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Tuesday, 14 October 2008
Page: 8967

Ms GRIERSON (3:06 PM) —My question is to the Attorney-General. Will the Attorney-General please update the House on current initiatives to prepare the nation for the challenge of terrorism.

Mr McCLELLAND (Attorney-General) —I thank the honourable member for her question on this important issue. Regrettably, the prospect of terrorism remains a reality of modern times. The government continues to work hard to ensure that Australia is prepared to meet those challenges. This morning Australia’s largest counterterrorism exercise, Mercury 08, got underway. The exercise is designed to enhance Australia’s capacity to prevent, to prepare for, to respond to and also to recover from multiple threats or acts of terrorism.

Over the next four days our security and policing agencies will be put to the test by simulated terrorist attacks in Queensland and Western Australia. The lessons learned from the London bombings of 2005 show us that regular national security exercises increase the ability of our security and emergency services to respond effectively to incidents such as those. Mercury 08 will involve the Prime Minister, the Queensland Premier and the Western Australian Premier, as well as federal and state government departments, security agencies, law enforcement personnel, crisis coordination units and emergency management teams. The Commonwealth’s National Security Committee of Cabinet will also be meeting during the course of these exercises to make decisions about Australia’s governmental response to these exercises. The exercises will robustly test whole-of-government decision making, information sharing, intelligence management, critical infrastructure protection and the important area of airport security. The exercises will test interoperability between civilian and military counterterrorism capabilities. The new national counterterrorism alert system that I announced earlier this month will also be tested during the course of these exercises.

The exercises have attracted extensive overseas interest. In fact, there will be some 44 high-level observers from 18 different countries, and obviously the feedback that will be exchanged between all observers and participants will be of value to all. Australia’s national security arrangements are strong but there is no doubt that regular exercising can further enhance those capabilities. Finally, I would like to thank everyone involved in the exercises. The work of our security and policing agencies will clearly be visible to all, but I would like to acknowledge the behind-the-scenes work of the Protective Security Coordination Centre as well as Emergency Management Australia, who have done an outstanding job in the preparation of these exercises. There is no doubt that at the end of the day, after the exchange of information from these exercises, the efforts of everyone involved will assist in making Australia just that much safer.