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Tuesday, 8 February 2005
Page: 2

Senator LUDWIG (12:32 PM) —This legislation, the Australian Passports Bill 2004, was introduced in the last parliament, along with the Australian Passports (Application Fees) Bill 2004 and the Australian Passports (Transitionals and Consequentials) Bill 2004. However, the legislation had not passed through the parliament before its prorogation and so it was reintroduced in the new parliament in December last year. This is our next opportunity to debate this legislation.

Two of the bills are unchanged since their previous introduction, while the Australian Passports Bill 2004 has been amended in a minor way. The Australian Passports Bill 2004 replaces the Passports Act 1938—and it is probably high time—and provides an entirely new passports act. It repeals Australian passports provisions in the 1938 act.

In a time of international terror, the maintenance of a world-class passports system is a key national security issue. Effective border security is part of the first line of defence in a strategic environment where threats may take the form of a lone individual or individuals, rather than the militarised conflicts we more normally associate with national security. Thus the Australian Passports Bill 2004 sets up a modern legal structure which will do a number of things. Firstly, it will provide Australian citizens with the best possible passports. Secondly, it will provide a passport law to complement national security, border protection and Australian law enforcement measures, as well as international law enforcement cooperation. And, thirdly, it will provide consistency with family law, privacy and administrative law principles.

The Australian Passports (Transitionals and Consequentials) Bill repeals superseded provisions of the 1938 act and renames that act the Foreign Passports (Law Enforcement and Security) Act 2004. This legislation makes the following improvements to the law governing Australian travel documents. Firstly, it provides, for the first time, a clear statement that Australian citizens have the right to a passport. Secondly, it increases the penalties for passport fraud to 10 years imprisonment or fines totalling $110,000. Thirdly, it introduces a framework for the use of technology—and later we can talk about the current technological advancements in this area. Fourthly, it will establish that disputes between parents regarding the international travel of minors should be dealt with by the courts. Fifthly, it improves refusal or cancellation mechanisms on law enforcement grounds or if a person is likely to engage in harmful conduct. Sixthly, it attempts to ameliorate problems caused by lost and stolen passports—it tries to overcome the difficulties that people have when passports are either lost or stolen—and in that instance it will provide a much better outcome for customers. Seventhly, it introduces various privacy measures, such as increased transparency in obtaining information for the verification of identity and citizenship and it regulates the disclosure of passport information for other limited purposes.

The bill also sets out the following major changes: first, it empowers the minister to make determinations regarding methods or technologies for identification or other purposes under the bill; secondly, it changes the framework and procedures by which passports may be refused or cancelled; thirdly, it creates new offences and enhances penalties; and, fourthly, it establishes new measures in regard to the use of information and associated privacy procedures.

You can see from the range of changes that they are not small changes. These changes ensure the modernising of the passports system in Australia. They provide in total a better position. Therefore, Labor supports the measures. The new bills include an amendment sought by Labor to division 2, clause 47 of the Australian Passports Bill 2004. There is always an opportunity for Labor to not only examine and agree to contents but also suggest improvements. It is worthwhile mentioning at this point that the government has picked up on the improvements that Labor has put forward.

This amendment refers to the authorisation by the minister of the use of particular methods and technologies as they apply to passports. That ministerial determination must now specify the nature of the personal information to be collected and the purpose for which it may be used. This is to build community confidence that personal information will be protected, while allowing for the adoption of new technologies such as biometrics. I suspect over the years we will hear more about biometrics and their use in identifying individuals. It is one of those areas that is important to get right at the beginning so we do not end up in a position where it becomes unclear whether personal information can be collected and what uses are appropriate. We need to make sure that it is adapted for the purposes it is supposed to be used for.

The integration of such technologies into the Australian passports system is necessary to ensure that our passports system not only provides maximum protection but can also integrate with other systems being adopted around the world. These are not simply advancements that are occurring within Australia. There have also been advancements overseas in ensuring that travel documents identify the individual, remain secure to the individual and are protected from being copied or otherwise used unlawfully. Australia has to maintain vigilance in this area to ensure that we are within world’s best practice. The Australian Passports Bill also includes certain changes from the original bill in regard to the cancellation of passports. I will not discuss them here. Suffice it to say that Labor supports those changes.

There have also been changes in regard to privacy provisions. The first clarifies arrangements for requesting information from private sector organisations. The second removes the specific reference to disclosure of passport information for national security purposes. That particularly relates to clause 46(d), which is an area covered specifically by the Privacy Act. In another change from the previous bill, the government has attempted to align this legislation more closely with administrative law principles, which in my view is always a good thing. The Australian Passports (Application Fees) Bill 2004 and the Australian Passports (Transitionals and Consequentials) Bill 2004 remain unchanged.

We support the proposed amendments in the Australian Passports Bill 2004, reintroduced into the House of Representatives on 2 December and now available for debate in the Senate. We believe that the delay of several months in the passage of the legislation, and the refinement that it has allowed, will provide a better legal framework for Australian travel documents. I would like to concur with my colleague in the other House Kevin Rudd, the shadow minister for foreign affairs and international security, that it is unfortunate that these improvements would not have occurred had it not been for the proroguing of parliament.

Simply put, the additional time, closer scrutiny and willingness to compromise has produced a much better document in the end. It is certainly a much better bill and has thus been able to gain our support. This legislation has been improved through closer examination and, I believe, will serve the Australian people better than the original proposal. So Labor supports the passage of this legislation and the modernisation of our passports law to reflect contemporary needs. It is long overdue. We support it as an attempt to strengthen our national security structures and to provide a better service to the Australian public.