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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 5909

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) (4:03 PM) —by leave—On 12 June 2009 in a joint media release with the foreign minister, the Hon. Stephen Smith MP, I announced that Australia has strengthened its commitment to international efforts to combat piracy off the Horn of Africa. Australia will provide $500,000, as well as skills and expertise, to the joint European Commission/United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Counter Piracy Program to assist Kenyan authorities in receiving and processing apprehended piracy suspects.

Australia will provide an official through the Office of the Inspector of Transport Security and the Australian Federal Police to work with the UNODC in the Nairobi office in Kenya in dealing with piracy in the region. The international community, and particularly the UNODC, recognises that, if an effective deterrent is to be created in the prosecution of suspected pirates, there needs to be a capacity for the legal processing to occur within the north-east African region. The official will work with local authorities in Kenya in dealing with apprehended piracy suspects.

This is one of a range of measures undertaken by the Australian government to combat the growing international problem of piracy. International Maritime Bureau figures show that more than 100 ships were attacked and 42 hijacked in the Gulf of Aden and the Somalia region in 2008. There have been around 60 attacks and 25 successful hijackings this year. Piracy is an issue that impacts on the entire international community, as the attack on the Italian cruise ship MSC Melody in April demonstrated. With over 1,500 passengers and crew, including 74 Australians, the Melody was attacked by pirates in a speedboat at least 600 miles from the Somali coast—a practical demonstration that this issue is a global one that affects every country.

The threat of piracy needs to be taken seriously, especially by countries such as Australia, which relies almost exclusively on international shipping for our exports and imports. With 99 percent of our exports by volume being transported by sea, a safe and secure maritime industry is paramount—to our economy, to our maritime industry and to the safety of many Australians who travel through international waters each year.

In May this year, the government announced that Australia would contribute Australian Defence Force resources to international anti-piracy efforts off the Horn of Africa. Our contribution includes the tasking of our Navy Anzac-class frigate and RAAF AP3C Orion patrol aircraft, which are already contributing to counterterrorism activities in the region. Flexible employment of our assets across several coalition task forces allows the ADF to contribute in an agile way to the highest priority activity. It is broadly recognised that the best long-term solution to the problem of piracy is to restore peace and stability in the Horn of Africa.

At the international conference on Somalia in Brussels on 22-23 April this year, the government committed $2 million in security and humanitarian assistance to support international efforts to restore peace to Somalia. The United Nations estimates that over half the population of Somalia is in need of humanitarian assistance and that one in six Somali children under five is acutely malnourished.

Australia will contribute $1.5 million to the United Nations Humanitarian Appeal, which will go towards security protection for humanitarian workers in Somalia to support vital health services for women and children, and $500,000 to the African Union Mission in Somalia, which is aiming to help Somalia’s transitional government stabilise the country through strengthening financial systems and further medical assistance. Since 2005-06, the Australian government has contributed $9 million of humanitarian assistance to Somalia and assistance has also been provided to neighbouring countries dealing with Somalian refugees.

In December 2008, the Office of Transport Security issued Maritime Security Notice (2/08) on ‘Security Regulated Australian Ships: Protective security arrangements for transiting through high-risk shipping lanes’ to Australian shipowners in response to the increase in acts of piracy and armed robbery in shipping lanes and waters surrounding the Gulf of Aden and the Somalian coast. The notice emphasised the importance for regulated Australian ships to apply robust and layered protective security measures when transiting through shipping lanes in high-risk locations.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority Marine Notice (10/2009) on ‘Piracy and armed robbery against ships in the Somali Basin and the Western Indian Ocean’ of June 2009 advises the Australian shipping industry to implement International Maritime Organisation preventative measures to deter and suppress acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships.

In February 2009, I asked the Inspector of Transport Security, Mr Mick Palmer, a former head of the Australian Federal Police, to undertake a comprehensive inquiry into maritime piracy and armed robbery at sea as it affects Australia. Mr Palmer is investigating the impact of piracy and armed robbery at sea on Australian registered and international trading ships and on Australian maritime trade more generally. The Australian government want to make sure that we have an appropriate security framework to deal with these threats.

As part of the inquiry process, the inspector and key members of his team have liaised with a range of senior stakeholders, including the UNODC, Interpol, the International Maritime Organisation, the International Maritime Bureau, as well as military, industry and diplomatic stakeholders, to ensure that his inquiry complements wider international efforts.

It was a result of the conduct of his inquiry that the opportunity for Australia to make a contribution to the UNODC Counter Piracy Program came to light. The inquiry will assist the Australian government in determining whether any changes are required to our domestic security framework. Mr Palmer is due to report in the second half of 2009.

Within our own region, the Malacca strait has for many years been a focus for pirate and criminal activities. This narrow strait contains thousands of islets, and is an outlet for many rivers, making it an ideal location for pirates to hide and evade capture. It is an important passageway between China and India and is on the route between Europe, the Suez Canal, the Persian Gulf and the busy ports of Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Pusan and Tokyo. Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand have formed the Malacca Straits Security Joint Working Group in response to the problem. This issue was discussed at the APEC meeting of transport ministers that I attended in Manila, the Philippines, two months ago. Under the initiative, the maritime forces of the four countries coordinate sea patrols of the area. Overall, there has been a significant reduction in attacks in this important maritime area.

In conclusion, the Palmer inquiry, the ADF commitment to anti-piracy efforts and the contribution of financial support and skills and expertise to the UNODC demonstrate Australia’s commitment to work with effective international forums such as the International Maritime Organisation and the United Nations to deal with the threat of international piracy off the Horn of Africa.

I met with the head of the International Maritime Organisation, Admiral Mitropoulos, at the IMO headquarters in London on 1 April this year. At that meeting, he made a request for Australia’s direct participation in these activities. I am pleased that the government have been able to deliver in these small but important measures to make sure that, once again, we are taking our place as good international citizens when it comes to international maritime issues.

I want to acknowledge the presence in the parliament today of the Minister for Foreign Affairs for Kenya, Moses Wetang’ula, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Co-operation of the Republic of Rwanda, Mrs Rosemary Museminali. Both of these ministers have expressed their support and gratitude for Australia making this commitment.

This threat of piracy directly affects the lives of Australians travelling through this region and our economic interests that are reliant on the safety and security of international shipping.

I ask leave of the House to move a motion to enable the Leader of the Nationals to speak for 10 minutes.

Leave granted.

Mr ALBANESE —I move:

That so much of standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent Mr Truss (Leader of the Nationals) speaking in reply to the ministerial statement for a period not exceeding 10 minutes.

Question agreed to.