategy to protect all Australians in light of the heightened terrorist activity in other parts of the world, such as the recent railway bomb blasts in Madrid and previous attacks on Australia's allied nations. All of us are aware of that attack in Madrid. Whilst the intelligence was reasonable, that attack showed what horrendous possibilities there are to bring about major carnage and damage on civilian installations.

In response to heightened threats to Australia's security, the bill completes the final stages of merging the Australian Protective Service and the Australian Federal Police. The bill will ultimately strengthen the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Protective Service as one unified outfit to deal with the war against terror. And I think we would all be very supportive of that. Following the Cornall review in 2001, the government determined that the Australian Protective Service should move from the Attorney-General's Department to the Australian Federal Police. In turn, this has implications for the employment framework of the Australian Protective Service and its needs, which are addressed by this bill.

The Australian Protective Service employees are part of the Public Service. The final stage of the integration with the AFP involves the creation of a new category of employee, which will be known as protective service officer. This will be included in the Australian Federal Police Act. The protective service functions of a protective service officer will fold into the functions of the Australian Federal Police. I have no doubt that there will be some difficulty on the ground but, hopefully, there will be an air of cooperation between those two groups.

The benefits of one employment framework will include a streamlined employment function containing greater efficiency for employees and the unified approach to the functions of the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Protective Services. Given that the Australian Protective Service will integrate into the Australian Federal Police and the powers under the Australian Federal Police Act, the Australian Protective Service Act will be repealed. The current remuneration and other employment conditions before transfer will continue to stand as they were under the previous legislation.

The bill also implements a resolution of the April 2002 leaders summit. The leaders agreed to develop key legislative steps towards administrative arrangements that would enable the Australian Federal Police to investigate state offences that contain a federal aspect. Again, I mentioned that in my earlier remarks and I think that is a very good step in the right direction. These matters would include a matter that is incidental to the investigation of a federal or territory offence, such as espionage, sabotage or threats to national security. Relevant in light of the heightened security to Australia is the fact that the important change and ongoing policing activity by this new group allows the Federal Police to investigate crimes in the states that have a federal aspect so that they may be investigated in their totality without having to brief or hand over to other authorities midway through a serious investigation.

Again, I think all members would be aware of the difficulties that have been faced by state and federal jurisdictions when the investigation of serious crimes has been held up because of this jurisdictional difficulty and because of the jealousies of certain police forces. Hopefully, there is a movement to greater philosophic understanding that we need to handle terrorism on a national level and that the parochialism of state police forces needs to be channelled into a national asset.

The amendments in the bill are replications of the provisions that stand in the Australian Protective Service Act and relate to the functions and powers of the APS and its officers. The thrust of these provisions remains as it was in the APS Act. Most of the other provisions in schedule 1amend the Australian Federal Police Act to further detail the definition and give practical effect to the merger of the APS and the AFP. I leave it at that and say that I think all speakers have agreed that the bill is not overly contentious. It brings into effect the government's initiative to respond to the heightened terrorist and sophisticated criminal activity in Australia by merging and consolidating the Australian Protective Service and the Australian Federal Police so that both groups will have the same conditions and so ensure that there is now a robust and more efficient outfit to handle the extent of this.

At the philosophic level, hopefully this merger will provide a national thrust and ensure that, when we come to handle terrorism and some of the newer threats that police forces and protective services have not encountered before, there will be a new approach—a newer philosophic view—and, generally, a cooperative approach by both sides of this parliament, by the state and federal authorities and by those hard-working protective officers who have to do the hard work in maintaining surveillance of these installations hour by hour, day by day, month by month. I think this bill can be a reflection of this parliament that we support them, we understand the good work they do and we hope that they do not have to run into any major difficulty. But, given the evidence, it would be anticipated that some incident would happen—either great or small. Of course, it would be our hope that no great incident would happen here in Australia, but this is a step in the right direction to minimise the damage and ensure that those persons who wish to indulge in terrorism will be brought to account by this new organisation. I commend the bill.