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Wednesday, 24 February 2021
Page: 89

Senator PATERSON (Victoria) (18:01): On behalf of the Chair of Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, I present the report of its review of declared areas provisions. I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

I am pleased to present the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security's report into the Review of 'Declared areas' provisions: Sections 119.2 and 119.3 of the Criminal Code. This is the first report I present as chair of the intelligence and security committee and, as such, I would like to acknowledge the former chair of the committee, Mr Andrew Hastie MP, for his significant contribution to the committee and to national security policy over the last two parliaments and for his role in chairing the inquiry into these provisions last year. I look forward to working in collaboration with all members of the committee on important national security and intelligence matters in the bipartisan spirit that has been a consistent feature of its work.

This is the report of the review of the operation, effectiveness and implications of the declared areas as required under subparagraph 29.1 of the Intelligence Services Act 2001. In brief terms, section 119.2 of the Criminal Code makes it an offence for an Australian citizen to enter or remain in an area in a foreign country that is declared by the Minister for Foreign Affairs under section 119.3 of the Criminal Code. There are exemptions where a declared area offence does not apply if a person enters an area for one or more legitimate purposes specified in section 119.2.

A declaration by the foreign minister ceases to have effect after three years, and the committee may review a declaration and report to parliament at any time a declaration is in effect. There have only been two declarations made under the provisions to date. The al-Raqqa province in Syria was declared on 4 December 2014, and Mosul district in Iraq was declared on 2 March 2015 and re-declared on 2 March 2018. Both declarations have since been revoked by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and there are currently no declared areas under section 119.3 of the Criminal Code.

In fulfilling its obligation under the Intelligence Services Act to review the declared area provisions, the committee has considered the current and evolving international security threat environment, the purpose of and necessity of the provisions, the operation and effectiveness of the provisions including their usage to date and their deterrent effect, the intersection of the provision with human rights and civil liberties, and proposed additional exceptions for legitimate travel to declared areas.

In making its recommendations, the committee also considered the current and future uncertain geopolitical environment, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 global pandemic. The committee found that it would not be prudent to repeal the declared areas provisions during a period of great uncertainty. As such, the committee recommended: the declared area provisions of the Criminal Code be extended for a further three years to a new sunset date of 7 September 2024; the Criminal Code be amended to provide that the PJCIS may review the operation and effectiveness of declared area provisions prior to the new sunset date; and, within 18 months of this report, the committee receive a briefing from government agencies on the use, proportionality and effectiveness of the declared area provisions.

In addition, the committee also believes there is merit in implementing a regulation to allow citizens to apply for permission to travel to a declared area in special circumstances. Therefore, rather than extending exceptions under the current provisions of the Criminal Code, the government could consider applications based on merit and a relevant security threat assessment. The committee recommended that the Criminal Code be amended to allow Australian citizens to request an exemption from the Minister for Foreign Affairs to travel to a declared area for reasons not listed under section 119.2 and, importantly, that the minister's decision would not be subject to a merit review. I commend the report to the Senate.

Question agreed to.