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Thursday, 12 March 2009
Page: 2496


Mr McCLELLAND (Attorney-General) (12:33 PM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Policy Setting

In 2005 a centralised background checking service was established in the Attorney-General’s Department as part of a wider initiative to strengthen aviation and maritime security.

This service—known as AusCheck—was created to help the aviation and maritime industries, in particular, to identify high-risk individuals who should not be granted access to secure areas of Australian air and sea ports. It began operation in September 2007.

The main purpose of this R4067bill is to amend the AusCheck Act 2007 to provide the capacity for additional schemes under the act to be carried out for national security purposes. The existing act only permits AusCheck to coordinate background checks for the purposes of the aviation and maritime security identification card scheme.

Policy Objective

The AusCheck Amendment Bill 2009 will expand the range of background checks that AusCheck is able to undertake. This will provide the legislative authority to enable AusCheck to provide centralised background checking coordination for the Commonwealth in relation to a wider range of national security regulatory schemes.

Background checking for national security purposes offers a tool for meeting national security policy objectives, including coordinated and enhanced background checking regimes related to high-risk industries, and greater consistency in control of hazardous substances.

No requirement for any person to actually have a background check will be imposed as a result of the amendment to the act; it will simply provide a framework to facilitate the extension of AusCheck’s background checking functions, in addition to those already provided for aviation and maritime transport.

If the government wishes to use the AusCheck national security background check in a new context, it will separately develop the legislative or other regulatory provisions that establish the requirement for the check. The bill simply paves the way for AusCheck to take on additional background checking functions under future legislation.

The AusCheck Act has been in operation for just over two years. During this time the service has gained wide acceptance across the Australian aviation and maritime industries, and has achieved real results in improving the speed and consistency of background checking. Existing aviation and maritime clients report that not only is the AusCheck background checking system faster; it reduces administrative costs as fewer resources are required to chase outstanding applications or reconcile complex billing arrangements.

Other amendments in the bill will authorise and protect biometric information about an individual where this is required in order to complete a background check. In conducting criminal history background checks it is sometimes necessary to confirm the identity of an individual so that police services can distinguish between people with the same or similar name and date of birth. In these circumstances, it may not be possible to complete the background check unless the identity of the individual can be confirmed through the provision of further identification information such as fingerprints.

The amendments are intended to ensure that if AusCheck is required to facilitate the provision of biometric information to the relevant police jurisdiction, then this information will be afforded all of the additional protections given to other AusCheck personal information and not be available for any purpose other than a further background check. This is intended to reflect the purpose of collecting this information in the first place, which is the verification of a particular individual’s identity.

As a consequence of the inclusion of a capacity to conduct national security background checks, the bill also includes amendments to the provisions that give authority for AusCheck to provide an online verification service. The online verification service is currently restricted to verifying aviation security identification cards and maritime security identification cards. With the addition of a national security background check, this authority will be consequently expanded so that an online verification service may be used to verify other types of authorities that may be issued indicating that a person has undergone a national security background check.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the positioning of AusCheck as a centralised background checking service for the Commonwealth is in keeping with the public’s expectation that adequate cost-effective security arrangements are in place.

Greater access by Commonwealth agencies to AusCheck’s resources reduces duplication of effort where individuals require background checks for different purposes, and this will develop a more consistent and reliable approach to national security background checking.

The amendment to the act provides the legislative framework for more efficient background checking schemes. The amendment is necessary to provide legislative authority for those processes and to provide appropriate protections for the information that will be collected and stored by AusCheck.

This amendment is another important step in improving national security generally.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Hartsuyker) adjourned.