In Parliament

AVIATION TRANSPORT SECURITY ACT 2004 AND THE MARITIME TRANSPORT AND OFFSHORE FACILITIES SECURITY ACT 2003

Mr CHESTER  (Gippsland—Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (15:15): In summing up, I would like to thank speakers from both sides of the chamber for their contributions to the debate. The Transport Security Amendment (Serious or Organised Crime) Bill 2016 introduces an additional purpose to the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004 and the Maritime Transport and Offshore Facilities Security Act 2003 of combating serious or organised crime at Australia’s airports and seaports. The aviation security identification card and maritime security identification card schemes are a critical part of securing the aviation, maritime and offshore oil and gas sectors.

This bill will prevent the exploitation of aviation and maritime transport or offshore facilities by individuals with links to serious or organised crime. It will ensure that such persons cannot gain access to aviation, maritime and offshore facilities. These amendments will provide for the regulatory framework to support the introduction of new and harmonised eligibility criteria for the ASIC and MSIC schemes that better target serious or organised crime related offences. The revised eligibility criteria will be set out in the Aviation Transport Security Regulations 2005 and the Maritime Transport and Offshore Facilities Security Regulations 2003.

In addition, to the amendments already mentioned, the bill will clarify and align the legislative basis for undertaking security checking of ASIC and MSIC applicants and holders. It will allow for regulations to be made prescribing penalties for offences against the new serious or organised crime requirements that are consistent with the existing penalty provisions across the ASIC and MSIC schemes. And it will insert an additional severability provision to provide guidance to a court as to parliament’s intention.

This bill gives effect to the government’s election commitment to strengthen background checking regimes to ensure that individuals with links to serious or organised crime cannot gain access to our airports or seaports. This will in turn keep illegal guns off our streets and keep our communities safe. Previously, people with a serious criminal history were able to obtain a security clearance to work at our airports and seaports. This will no longer be possible with implementation of these legislative amendments.

In addition, the bill will also complete a key action identified in the government’s December 2015 response to the final report of the National Ice Taskforce, to prevent serious and organised crime by strengthening the ASIC and MSIC schemes. Organised crime, in particular the importation of illegal drugs, is a serious threat to our nation. These changes are a substantial step forward in the fight to disrupt the distribution of these drugs, including ice.

This bill was previously introduced in the House of Representatives on 11 February 2016. It passed the House on 16 March 2016, but lapsed at prorogation on 17 April 2016. Following referral to the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee in the last parliament, the bill was recommended to progress to the Senate without amendment. The Australian government agrees with this recommendation and thanks the committee for its consideration of this complex issue. The Australian government does not agree with the assertion in the additional comments to the report and does not agree with the recommendations presented by the dissenting report.

The revised eligibility criteria, which this bill enables, is the culmination of extensive stakeholder consultation across the aviation and maritime sectors. This consultation concluded that extending the current ASIC and MSIC schemes is more efficient and effective than developing a new and separate scheme to counter serious or organised crime at our airports and ports. The existing ASIC and MSIC schemes are well understood by industry, and introducing a new scheme would likely impose additional costs and lead to confusion and inadvertent noncompliance.

The proposed changes will lift the threshold for less serious and lower-level criminal offences. As a result, more applicants are expected to be found initially eligible for an ASIC or MSIC, reducing the impact on their employment and increasing the staff available to employers.

This bill not only improves the government’s ability to combat transnational and domestic organised crime; it also strengthens the scheme’s existing national security assessment and the ability to protect Australia’s airports and ports against acts of terrorism. I thank members for supporting the bill to ensure the earliest possible implementation and therefore impact of these vital measures.

The SPEAKER: The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Grayndler has moved as an amendment that all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question is that the amendment be agreed to.

Mr CHESTER  (Gippsland—Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (15:42): I appreciate the contribution by the member for Grayndler. The government has closely considered the amendments put forward by the member but will not be supporting these amendments by the opposition. We believe that ‘serious or organised’ is far broader than ‘serious and organised’ and will capture people with a serious criminal conviction or organised crime conviction or both. So, whilst we understand the points being made by the member for Grayndler, we do not agree with his amendments. The government has committed to strengthening background-checking regimes to ensure that individuals with links to serious or organised crime cannot obtain access to our airports and our seaports, and the inclusion of combating serious or organised crime at seaports and airports into the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004 and the Maritime Transport and Offshore Facilities Security Act 2003 will help keep illegal guns and illegal drugs off our streets.

The government is committed—as I acknowledge that the member for Grayndler has indicated that the opposition is committed—to keeping Australia safe. We believe that stopping people with a serious criminal conviction or an organised crime conviction or both from gaining access to secure areas at airports and seaports is a crucial part of this. I accept the comments made by those opposite during the second reading debate on the bill that they are very committed to reducing particularly the amount of illicit drugs on our streets, but I do not believe that you can say, on the one hand, that you want to reduce illegal drugs in our community and, on the other hand, water down attempts to intervene in the drug trade. I believe this bill is a step in the right direction and the government is not supporting the amendments put by the member for Grayndler.

Can I just say more generally in relation to the National Ice Taskforce: as the member indicated, the 2015 final report of the National Ice Taskforce echoed the concerns of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement and Intelligence at its inquiry into the adequacy of aviation and maritime security measures to combat serious and organised crime. Now, it noted that the growing use of ice in regional Australia must be recognised and appropriately addressed. The legislation before the House is helping to address that issue. Mr Deputy Speaker, I know that from your personal experience in your own electorate that you know the impact of illicit substances, particularly ice, is one of great concern in our regional communities and also of great concern in particular in our Indigenous communities. I think that ice has managed to penetrate parts of our community that we thought would never be impacted by the use of illicit drugs, so I do take the contributions from those opposite very seriously—just as the government takes its responsibilities very seriously in relation to its response to the National Ice Taskforce.

We believe this is a step in the right direction in reducing the opportunity for ice and other illicit substances to reach Australia, but also a step in the right direction in preventing individuals and criminal gangs or syndicates which traffic those illicit drugs or, indeed, traffic illegal guns, from having access to our major transport links.

So I just repeat that the government will not be supporting the amendments from the opposition.

Mr CHESTER  (Gippsland—Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (15:50): With that, we should not delay the House unduly. The government strongly believes that the bill, as it is presented to the House, is meeting the intention of the reports that the member for Grayndler referred to previously. The legal advice that we have received is that using the term ‘and’ could be interpreted as requiring both elements to be proved—that is, both elements of being serious ‘and’ organised as distinct from being serious ‘or’ organised.

Again, I acknowledge the spirit in which the member for Grayndler has approached this issue, but simply disagree on the best way forward with the legislation. Serious and organised crime, I acknowledge, is certainly a term in common usage—probably in many ways it is a colloquial term, used quite widely. But the fear within the government is that use of the word, ‘and’, as I said, would require a legal interpretation of meeting both elements of being serious and organised as distinct from serious or organised.

Certainly, in preparation of the bill for the House, the Australian Federal Police were consulted and accepted the use of the term ‘or’. The government will not be supporting the member’s amendment.

Mr CHESTER  (Gippsland—Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (16:11): The government will not be supporting these amendments from the opposition, while I certainly appreciate the sentiment of the member for Grayndler and offer him this reassurance that the changes presented in the bill will not remove any of the existing appeal rights for applicants. As the member for Grayndler would know, the new eligibility criteria to be specified in the regulations will introduce new offence categories, such as offences arising from antigang or criminal organisation legislation, illegal importation of goods, interfering with goods under Australian Border Force control and foreign incursion and recruitment.

As the member has indicated, and others have spoken about today, this bill strengthens the government’s ability to tackle the supply of the drug ice and the importation of those precursor chemicals which are used in its manufacture and the individuals in the criminal gangs or syndicates who seek to traffic those substances. As the new criteria will focus the schemes on serious criminal activity, applicants with minor or low-level offences will only become ineligible when a significant term of imprisonment has been imposed. This will mean, importantly, that these people may be issued with their cards more quickly, lessening the impact on their employment and increasing the number of staff who will be available to employers in the industry.

While I acknowledge the member for Grayndler’s contribution, I offer him that reassurance that the changes will not remove any of the existing appeal rights for applicants. I understand that the opposition has moved these amendments as it is concerned that the appeals mechanisms for ASIC and MSIC applicants in the aviation and maritime regulations could be diminished or removed in the future. I want to assure him and assure anyone listening today that the government has no plans whatsoever to diminish the appeal rights for ASIC and MSIC applicants. There is already a comprehensive appeals process in the current aviation and maritime regulations, and this process is essential to the administrative transparency of the schemes. I repeat that some people who may have a minor or low-level offence will be less likely to get an adverse finding on their application for the ASIC or MSIC in the future, whereas those with serious or organised crime offences will be the target of this legislation.

As I said, there is a comprehensive appeals process already available. The bill before us actually expands the appeals process for ASIC applicants, by providing them with the ability to apply to the Secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department for reconsideration of a discretionary decision, an ability that already exists for MSIC applicants. There is also, as the member is aware, an appeal right to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for ASIC and MSIC applicants, and any future changes to the appeals process will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny, as all changes to regulations are. I would note, just in conclusion, that the Office of Parliamentary Counsel has advised that including the appeals process in the acts would not create any practical protection against future changes to the aviation and maritime regulations.

Mr CHESTER  (Gippsland—Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (16:20): As much I am charmed by the member for Grayndler’s concern for my political welfare, I intend to remain as a minister for a very long time into the future with the blessing of the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. Can I just indicate again that the government have considered very seriously the amendments put by the opposition. We have taken it in the spirit with which it was offered, but the government, as I want to emphasise, have no plans to diminish the appeal rights of the ASIC and MSIC applicants. I do refer the member, again, to the fact that the Office of Parliamentary Counsel has advised that including the appeals process in the acts would not create any practical protection against any future changes to the aviation and maritime regulations. We will not be supporting the amendment.

 

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