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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5690

Mr BRENDAN O’CONNOR (Minister for Home Affairs) (7:25 PM) —In relation to the first question asked by the member for Stirling, the Australian government do take our border security seriously. We announced in the budget an investment of $1.2 billion, of which there will be—not $65 million—$69.4 million over four years for the introduction of biometric checks of international passengers in overseas posts. This will strengthen Australia’s capacity to verify the identity of foreign nationals. This is a very important part of our border security efforts, using 21st century technology to protect our borders and make our citizens safe.

Of course, the shadow minister should know, firstly, that the matter really should be directed to the minister for immigration—although I am happy to take it. Also, at the time, the immigration minister and the foreign minister said that, for security reasons, they would not speculate or comment on which countries are in or out of the biometric technology. We have made it clear that this technology is needed. We have said that a number of countries will undergo risk assessments in terms of biometric technology, but it would undermine the initiative to disclose publicly those countries. Therefore, I am quite surprised by the comments of the shadow minister suggesting that I should do so. It is an important initiative and it is certainly an important part of the weaponry to protect our borders.

In relation to the commitment of 500 new Australian Federal Police officers, I am very proud to say there was a five-point plan clearly enunciating the government’s commitment to enhancing the numbers of sworn officers. We have a commitment and a time line in place. I am happy to inform the member for Stirling that, to enhance the number of sworn officers in our police force, in our first budget we allocated $191 million and, in this year’s budget, we have allocated a further $23 million. As of today, there are 280 extra officers and the Australian Federal Police is already 220 sworn officers ahead of the number in the time line outlined before the election. In relation to redundancies, I am not aware of any significant redundancies and will take this matter on notice.

In relation to the Bay class vessels, it is true that there are commercial-in-confidence issues and, for that reason, the precise amount allocated for these vessels is not disclosed. This is a very important enhancement of our capability. The vessels that we are looking to purchase will provide greater capability for our personnel, who, as I think everyone in this chamber would agree, do very dangerous and difficult work in challenging circumstances and to whom we need to give the best assets we possibly can. I am very happy to say that we have taken that into account in the decision. Of course, we cannot go to the precise number, but I can inform the member for Stirling that the amount that is to be allocated in the budget will be in a contingency reserve until after the tender. The tender is about to be announced, and there will be a very rigorous process to ensure that we get value for money. We want to make sure that we spend well and receive the best possible results for Customs and border protection. That is the answer—it is within the budget documents, but it is in a contingency fund. I can refer the shadow minister to the budget but I think he understands why we cannot disclose the actual sum.

The classification of R18 video games has been a matter of significance for a significant proportion of our community. Nearly 70,000 people have put forward their view as to whether we should equate a classification level for video games to that which exists for films. This is a complex issue. It was discussed at the last attorneys-general meeting about a month ago and there was an agreement that there will be further discussions. Whilst overwhelmingly the number of those who were asked their opinion indicated that they wanted to see an R18 classification, we said we would look at the weight of the arguments and not just the numbers and we would have to reach agreement with the attorneys-general. (Extension of time granted) We are working very closely with the attorneys of the state governments on this matter. I made very clear that, whilst the overwhelming number of petitioners were in support of the introduction of an R18+ classification rating for video games, we would listen to the weight of the arguments and we would also get evidence from academic studies to really determine the social impact that these games may have. I believe everyone around the table at the attorneys meeting—the Attorney and I and the state attorneys—believe it is an important issue and do not want to be rushed. We have not made a decision and we will be having further discussions with state governments at the meeting following the next meeting. That is our position.

I might go to the port security question first. Customs and Border Protection employs an intelligence-led, risk based approach to inspection and examination of air and sea cargo. This was a change. We believed that we needed to make sure that we assessed cargo based on risk and not just assume that each piece of freight was as risky as the next. Customs and Border Protection should be applauded for that approach. In my view that has led to a far more effective approach to detecting illicit drugs coming into our ports. We will continue to work very hard to ensure that we do detect these illicit drugs.

In relation to the West Australian government raising concerns about people accused of federal offences, by convention the states where the alleged offences occur have been the place where federal prisoners have been sent. The shadow minister may know that it is a constitutional obligation for state governments to receive federal prisoners, whether it be drug trafficking, people-smuggling or other Commonwealth offences. Federal governments do not house prisoners. We rely upon not only the correctional facilities of the states but also the courts to process these matters.

I am, of course, aware of the WA Attorney-General’s concerns about accommodation. There have been decisions made by the agencies of the Commonwealth and state governments to disperse some of those accused of people-smuggling offences to other states, including Queensland. But, as for a moratorium, there is a constitutional obligation for the states to receive federal prisoners. There is no obligation for the federal government to fund those states to house those prisoners, but we do so under the Grants Commission. I am happy to continue to talk with Christian Porter and other attorneys about how we deal with this challenging issue. I am sure that no state government would say to us that that they do not believe we should be tough on people smugglers. I am yet to hear a government suggest that we should be doing anything other than prosecuting people smugglers, because of the consequences that arise because of that trade. We are dealing with the issues and I will continue to talk with state governments so that we can properly process these people who have been accused of Commonwealth offences. As for any moratorium, as I say, there is an obligation on state governments but we are looking now to disperse those accused of breaching Commonwealth laws so that we can share the load. I know the Secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department has had those discussions with the Attorney-General of Western Australia only last week.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. DGH Adams)—Order! I am informed that this section started late so I will extend the time for five minutes. That will be taken up by the member for La Trobe asking questions. There may be no time to answer.