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Monday, 4 September 2006
Page: 20

Senator PAYNE (2:06 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Justice and Customs. Will the minister update the Senate on the Australian government’s commitment to security and law enforcement in our region?

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) —I thank Senator Payne for what is a very important question. I certainly acknowledge Senator Payne’s longstanding interest in matters relating to the Australian Federal Police having regard to her position as chair of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee. This is a very important question. On 25 August this year the Howard government announced funding of just under half a billion dollars for the Australian Federal Police. This has been the biggest funding boost for the Australian Federal Police since its inception in 1979. This funding will mean that the international deployment group will receive a boost of over 400 personnel in the very important work that it is doing overseas.

In February 2004 we announced that there would be an international deployment group for the Australian Federal Police to cover the very good work that it does overseas. Of course, we have a longstanding tradition of assisting the United Nations in police peacekeeping—you have to look no further than Cyprus to see in excess of 40 years very good service in relation to international peacekeeping. But our IDG, as we call it, has been doing great work in the Solomons, in East Timor and in the region, in areas such as Vanuatu and Nauru. It is important that we put in place a plan for the future so that we can then deploy the Australian Federal Police where it is needed. The Howard government is totally committed to security in our region.

Senator Conroy —That’s the fifth time you’ve announced this.

Senator Ludwig interjecting—

Senator ELLISON —That is not only in our region’s best interests but in the interests of this country. I know that Senators Conroy and Ludwig are not terribly interested by the comments that they are making but, of course, Australians are. This is a very important issue to Australians across—

Senator Chris Evans —Tedious repetition.

Senator ELLISON —Senator Evans says it is tedious repetition. Does he think our involvement in the Solomons is tedious repetition? Does he think our involvement in East Timor is tedious repetition? Does he discount the efforts of the men and women of the Australian Federal Police force as tedious repetition? Someone ought to ask the opposition where it stands on this. This is an essential step forward in Australia’s security and the security of this region. The IDG has been doing very good work and this has been the biggest boost to the Australian Federal Police force since its inception in 1979—

Senator Chris Evans interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Senator Evans! Shouting across the chamber is disorderly. I would ask you to cease.

Senator ELLISON —and the opposition ought to wake up and realise that and get behind the men and women of the Australian Federal Police service who are doing such a good job in not only our immediate region but also working with the United Nations in places such as the Sudan and Jordan.

Part of this announcement will include an operational response group of 150 personnel and that will ensure that we have a state of readiness should the need arise. We have seen in recent times, particularly this year in East Timor, even over recent days just how fragile the situation is in countries like East Timor and the Solomons. Of course, we realise we are there at their invitation and it is not a case of Australia just being able to barge in to another country and dictate terms of how we will assist. But we are certainly committed to assisting countries in our region in relation to capacity building for law enforcement and to assist them with issues which threaten their good governance and also threaten civil disruption.

This is a very significant announcement. It is a significant step forward for the Australian Federal Police and it is worthwhile to remember that as the Federal Police Commissioner, Mick Keelty, said, ‘There are in excess of 2,000 people who are queuing up to join the Australian Federal Police.’ That says a lot about the Australian Federal Police and the standing it enjoys in the Australian community and quite rightly so.