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Thursday, 13 August 2009
Page: 7848

Mr BIDGOOD (3:15 PM) —My question is to the Attorney-General. Will the Attorney-General outline the government’s proposed reforms to counterterrorism legislation and resources being made available in the context of current national security challenges?

Mr McCLELLAND (Attorney-General) —Yesterday the government released a discussion paper which sets out proposed reforms to Australia’s national security and counterterrorism laws. The government’s intentions, as has been stated, are to give our national security agencies the tools they need to protect the safety and security of Australians, while at the same time ensuring that these laws do not undermine the fundamental rights and freedoms that all citizens enjoy.

While these laws were necessarily introduced in an expeditious way in response to immediate crises, it is clear that, regrettably, there is an ongoing need for our national security regime. While we properly equip and tool our national security agencies for the task that they need to do, it is also important to ensure that our laws have the support of the general community as being appropriate, reasonable and balanced. Therefore, I can assure the House that the measures that we have introduced are not motivated by politics. Indeed, I can assure members that a great bulk of the work that has been picked up is in fact work of two committees of the previous parliament, where those opposite had the majority.

I will take the opportunity in answering the second part of the honourable member’s question, concerning our challenges, to address some of the assertions that have been made by the opposition in relation to resourcing of our national security agencies. This year’s budget increased resources to our border protection and national security agencies by $1.3 billion over six years, including $685 million specifically for law enforcement and counterterrorism measures. Within my portfolio alone, some $3.4 billion this financial year has been committed to funding our national security and border protection agencies. This represents an increase of $186 million this year—as I say, for my portfolio alone.

It is no secret, however, that the government has insisted that all agencies other than our defence forces achieve efficiencies, without cutting back on front-line capabilities. In that context, I note that the shadow Attorney-General has referred to some efficiencies that have been achieved, for instance, within the budget of the Australian Federal Police. In the context of the Australian Federal Police’s budget itself being in the order of just over $1.3 billion, he has referred to efficiencies of $3.2 million and $1.4 million. However, he has failed to mention that these relate to corporate allocations for staff leave liabilities and corporate expenditure in the areas of human resources and finance, not front-line capabilities.

The shadow Attorney-General has also pointed to efficiencies totalling some $8.2 million in the economic and special operations portfolio. I am informed that these relate to terminating a program of $4.3 million with respect to intellectual property. I am informed that changes in the calculation of costs associated with the AFP’s staff leave liabilities total $1.5 million in savings, and there are anticipated savings of $2.4 million due to the expected conclusion of the oil for food inquiry. I am not going to divert the attention of the House as to how that inquiry came about. By listing and responding to what has been identified by the shadow Attorney-General, it is quite clear that there has been no cutting of funding but indeed a substantial increase in funding to enable our agencies to undertake their front-line capabilities.

I also assure members that the Prime Minister himself frequently asks those agencies whether they have the resources that they need to respond to the events that our nation needs them to confront and to properly undertake their duties. Those agencies have always been provided with the resources they need. They have performed and continue to perform an outstanding job. I certainly look forward to the opposition’s constructive engagement with these important issues of national security.