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Wednesday, 28 June 2000
Page: 18430


Dr STONE (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage) (12:38 PM) —in reply—In summing up this debate on the Defence Legislation Amendment (Aid to Civilian Authorities) Bill 2000, I want to begin by thanking all participants in this debate for supporting this bill. The members for Cunningham, Blair, Barton, Gilmore, Cowan, Herbert and Chifley all made thoughtful comments and strongly supported this bill.

The member for Cowan was right in emphasising that the bill provides for more modern and appropriate processes for Defence Force call-out for any untoward event in the future—I do not refer to these measures as `domestic violence'. The bill sets out safeguards, including parliamentary supervision. It specifies powers and obligations of the Defence Force when used to assist police as a last resort in a counter-terrorist assault role and for related public safety tasks. I re-emphasise that this bill helps to ensure not only that Australians are properly protected but also that their civil rights as individuals are not compromised. That has been a very significant part of making sure that this bill is most appropriate for this coming era in Australia's protection.

The member for Chifley asked about issues of reimbursement and conditions for call-out for various elements of the forces. I assure the member for Chifley that legislation dealing with the call-out of the reserve forces and appropriate employment protection for the forces is progressing well. The department is working hard on those issues. Draft legislation will be available for introduction in the next session of parliament. I am sure that, in the spirit of cooperation that has been shown in working up this bill, members of the opposition who wish to participate in that debate will be more than welcome to contribute to the development of a final, very appropriate strategy or program of policy to ensure that our troops are appropriately reimbursed. The member for Chifley was also concerned about the use and call-out of reserves within the context of a terrorist attack. I remind the member for Chifley that the new section 51G prohibits the use of reserve forces unless the Minister for Defence, on advice from the Chief of the Defence Force, is satisfied that there are insufficient permanent members available. This is because the government considers that permanent members should be used for such tasks wherever possible, given there is always an expectation that their training has been most recent and most complete.

What we have seen with the speakers this morning is an extraordinary level of cooperation and bipartisan support, as you would expect, of course, when we are dealing with issues of great importance in relation to this nation's defence. It was, of course, to have been expected that a great deal of praise would be directed to our great defence forces, especially with regard to their recent performance in the East Timor theatre. Let me also add that we should never forget the great duties performed and standards set by our police forces in the states and territories as part of this nation's security. This bill is all about making sure that, in the future, the defence forces and the state and territory police forces can work together in the most well-organised and appropriate way.

The member for Cunningham raised the issue of the provision for authorising ministers to delegate to other ministers the power to authorise a deliberate assault. In the spirit of continuing bipartisanship in relation to both this bill and future developments in relation to this bill, we invite the member for Cunningham to work further with the department and others as they look at that issue with respect to the delegation of powers to other ministers. As I say, this debate has been characterised by a great deal of cooperation and bipartisanship. This bill is about the safety of our nation. It is also about protecting the freedoms and civil liberties of individuals. Of course, the Olympics and the Paralympics are looming fast, and by passing this bill—hopefully today—we will make sure that we can do the very best for all the visitors and people from Australia who will be attending those Olympics and Paralympics. It is a new era, and our defence forces and the police forces in our states and territories in this country will have processes in place that make them amongst the world's best prepared should there unfortunately be a terrorism event or threat in this country. I commend this bill to the House.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.