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Wednesday, 8 December 2004
Page: 162

Mr BAIRD (10:18 AM) —I rise today to support the government's Australian Passports Bill 2004 and the associated bills, the Australian Passports (Application Fees) Bill 2004 and the Australian Passports (Transitionals and Consequentials) Bill 2004. The legislation is a significant upgrade of a 66-year-old piece of legislation dating from 1938. One would say that it is about time the legislation was updated. Sixty-six years is a time frame in which most legislation goes through many changes, bearing in mind the type of environment we live in today, with world terrorism and changes in biometrics relating to the assessment of identity. Of course these changes are appropriate. The bill contains a number of provisions relating to the new basis on which identities can be established. It reaffirms the rights of Australian citizens to have their own passports. It provides additional provisions to allow for biometric identification. It also provides penalties for those who abuse the use of their passport. It has a provision taking away passports from those who are under investigation for or have been convicted of serious crimes. It also emphasises again the security environment of Australia and the need for vigilance across the board.

That is the basic aim of the legislation. It is well worth while. The tougher penalties are also welcomed. We regard it as the absolute right of Australians to hold a passport. We regard the integrity of the passport system as paramount, and therefore we believe those who willingly abuse this right should attract penalties for misuse of their passport.

We have a strengthening of the Australian passport and identity establishment systems. Australian passports are regarded as part of the international benchmark in terms of how passports should be used and developed. Our moves in terms of appropriate ways of measuring identity put us at the forefront of new technology. In this climate of global terrorism and people-trafficking crime, emphasising the need for the global community to establish the highest possible levels of antifraud controls for citizenship and identity recognition documentation is very significant.

The bill incorporates the basic right of every Australian to hold a passport, as guaranteed under the original act, while introducing new measures to ensure the integrity of the passport. I will go through the key aspects. First is establishing identify. Incorporated in this bill is the guarantee for the incorporation of changes which will facilitate the future introduction of biometric identification assessment. Government has helped the Australian biometric technology industry develop into the class of world leaders. Through industry partnerships, tied to tourism and the transport industry, the government has been able to maintain cost economies while developing cutting-edge biometric identification measures.

The bill contains the procedure whereby, in the near future, there will be analysis of biometrics, particularly of the irises and facial structure. I understand the tests that were carried out initially were at New Jersey's Newark airport, where they just used the iris. This proved particularly effective. It is almost impossible to carry out fraud. I am sure that, if one introduces this measure, people will find ways to avoid true identification, but in the interim, until such means are identified, this is an appropriate way to go forward.

The tourism industry is very supportive of these measures. They of course want to ensure a greater number of people come to Australia but, at the same time, if we improve the security measures and identification then the 99.9 per cent of absolutely genuine travellers—who have nothing to hide and are very happy to have their own identity established—can continue to come.

This measure is particularly important in terms of those who come claiming asylum and who have destroyed their passport and identity papers en route. I think the wilful destruction of their identity papers is one area where those genuine asylum seekers do not assist their case, as it therefore takes so long to establish the identity of the individual. As we move in this area of iris and facial feature identification, we can eliminate much of the concern and many of the problems that have occurred in that area.

As I mentioned before, the bill also provides for wider policy issues of law enforcement, border protection and national security. The bill provides a new procedure for the cancellation and refusal of passports, as well as the introduction of new, harsher penalties for those abusing passports. The bill provides the means of removing the right to travel from Australia's most serious criminals—especially those operating on an international level. The new act will specifically allow for the refusal or cancellation of a passport if an Australian is likely to engage in, is charged with or has been sentenced for a specified serious crime. From my point of view, I am a bit surprised that we do not have that provision already.

Crimes that will experience the harshest levels of penalty will be those relating to drug trafficking, child sex tourism, sexual slavery, people smuggling and terrorism. The fact that we can find those under investigation for child sex tourism up in Cambodia et cetera is a major concern. So that is appropriate and long overdue, it would seem to me. There are increased and strengthened penalties for fraudsters and new controls for persons identified as being reckless or abusive in regard to the protection of passports. As I understand it, there are a number of people who go through multiple passports. They supposedly lose several in a year. Of course, considering the worth of passports on the black market—

Mr Slipper —They flog them off, do they?

Mr BAIRD —The legislation does not actually outline what happens to them. We presume they might. What the legislation does is go after those who are consistently losing them. We are all subject to having them lost or stolen, but it reaches a point where you have to say, `Hello, what is happening here?' The legislation goes to that and introduces appropriate penalties, as it should if there is a possibility for abuse and where passports can fall in the hands of terrorists who can come into Australia on the basis that they appear to be Australian. Under the Australian Passports Bill 2004 penalties for violation of passport law will be increased from $5,000 or two years in jail to $110,000 or 10 years in jail, bringing those penalties into line with those for similar offences such as people-smuggling. It is part of integrating the legal system to ensure consistency of passport law with family, privacy and administrative legal principles.

This also specifically extends to conditions under which children may be granted passports and provisions within the court system for settling disputes between parents regarding children's travel. As we know, that often becomes a hot issue. A child can suddenly disappear overseas although there was a requirement for the court to agree to the child travelling overseas where this was appropriate. The legislation maintains current arrangements relating to parents. However, it now ensures that, where conflict exists, judgments relating to travel will be made by the Family Court. I think that is the appropriate place. That will significantly strengthen current arrangements relating to a child travelling abroad and further limit the risk of child abduction. The fee structure also has changed. That is to insure the $100 million financial liability associated with the issuing of passports.

The legislation is welcome. There are significant changes to the 66-year-old act of 1938. The legislation provides new penalties for those who abuse the system. It provides protection for children travelling overseas through reference to the Family Court. It ensures the right of every Australian to hold a passport. It also provides for new biometric methods in order to make a more appropriate and accurate assessment of the identity of those coming into the country and also Australians travelling overseas. It is a welcome move and I congratulate those who have put together this legislation.