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Wednesday, 3 December 2008
Page: 12290

Mr FITZGIBBON (Minister for Defence) (9:14 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of the Defence Legislation (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2008 (the bill) is to make amendments for three separate measures.

The first of the three measures will amend the Geneva Conventions Act 1957 and the Criminal Code Act 1995 to implement the third protocol to the Geneva Conventions in Australian legislation.

Despite the Red Cross and Red Crescent emblems being exclusively used as universal humanitarian symbols, they have at times been wrongly perceived as having religious, cultural and political connotations. This has affected the respect for the emblems and has diminished the protection they offer to persons requiring it and to the humanitarian aid providers operating in areas of conflict.

On 8 March 2006 Australia signed the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, which established a third universal and distinctive emblem called a ‘Red Crystal’ for the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement, which has no religious, ethnic, racial, regional or political connotations.

This protocol entered into force generally on 14 January 2007 and, as at February 2008, 86 states have signed or ratified the protocol.

The amendments to the Geneva Conventions Act 1957 will specifically incorporate a reference to, and a description of, the Red Crystal emblem and reference the protocol in part IV of the act, and the protocol will be set out as a schedule in the act.

This measure also amends the Criminal Code Act 1995 to specifically incorporate the Protocol III and the Red Crystal in the Dictionary of the Criminal Code and ensure that the improper use of the Red Crystal is caught by the offences of ‘improper use of the emblems of the Geneva Conventions’.

As with the other emblems, the new emblem will be used only with the consent of the Minister for Defence. The new emblem is unlikely to be used in Australia for either indicative or protective purposes given the longstanding recognition accorded to the Red Cross emblem. The new emblem may, however, be used by the Australian Defence Force in certain regions overseas.

Incorporation would further demonstrate and enhance Australia’s credentials in international humanitarian law. It would also enable Australia to encourage states not yet a party to the protocol to ratify it, both within our region and beyond.

The second measure will amend section 124 of the Defence Act 1903 to explicitly enable the making of regulations to cover the provision of medical and dental treatment including pharmaceuticals to an ADF member or cadet or a member of the family of an ADF member.

At present, the Defence Force Regulations contain a limited provision that merely recognises the provision of medical and dental treatment to members of the Australian Defence Force so that they are healthy for the purpose of discharging their duties as well as cost recovery in specified circumstances.

The amendments to section 124 enable a more comprehensive regime in the Defence Force Regulations. The amendments will broaden the regulation-making power to enable the making of regulations to cover the provision of medical and dental treatment, including pharmaceuticals, to an ADF member or cadet or a member of the family of an ADF member.

In relation to pharmaceuticals, it is intended that the regulations will cover the possession, storage, supply, dispensing and administration of scheduled pharmaceuticals by ADF pharmacists, ADF medics, ADF nurses and civilian health professionals engaged by the ADF. The effect of the amendments would be to create a regime that would ensure that the ADF and its members are not hindered in the uniform application of their duties, here and overseas, by competing state and territory laws.

The third measure amends the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act 1952 to insert a new part to provide specific arrangements for the Joint Defence Facility at Pine Gap.

The Joint Defence Facility at Pine Gap makes an important contribution to the security interests of both Australia and the United States of America, through the collection of intelligence by technical means and the provision of ballistic missile early warning information.

The methods used for collecting intelligence at the facility are sensitive and their public exposure could threaten their effectiveness and thereby diminish their contribution to national security. It is therefore important that the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap is protected with effective legislation to deter unauthorised access to the facility.

This measure will strengthen the Commonwealth’s ability to successfully prosecute the existing offences under the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act 1952 in relation to the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap, by:

(a)   specifically declaring in the act that the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap is a special defence undertaking and prohibited area for the purpose of the act; and

(b)   inserting a purposive clause to make it clear that the parliament’s power to legislate with respect to the defence of the Commonwealth is not the only constitutional basis relied upon for the act.

Specifically declaring the facility a special defence undertaking and prohibited area directly under the act rather than by the existing process that requires a ministerial declaration will provide a firmer basis for any future prosecutions by removing the opportunity for argument about the validity of a declaration. These protections are essential to a facility of such sensitivity and importance to Australia’s defence and external relations to deter mischief makers and those with more sinister intent.

I commend the bill and the explanatory memorandum to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Wood) adjourned