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Thursday, 16 June 2005
Page: 138

Senator ALLISON (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (5:55 PM) —I rise to speak on the Maritime Transport Security Amendment Bill 2005. It is rather odd that we are having this debate tonight, given that the regulatory regime contained in the bill has been referred for inquiry by the opposition. The bill is being debated in the chamber, the ALP will presumably vote with the government to pass it and then we are going to look more carefully at the provisions. That does not make a lot of sense to us, especially given the doubts that have already been expressed about this bill. It is a great pity the Senate has not been given more of an opportunity to look at the bill and work through issues that have been raised, but I will participate in the Senate inquiry that takes place over the next few weeks and look in more detail at the regulatory regime.

The Democrats are committed to transport security and Australia’s commitments as a signatory to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, the so-called SOLAS convention. We supported the Maritime Transport Security Bill in the Senate last year, which implemented the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code. We support the object of the ISPS Code as providing a standardised international framework for security related risk evaluation and management in the maritime transport sector.

On 20 July last year the Prime Minister announced a number of policy and funding initiatives with respect to maritime security. The intention to introduce the maritime security identification card system that is being introduced in this bill was amongst the matters identified. The Prime Minister also said the government would review security arrangements for offshore oil and gas facilities, and that review was completed in November last year by a Commonwealth interagency group called the Taskforce on Offshore Maritime Security. One of the problems is that no public version of the task force’s review has been released; however, on 15 December last year the Prime Minister announced a number of measures stemming from that review process, and this bill apparently has been introduced as a result.

There are two main purposes to the bill: to extend the existing legislative maritime security framework applying to specified ports and shipping to offshore oil and gas facilities and to facilitate the introduction of a maritime security identification card system for persons who have unmonitored access to maritime and offshore security zones. The system, presumably similar to that currently applying to the aviation industry, will be established through regulations.

I think it is regrettable that the provisions of the bill have been introduced as a result of recommendations of a departmental review of offshore security when the report of that review, as I have said, has not been made public. It is very difficult for the Senate to make informed decisions about the appropriateness of these measures without the benefit of that information. I am quite certain the government would expect us to take it on trust, and I do not think we should be asked to do that. It is not unimaginable for a bill relating to national security that is introduced by this government to go a step or two too far in terms of a proportionate response. I do not think we can trust the government with that idea.

I note that the Parliamentary Library’s Bills Digest points out that the SOLAS convention amendments and the ISPS Code do not appear to directly cover offshore oil and gas facilities; therefore, it seems that there would be no imperative under international law to extend the Maritime Transport Security Act to offshore facilities. However, the digest points out that the explanatory memorandum to the bill notes that the energy sectors have been targets for terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda and associated groups. According to the explanatory memorandum, the United States has also legislated the requirement for maritime security plans to apply to large offshore facilities under its US Maritime Transportation Security Act 2003. Apparently this bill is along similar lines.

The regulatory scheme contained in the bill will be introduced through regulations, the development of which are being coordinated by the Department of Transport and Regional Services and will be completed for formal implementation by 30 September this year. The maritime security plans that are being developed in accordance with the Maritime Transport Security Act will have regard for the special nature and location of these offshore facilities, the practical needs of operators and the need to complement rather than duplicate existing risk management and safety plans.

As I said in the debate on the Maritime Transport Security Bill last year, when implementing any new regulatory regime or system the government would be well advised to consult with those affected to ensure that the implementation goes smoothly and that the aims and objectives are achieved. I hope that the department will implement the provisions of this bill with that in mind. In closing, I want to say that I will pay close attention to the Senate committee inquiry into this regime, given that it seems that is where we will get the most useful information about how the scheme will work in practice. Once again, I note with disappointment that we do this examination after the effective passage of the legislation.