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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26481

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) (12:13 PM) —I thank senators for their contributions to the second reading debate on the two antiterrorism bills we are dealing with together this afternoon. This is a Liberal government, and the Liberal Party is a party whose principal tenet is the freedom of the individual. We understand as well as anyone else the human rights that all Australians expect and should have, and their political and civil rights. I would like to make it very clear at the outset that perhaps the most fundamental civil right of all is the right to human security. These bills are about allowing Australians to go about their work and their daily lives in security. That is a goal that most Australians accept and understand.

All senators are well aware of the provisions of these two bills. I am not going to take up the time of the Senate by going through the elements of the bills in any great detail. Nor will I respond to the issues that have been raised in the speeches made in the second reading debate, as I am confident—in fact, it has been indicated to me in the speeches of senators—that these issues will be raised again in the committee process which is to occur immediately following the conclusion of the second reading debate.

However, I would like to correct the record on something that Senator Greig said—not in this debate but in some of the preliminary motions leading up to this debate. He suggested that the offence relating to association with terrorist organisations was designed to put same-sex couples in jail. This bill provides for completely the opposite. The bill provides for an exemption from the association offence. The exemption recognises same-sex partners as close family members. The exemption means that same-sex partners can be exempt from the offence where the association is a matter of family or domestic concern. So the concerns that Senator Greig mentioned earlier were completely erroneous and a complete misreading of the government's intentions. Senator Greig did not mention that in his speech in the second reading debate, so perhaps he had already received advice to that end. I wanted to put that on the record so that there was no misapprehension.

The amendments to the Anti-terrorism Bill (No. 3) 2004 address two very important practical issues that are significant to the security of this country and all Australians. They go some way to dealing with the consequences of a terrorist attack or a national disaster. The procedures in schedules 1 and 2 for the surrender of passports will play a vital role in enabling Australian authorities to effectively seal the border to escaping terrorists. There is not much point in having a sophisticated system for the surrender of Australian passports if the suspect can avoid that system simply by using a foreign passport. The amendments concerning foreign travel documents will also enable authorities to take travel documents from those suspected of other serious crimes such as child sex offences. All countries need to work together to impede the movement of criminals across the globe.

These bills are not directed at ordinary Australian citizens; they are directed at criminals of the worst kind. In some of the speeches we have heard in the second reading debate, that principle seems to have been overlooked. These bills are all about attacking criminals and terrorists so that Australians can go about their normal daily work and life in the recognition that they and their families are safe. I am pleased to see that senators understand the need for the amendments the bills are making. The amendments will make a difference in our efforts to prevent a terrorist attack.

The provisions of schedule 3, which would enable authorities to use federal forensic procedures laws to identify the victims of mass casualty incidents, are sadly a lesson that we have learnt from the Bali attack. No longer can this country rely on myriad state laws to deal with such incidents. Following Bali the parliament met the challenge by enacting a federal law, and we need to do the same in preparation for a possible domestic incident. It is pleasing to see our parliament meeting these challenges in a sensible fashion.

The Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee, in its report dated 6 August, supported the provisions contained in schedules 2 and 3 of the bill. The committee recommended that the government review some of the proposed foreign passport offences in schedule 1 and report to parliament about whether a reasonable excuse defence should be incorporated. The government has reviewed the offences and does not believe such a defence is appropriate in these circumstances. I would like to convey my thanks to Mr Tom Sherman, whose review of the provisions enacted immediately following the Bali attack identified the need for the forensic amendments. The review, as senators will recall, was made up of officers from the Office of the Federal Privacy Commissioner, the Ombudsman, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Australian Federal Police.

I am pleased that the Senate has been able to agree to the important reforms contained in the Anti-terrorism Bill (No. 2) 2004. The bill is yet a further contribution to the development and consolidation of the counter-terrorism laws, which are essential to ensure that terrorists and their organisations are confronted and dealt with. The terrorist organisations depend on contact and integration with communities in order to survive and expand, and we have seen examples of that. The bill seeks to cut off this source of support for organisations that engage in acts of terrorism from behind the veil of the broader community by making illegal the associations through which that support is gained.

The bill also recognises the continuing risk a person in custody may pose to Australia's security. Where there is a security risk, the bill will enable the transfer between states of federal prisoners and those on remand. It is the government's hope that state and territory governments will soon see the way clear to agree to the measures that would provide the same protection in relation to all prisoners. Security transfer orders will necessarily involve a balancing of the interests of the administration of justice and prisoners' welfare against the interests of security. I recall Senator Ludwig asking for some assurances from the government in relation to the negotiations with the state and territory governments, and I will be happy to give those during the committee stage of the debate. These amendments are necessary to ensure that any threats to our security can be managed wherever they arise. I commend the bills to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bills read a second time.