Monday, 25 October 2010
Defence Legislation Amendment (Security of Defence Premises) Bill 2010
Debate resumed from 29 September, on motion by Mr Stephen Smith:
That this bill be now read a second time.
If anyone is unsure that the world has changed since September 11, the Defence Legislation Amendment (Security of Defence Premises) Bill 2010 should disperse any misconceptions about that. This bill has been developed in direct response to a foiled terrorist attack on the Holsworthy Army Barracks, the home of my old unit, the 3rd Battalion, RAR. It was a foiled terrorist attack that had been planned around August 2009. The terrorists were part of a group called al-Shabab. The terrorists are currently before the Supreme Court on trial for their acts of terrorism. This was a group of extreme Islamic individuals who sought to use violence on the orders of an Islamic leader from, of all places, Somalia.
In response, the government has moved, quite rightly, in many areas to enforce and strengthen the base security we have around our Defence Force. It has been done, in part, due to the widely accepted fact that the six accused men were planning on entering the base and killing as many military and civilian people as possible before they were caught or killed. They believed this act was justified by the mullah in Somalia giving his concurrence.
This case demonstrates that the threat of terrorism within Australia is both real and current. Following the foiling of the attack, the security of defence bases came under close scrutiny by the media and the wider public, with some members of the media highlighting the physical deficiencies in base security. There was, of course, that wonderful incident when a Daily Telegraph reporter and photographer were arrested for gaining access to Holsworthy soon after the foiled plot was made public, all in an attempt to press home the journalists’ point that base security was reasonably lax. At the time, the coalition sought briefings from the government and Defence officials as to the current range of security measures for Australia’s military bases. These briefings, of course, were classified. However, it is fair to say that the introduction of this bill justifies the coalition’s concerns with current defence security arrangements.
Defence currently employs private contractors to man the gates and entrances to defence establishments around Australia. These contractors administer the right of entrance to the bases. This involves, obviously, ensuring that identification is provided and that that identification is checked. Such a system has worked well. I fully remember in 1993 being part of the military-manned guard at the base of 3rd Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment, with nine soldiers heavily armed with pickaxe handles, ready to deter any would be bad-doer from entering the home of the parachute battalion. We have obviously moved on, with defence contractors now administering that right of entry to bases. Defence also utilises a range of physical and personnel security measures, including the use of intelligence, to form a layered approach to base security.
However, since 9/11 the world has changed. As we have seen with this group of Islamic terrorists that sought to gain access to Holsworthy with the sole purpose of indiscriminately and randomly killing, the current global security climate requires us to be ever vigilant. Given the changing nature of this environment, it is therefore necessary, as I concur with the government, to strengthen security measures at defence establishments. I think these planned attacks by those people that would seek to do incredible violence to those who are completely innocent have brought home the very real threat that Australia’s military personnel face at home, besides those facing perils in combat operations overseas. Therefore, strengthening the legislative base in order to protect those who protect us simply makes sense.
The review of defence protective security arrangements that followed on from the Holsworthy incident recommended a range of policy and physical security initiatives to complement and strengthen existing security at defence establishments. Given the changing nature of the security environment, this bill seeks to strengthen the security measures across a range of areas, particularly to enhance the security of defence bases, facilities and assets and, most importantly, the security of our personnel.
Accordingly, the bill will insert a new part VIA into the Defence Act 1903 and make associated amendments to the Australian Federal Police Act 1979. Broadly, the bill will do a range of things. Firstly, it will strengthen the legal regime for appropriately authorised ADF members who may be required to use reasonable and necessary force—including, it is important to articulate here, lethal force—to prevent the death of or serious injury to a person in connection with an attack on defence premises. Secondly, it establishes a statutory regime of search and seizure powers, including for those who do not actually submit to that, in order to reduce the risk of unauthorised or dangerous items entering defence facilities or restricted material or information being unlawfully removed. Thirdly, it updates the existing trespass offence and associated arrest power in the act to clarify that Defence has adequate powers to deal with unauthorised entry to defence premises. Fourthly, it will allow Defence to use overt optical surveillance devices to monitor the security of defence premises. Defence will also be able to disclose the information captured by this equipment to law enforcement agencies and Commonwealth, state and territory public prosecution authorities.
In detail, under the new part VIA of the Defence Act there are several divisions that need to be amended. Briefly, division 1 is simply an overview. Division 2 sets out three classes of persons—defence security officials—the bill refers to, who will be empowered to exercise some or all of these powers aforementioned. Firstly, contracted defence security guards, who include subcontractors or their employees, will be authorised to ask to see a person’s identification—similar to what they do now—conduct consensual searches and, in defined circumstances, restrain and detain a person for the purposes of placing them in the custody of a law enforcement officer. Secondly, security authorised members of the Defence Force—uniformed personnel—will be authorised to use the full range of powers proposed in the bill including, when necessary, the use of lethal force. Thirdly, defence security screening employees—Defence public servants, ostensibly—may exercise the non-consensual identification, search and seizure powers only if it is not reasonably practical in all the circumstances for a security authorised member of the Defence Force to do so. Furthermore, they are not authorised to seize an item or use force likely to cause death or grievous bodily harm.
Division 3 sets out the measures relating to the prevention or reduction of risk from authorised entry to defence premises, to detect and deal with trespassers and to prevent or reduce the risk of dangerous items entering defence premises or material being unlawfully removed. This section, importantly, sets out the conditions in which a defence security official can exercise their consensual search or seizure powers. This includes when they may request identification and under what grounds consensual searches may indeed take place. It also establishes special provisions that apply to declared explosive ordnance depots given the inherent risk to public safety from the unlawful removal of weapons, munitions and explosives.
Division 4 sets out the non-consensual identification and search powers which will be exercised as a matter of defence policy by special defence security officials during higher threat levels on any defence premises and at all times on sensitive sites. This section also outlines the circumstances which enable authorised members of the ADF to protect persons on defence premises if an attack is imminent or intended and would result in the death or serious injury of persons.
Division 5 sets out the special Defence security officials and the provisions under which they may seize an item, including a vehicle, vessel, aircraft or anything unattended on a Defence premises or found during a search if, indeed, the official reasonably believes that the item constitutes a threat to security of persons on the premises or relates to a criminal offence that has or may be committed on the premises.
Division 6, importantly, establishes the limitations and safeguards on the exercise of the powers of Defence security officials conferred by this part. This section includes provision for Defence security officials to provide identification, for persons to be informed of the substance of the offence for which they have been detained and limits the use of reasonable force.
Division 7, the final area, covers other matters and includes provisions for a member of the Defence Force, a civil police officer or an Australian Federal Protective Service officer to arrest without warrant a person for unauthorised entry on Defence premises or accommodation. This section preserves the areas that were previously covered in the trespass offence in section 82 of the Defence Act. In addition, it clarifies that Defence has the power to deal with trespassers on naval vessels.
The coalition regards the welfare, safety and security of our Defence personnel and their families a top priority. Therefore, we have said, and we clearly maintain, that these changes should be implemented as quickly as possible. Indeed, I was critical in the last parliament that it took from August 2009 to the proroguing of the parliament for an investigation and for legislation like this to actually come to the floor of the House. It is time that those personnel who serve and protect us are themselves afforded proper protection at home.
We support these measures; we support the bill as drafted. However, the bill has been referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade for inquiry and report. It is due to report back on 16 November 2010. There are a range of questions that remain outstanding with respect to the orders for opening fire in heightened threat levels, when the Defence Force are actually required to use lethal force or when there is the potential for it to save life, limb or property on Defence bases. What do orders for opening fire actually look like for those Defence personnel on a base? What are the rules by which they must abide, and how will that actually work out? There are a range of fundamental questions like that where we honour our men and women by providing precise and detailed answers to them as to the level of the powers and how and when they can be used.
The coalition has reserved its right to make further amendments once the bill has passed through the Senate committee and when it is debated in the Senate so that we can actually make sure that soldiers, sailors and airmen—those men and women in uniform—will not be put in a position that may become untenable upon further investigation later on. However, we view the legislation as important and, quite frankly, we view it as overdue.
We look forward to receiving the report on this bill by the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. We view its passage through the committee as an important step in fully understanding all of the issues that this bill would bring for members of the Defence Force. We believe that passage through the committee is important to understand the considerable legal complexities of the bill, and how the powers that the bill confers will be used and how they will play out. We look forward to all of those questions being answered, and we look forward to the bill receiving full and frank support on the floor of the Senate and becoming law.
I speak in support of the Defence Legislation Amendment (Security of Defence Premises) Bill 2010. The Minister for Defence said in his second reading speech on 29 September that Defence is the largest Commonwealth landholder, and one of the largest landholders in Australia. He made the point that the department manages an estate consisting of in excess of three million hectares of land around 88 major bases or facilities and has approximately 370 owned properties and a further 350 under lease.
During the last campaign, and for some months prior thereto, I had a map of my electorate on the wall, and more than one person asked me what a grey little area in my electorate was. It was a very large area inside my electorate, and I had to explain on each and every occasion that it was the RAAF base at Amberley. This is a very large part of my electorate of Blair. Indeed, there are about 3½ thousand personnel and civilians working at the RAAF base at Amberley. It is the home to C17s and F111s, which will retire in early December this year. The Super Hornets are also currently located there, and we will get additional Super Hornets in the future. It is the home to 9FSB and the construction squadron, which will arrive very shortly.
There are many people who work on that base, civilian as well as military. There are men and women, young and old, some who have been trained in defence hand-to-hand combat and many in how to use a weapon. But, still, despite every attempt that we undertake to ensure that our Defence bases are as ready as possible with security and to be as vigilant as we can be in the protection of those bases, the Holsworthy incident clearly demonstrates that the review was timely and that acting on the review is the appropriate thing for the federal government to do.
I am not going to comment on the litigation and charges that are currently before the Supreme Court in Victoria but, clearly—and this is the reason I support our troops in Afghanistan—we must resist all forms of fundamentalist fascism, narco-terrorism and Islamic extremism, which were clearly evident in what we saw at the Holsworthy base. Innocent people would have been slaughtered if these people had been able to carry out their plans. Defence bases are clearly attractive targets for enemies of our state and our nation. Making sure that they are protected is crucial, not just for the economic wellbeing of our country—the bottom line for the approximately $26 billion that we spend on defence every year—but for making sure that men and women, our fellow citizens, are protected.
The Review of Defence Protective Security Arrangements was carried out subsequent to the Holsworthy incident in August 2009. A number of individuals were arrested, as I said, for allegedly planning an attack on that army base. There is no proposal to change the fact that civilian police and security personnel who are civilians will still have the primary responsibility for responding to security incidents at Defence premises. That is appropriate, and it has been a bipartisan approach taken regardless of which side of politics has been in government. But I warmly welcome this legislation, because it clarifies that appropriately trained and authorised members of the Australian Defence Force can use force—indeed, lethal force—to protect life or prevent serious injury to themselves or others in the event of an actual attack on Defence premises or people on those premises. I think that clarification is the appropriate word for it because, if you asked the Australian public or asked any judicial officer in this land, I am sure they would think it appropriate to defend yourself against an attack if you were military or civilian personnel on a military base.
Of course, the key recommendation here was to clarify the legal issues surrounding ADF members acting in self-defence in the event of a no-warning attack. We have legislation in criminal codes dealing with circumstances where someone has the right to self-defence. We have provocation listed as a defence or partial defence in the event of someone who is a civilian being attacked. For example, if the member for Oxley were to get up here and start attacking me, it would be appropriate—and I think most people would think so—for me to defend myself against him.
But, seriously, to make sure that the legal framework is as well-defined with respect to military bases as we have it in the states and territories of this country for civilians is the appropriate thing to do. The member for Fadden went through, at length, how this legislation operates, and I do not intend to duplicate what he had to say. Former Defence minister Senator John Faulkner said it pretty well when he said that the general right of self-defence provides the current legal basis for ADF personnel resorting to force. The legislation before us makes it crystal clear that those military personnel on the base would have every right to defend themselves and others until, for example, the police could take control of the situation and anyone arrested could then be charged.
One thing that the member for Fadden did not outline in detail was the inadequacy of the penalty for trespass on Defence premises. A $40 fine is grossly inadequate—$40 can hardly buy you a decent meal at a restaurant these days—so increasing the fine to $5,500 is appropriate in the circumstances. The importance of the Defence assets we have at our military bases can be summed up best by the fact that is quite commonly stated in my community, the Ipswich and West Moreton area: that the RAAF base at Amberley adds about a billion dollars a year to the benefit of the Ipswich economy and to those across the western corridor. Defence housing is created for the number of military personnel and civilians who work on the base, who spend money in the community, who worship in the churches, whose kids play in the sporting teams and who are involved in community life. They are people who come into and are part of the community. So it is an economic argument as well as an argument to protect the lives, liberty and property of Defence and civilian personnel on the base. Also, we have weaponry which we purchase at tremendous cost to the Australian taxpayer. For example, there are the C17s, which are massive transport planes, located at the RAAF base at Amberley. The F111s, which have served us wonderfully well for 40 years, are being retired and another lot of Super Hornets are arriving. As the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel said in answer to a question I put to him in question time last week, we will have 11 more come into Australia, many of them based at the RAAF base at Amberley in my electorate of Blair. We want to make sure that the military personnel there have the power to use lethal force if those military assets are at risk.
I welcome other parts of the legislation that deal with Defence security, particularly those giving the power to require identification, to conduct consensual and non-consensual searches and the right to detain a person until the arrival of the appropriate state or territory police. That is appropriate as well. The legislation has importance for my community in Blair and for communities across the country for the reason the Minister for Defence outlined in his second reading speech. He outlined just how many bases there are, how many assets there are, how many communities across Australia are affected by military personnel and how many bases there are which provide an economic driver in communities across the country. We are protecting not just our military assets but the economies of the communities across Australia with this legislation. And for that I am very pleased to support the legislation.
I welcome the opportunity this afternoon to make some comments on the Defence Legislation Amendment (Security of Defence Premises) Bill 2010. We all remember where we were on the night—it was night here in Australia—of 11 September 2001. That was the night we saw the vision of aircraft being flown into the World Trade Center towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington. It demonstrated the extent to which our enemies will go. It demonstrated that, in the pursuit of terrorist objectives, attacks on the defenceless will occur. And it demonstrated the evil nature of Islamic extremists.
On the night of September 11 I was serving as the brigade major, or G3, of 13 Brigade in Perth. That evening was parade night at the Army Reserve, so it was somewhat fortunate, from our perspective in Perth, that everybody was on base. That assisted us to immediately comply with the orders that came very quickly out of Canberra to lock down the base—to lock the gates and start patrolling. From that night on, security changed markedly. The system of base security alerts was modified and remained high for a very long time.
The level of security has been greatly enhanced in the years since. We have come to know that we face threats not just from external organisations such as al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiah but also from within. There is, you might say, a fifth column in this country. There are people who do not wish us well. Unfortunately, some of those who do not wish us well have benefited from the refugee, immigration and welfare systems in this country and yet try to tear down the majority culture that created the very systems that assisted them. If it were not such a deadly serious matter we might laugh at the irony of it all.
We recall the Sydney terrorist plot in 2005, when five men were arrested and then charged with planning terrorist attacks in Sydney. Their trials commenced in late 2008 and concluded in mid-2009 with sentences of between 23 and 28 years. In 2005, a number of men were also arrested in Melbourne. Among those now-convicted terrorists was Abdul Benbrika, who was a person who had eluded and worked the immigration system to avoid deportation before finally obtaining authority to stay by marrying an Australian Islamic woman of Lebanese descent. It has been widely reported that for the 19 years leading up to his arrest in 2005 he received welfare payments and did not ever work. Together with government payments for his family of seven children, that enabled him to devote his time to studying the Quran and then teaching others. He was an increasingly radical Islamic cleric. He was drawing others to him to assist in his plans for terrorism. Fortunately, this was recognised by some in the Melbourne Islamic community, which resulted in the police and security agencies being tipped off and the initiation of Operation Pendennis. Operation Pendennis resulted in a total of 17 arrests in Melbourne and Sydney and the closing down of Benbrika’s plans to attack the MCG.
In August 2009, five people were arrested for allegedly planning an armed attack on Holsworthy army base. Three were of Somali origin and two of Lebanese. It has been said that they were members of the Somali based Islamic terrorist group al-Shabaab. It has been said that they planned to attack the base and kill as many soldiers as they could. For those who are not of military background I can say that there would not normally be any soldiers wandering around Holsworthy Barracks with loaded weapons with which they could defend themselves. Therefore, the vast majority of service personnel, whether they were in uniform or not, would have been greatly vulnerable to such an attack. The fact that the police and security agencies under Operation Neath were able to thwart this plan was greatly welcomed.
It is in the context of our very recent history that this bill is now before the House. This bill will put in place a legal basis for upgraded security at bases, in particular at the entrances and around the perimeters. In the case of future attack or of action being taken against a base or personnel on a base, this legislation will allow the reasonable and necessary force to be applied. As a former Army officer I have a good recollection of how base security used to operate and I therefore looked very carefully through this legislation. I was looking for amendments that would facilitate the sort of security that could oppose the attacks that were planned by the sorts of home-grown terrorists that have been detected in recent years. Before speaking on the specifics of the amendments, I will relate an experience from 1992 which demonstrates one way to conduct security at military bases.
In 1992 I was fortunate to be selected to go to the United Kingdom to participate in a command post exercise named Exercise Duang Rat. Apparently, it was named after a Hanoi restaurant where this command post exercise was originally devised by some planners. It was a combined exercise that included American, British, Canadian, Australian and even New Zealand personnel and was conducted at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, in England. In 1992 the threat from the IRA still existed. The CPX was not like most command post exercises. It was not 24 hours a day for several days; it was nine to five. That gave us the opportunity to visit the local culture, which I appreciated—I would remind members that I was not the older, mature person that you see before you but was in my 20s at the time. However, the British Army decided that they would put on a bus for all these officers visiting from overseas. They did not want these people from the base, who were visiting the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, out in the local pubs because they considered that the IRA could very easily have sympathisers and agents locally who would take advantage of the situation in whatever way they could. So they put on a bus and took us out to a more distant pub to enjoy the cultural experience. When they faced exactly that sort of situation they came up with a specialised plan.
Although we do not face that sort of situation—the organised terrorism that the IRA waged upon the United Kingdom—we nevertheless face certain levels of threat. There was quite a difference in the approach to base security from that in Australia. Here, contract security manned the gates at our bases—at that point I was close to Enoggera in Queensland. But when we came back through the gate at Sandhurst later that evening, armed Gurkha soldiers were on the gate. As we wandered along the dark paths between the front gate and our accommodation at Victory College it was not uncommon to come face to face with a couple of fully armed Gurkhas patrolling the grounds. That was a different set of circumstances, there is no doubt about it. Yet it does therefore pose the question: had the plot to attack Holsworthy Barracks had got to the point of these people turning up with weapons, what could actually have been done to counter that attack with the amendments to the Defence Act that have been put forward in this legislation? With that thought I would like to turn to the legislation more specifically.
Firstly, the three types of defence security officials are now clearly defined: under section 71B, again, the contract defence security guards; 71C, security authorised members of the Defence Force, who are actually uniform members of the defence; and 71D, defence security screening employees or, in other words, contractors, uniform military personnel and members of the Australian Public Service. All three have certain amounts of responsibility but it is only the uniform security authorised members of the Defence Force that have the full range of responsibilities under the legislation.
Section 71H—the power to request evidence of identification and the authority to pass an access control point and to undergo a limited search—has a certain appeal. It is held by all defence security officials. Under 71H a person may be refused access and, if actually on defence premises, restrained and detained if they have refused to identify themselves or submit to a search or if they have complied and they are deemed to be a threat if allowed access or likely to commit an offence, and in those cases they can be restrained and detained.
As the minister has already said in his second reading speech, in practice the normal application of consensual identification and search powers will be applied by the contract security guards, normally at low and medium threat levels. I do particularly appreciate the provisions of sections 71R, 71S and 71T which provide for non-consensual search for persons about to pass a defence access control point, vehicles about to pass defence access control points and persons already on defence premises in circumstances of risk and reasonable belief. Although these provisions would more frequently be applied in responding to high levels of threat, this is nevertheless good as these powers are clearly defined, and that is appreciated. And to pick up on a point that has been raised as well, the increase in the penalty for trespassing from $40 up to a maximum of $5½ thousand is certainly appropriate.
In the limited time I have left to speak, I make mention of the four principles of security. These are to deter, detect, delay and respond. This bill, as the minister has said, rightly serves to deter, detect and respond. Increased and better defined powers will provide a disincentive to those who seek to wrongly enter or attack defence premises or defence personnel. The better use and control of identification will shore up the shortcomings regarding defence. The ability of defence security officials to refuse access, to identify and to search all provide an accurate image of bases and defence facilities that are harder to access and where a more focused culture of security will put those up to no good under more pressure. The legislation will provide additional deterrence in making our bases more secure and safer and, with regard to the principles of detection, should those who have criminal plans not be deterred by the increased security regime then their attempts to actually access or attack on defence premises will face an increased likelihood of being detected. This will come either through the identification search or the authority the defence will have to use CCTV, and then that can be passed on to enable prosecution.
Although the security principle of delay is not covered in this legislation, I believe in the past 10 years there has been an increased appreciation of base security by the base commanders. I believe that increased physical security arrangements to do with fencing, lighting and surveillance would be a basic responsibility of base commanders. It is certainly the case that there are officers who are held up with administration for base security and it is their responsibility to identify the shortcomings and then raise those shortcomings through the chain of command. If they do not do that then they are deficient in their responsibilities. If they make practice of doing that then obviously the chain of command has to address those issues because if the physical security needs of the base are deficient then a lot of what is proposed here can be undone so very easily.
In conclusion, let us look at what could have happened in August 2009 when those men were arrested in planning their attack. What would have happened if they had turned up with weapons ready to attack? The reality is that there would likely have been almost no-one available with live ammunition who could have responded and so, in the future—not that we need to go into it here because these are matters of security on base—there has to be access to weapons and live ammunition so that a response can be generated. I think that is the case regardless of whether there is a high-level threat at the time, because, as we know, these threats can come at short notice. There has to be a willingness to respond. So we look forward to what the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee can come up with and we look forward to the passage of this bill at some point in the future when any problems have been fixed. (Time expired)
I rise today to speak on theDefence Legislation Amendment (Security of Defence Premises) Bill 2010. I, like all members in this House, indeed people across Australia, was absolutely shocked and mortified to hear in media reports that there was a planned terrorist attack by al-Shabaab on Holsworthy Army base, that there was an intention by six accused men to enter the base, killing as many military and civilian personnel as possible—indeed, allowing themselves to be killed. At the time, it forced us to ask the question as to whether our bases were being adequately protected. Were the men and women who defend our nation’s rights and freedoms being adequately protected at the base gate?
I remember at the time, as the shadow minister for defence science and personnel and assisting shadow minister for defence, examining the call on whether it was time to re-institute uniformed personnel on the parameters and at the gates of our defence bases. That after this the Daily Telegraph and media crews were also able to gain deep access inside Holsworthy raised further concerns about whether the government was serious about protecting these defence interests. I raise that again today because this incident occurred in August 2009 and here we are in October 2010 and we are only starting to address this bill.
This bill now attempts to do three things. Firstly, it strengthens the legal regime for ADF members who may be required to use reasonable and necessary force in the event of a terrorist attack on a defence base. Secondly, it establishes a statutory regime of search-and-seizure powers in order to reduce the risk of unauthorised items entering defence facilities or restricted items being improperly removed. Finally, it updates the existing trespass offence and associated arrest powers in the act to clarify that defence has certain adequate powers to deal with unauthorised entry to all defence facilities.
What needs to be first and foremost put into position is the protection of the people who service our nation and our military assets through the Australian Defence Force. In my electorate of Paterson I actually have no military bases now, but literally across the road there is RAAF Base Williamtown. Many of the personnel at that base and their families reside within my electorate of Paterson. I know the assets we have at RAAF Base Williamtown. We are home to the premier F18 squadron in Australia. We are home to the Hawk lead-in fighter. The Wedgetail is now being based there. But that is only a small part of what we do. We also have the eastern regional operation and command centre. There are many things at Williamtown that serve our nation well. But first and foremost they need to be protected.
It would worry me if a terrorist organisation sought to breach the parameters of Williamtown RAAF base and inflict damage upon the personnel—we still have single persons accommodation at Williamtown RAAF base. It would worry me if they sought to destroy the military assets we have there and render us incapable by destroying our F18s. It would worry me if they were able to launch an attack on the eastern regional operation and command centre and then basically put Australia, in part, out of action for a while. These are the things that concern me and concern the Australian public. The security risk at Williamtown is amplified by the fact that on the other side of the base is the lease to the Newcastle Airport Corporation. That in itself provides security risks for our base. Having officers of the public, contracted personnel, providing security for our base without the opportunity to stop, using lethal means if necessary, a terrorist attack on our base worries me.
In other words, before this bill came through, in a threat situation our security officers might have acted with a great deal of courage and determination to deter it but, at the end of the day, were they leaving themselves legally liable for any action that they took? The question still remains: should our defence bases be secured by defence personnel covered by the Defence Act? This expansion of the Defence Act to allow security of temperament in the knowledge that if contracted personnel apply lethal force or measures they will have a level of protection is applauded. But I have to question this government’s attitude and determination—and I admit that there have been a few months out for an election—because here we are 14 months after the fact. There was an inquiry and the upgrading of the security details of bases. They were subject to a security classification.
I note that the member for Oxley is so wound up on this issue that he is not even speaking on it. He is not even going to contribute except for interjections. That is because he cares very little about the defence of our nation and the people who defend it. The member for Oxley would have put his name down to speak on the bill if he were indeed concerned about the people who serve our nation. But he is not. So he seeks to add by interjection rather than by real contribution to this debate.
I say this to the people of Australia: the coalition is committed to the people in the Australian Defence Force. This was the first time, as is publicly known, that there was ever a planned terrorist attack—and this time by al-Shabaab—on the defence of our nation on Australian soil. The delays in the response worry me greatly. There needs to be further examination of opportunities. I welcome the fact that on 30 September the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade took a reference for further inquiry. We await their report on 16 November. It will be encouraging if there are any modifications. The coalition’s position on this is that we have an open mind, even though we are supporting this legislation because it is good for the support of our defence personnel. But if further improvements to this legislation can be made, then I think that in a bipartisan manner we need to make sure that we examine and then adopt any strong recommendations because, as I say, at the forefront is our need to support the men and women in uniform. We ask so much of them and, in relative terms, we give so little. I think it is incumbent on any side of government of any political persuasion to make sure we support the men and women of our defence forces.
We will support this legislation because we do not want to see any repeats. We do not want to see what could happen if indeed terrorists do breach the front gate. I think we need to take security within Australia and our defence forces a little more seriously than they have been taken in the past. I think we had become a little bit slack—perhaps it was the Australian way of ‘she’ll be right’. In this case, when the issue was identified through investigative means, it was able to be stopped. But if this were a single person inflicting damage, who left no trail by which they could be picked up—without any telephone calls, without any information going out—then what would the result have been? That is what we need to consider. So, in supporting this legislation, I say that the coalition is 100 per cent committed to our Australian Defence Force men and women, and we need to make sure that they and the assets they work with are fully and adequately protected.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. I note that, despite the interjections, the member for Oxley, given the opportunity for government members to speak, has not risen to speak on this bill.
I rise to speak on the Defence Legislation Amendment (Security of Defence Premises) Bill 2010, which sets out specific actions that can be taken to ensure the security of defence bases, facilities, assets and personnel within Australia in response to the changing nature of security threats. This amendment bill will insert part VIA into the Defence Act 1903 and make associated amendments to the Australian Federal Police Act 1979. The bill will protect, by legal means, the actions taken to defend Defence Force facilities. The bill will also give some comfort to families of defence personnel and to local communities living and working near Defence Force facilities.
The need for such a bill became apparent when, in August 2009, four men were arrested for allegedly planning an armed attack against Holsworthy army base. In a newspaper report from the Daily Telegraph dated 27 October 2009, one of the men allegedly made a chilling pledge to ‘take out as many victims as possible’. The ABC news of 14 September 2009 reported that the man had told his co-conspirators, ‘The work was easy and the base was a suitable target.’ These events brought home the reality that the threat of terrorism in Australia is real and current and that defence facilities and personnel are potentially attractive targets for such groups. A subsequent review of defence protective security arrangements recommended a number of policy and physical security initiatives to complement and strengthen existing security at defence bases.
At present Defence employs private contractors to man the gates and entrances to defence bases around Australia. These contractors administer the right of entrance to the bases based upon the production of the necessary identification and security clearances to enter a base. Additionally, Defence also maintains a range of physical and personnel security measures coupled with intelligence to provide a layered response to mitigate threats. But in view of the changing security environment and specifically the increased risk of terrorism, it has become necessary to upgrade the security measures, to both guard the entrances to the base and to effectively secure the perimeters of such bases.
A primary concern following the attempted attacks on the Holsworthy Barracks army base was that defence personnel did not have a clear legal right to defend themselves. The coalition and, I must note also, the Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Houston, had indeed expressed concern at the time that under the current laws Defence Force personnel could be facing legal action if they used force to defend themselves. We need to do all we can to protect those who are serving our nation, their families and our communities.
The amendments in this bill ensure that authorised personnel securing a defence base will have the powers to use reasonable and necessary force, including lethal force, in connection with an attack on defence premises. The amendments also establish a statutory regime of search and seizure powers to reduce the risk of dangerous items entering defence facilities, or material and classified information being unlawfully removed. The bill will amend section 82 of the Defence Act 1903 to update and relocate the trespass offence and related arrest powers. These powers will include the use of overt optical surveillance devices to monitor the security of defence premises. Under the changes, the information captured by these devices can be disclosed to law enforcement agencies and Commonwealth, state and territory public prosecution authorities.
This bill is a response to the challenge of the changing nature of security threats. I am particularly interested in this bill because the Richmond RAAF Base and Glenbrook Air Command RAAF Base are both located in the electorate of Macquarie. It is in the nation’s interest to put measures in place that protect and secure the people and infrastructure of this and other Defence Force establishments.
The Richmond RAAF Base holds a unique place in Australia’s aviation history, being the first Air Force base established in New South Wales and the second within Australia. Sir Charles Kingsford Smith landed the Southern Cross there after his historic trans-Pacific flight in 1928, and Miss Jean Batten landed there after her solo flight from England in 1935. During World War II the base became vitally important to Australia’s defence, with several squadrons based there and its use as an aircraft depot. Since that time, the Richmond RAAF has evolved from a primarily combat centre to providing logistical support and airlift fleet. The RAAF Glenbrook has been the base of Air Command since 1953. The base was established at Glenbrook after World War II, when the RAAF east command was moved there from Bradfield Park, Sydney, because Bradfield Park was within the eight kilometres of a possible Sydney nuclear attack zone. The base at Glenbrook was operational by the end of 1949.
My interest in this bill is not just about security measures for the base. I have had an affiliation with the base for over 30 years, where I have formed many lifelong friends. In recent years as a local member I have come to know more of the men and women working there as I am out and about in an official capacity on the base. Last year I spent a week on the base as part of the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program, which gave me a much deeper appreciation of their unique service.
Certainly, in all my contact both here and with members of the Defence Force generally, I have been impressed by the integrity, commitment, compassion and professionalism of our men and women. That is why I, along with many other Australians, was deeply concerned when the thwarted terrorist attack on Holsworthy Army base was reported. It was a serious and sobering reminder of the world that we live in today. All would agree that after the Holsworthy incident there needed to be further steps taken to enhance security arrangements and protocols. There will be costs associated with the bill’s measures and the coalition will be questioning the government and holding it to account on what that expenditure will be and how it specifically relates to the existing cost cap of $329 million, allocated over the forward estimates from within the defence budget provision for the base security improvement program.
The proposed amendments are divided into seven divisions. The first and second divisions deal with terminology defining who does what and what the levels of security responsibility are. The third division deals with the powers that authorised defence security officials may exercise with consent. Importantly, there are measures in place to penalise any security official taking action not authorised under division 3—for example, conducting a limited search of a person who did not consent.
Division 4 relates to the exercise of powers without consent. It is important to note that this power only relates to qualified personnel covered under the generic term ‘special defence security official’, which excludes a contracted defence security guard. Division 4 gives additional powers to special defence security officials to remove a person from the premises if they refuse a request to leave. Division 5 relates to powers of seizure. This provision relates only to special defence security officials and provides them with the power to seize an item, such as a vehicle, vessel, aircraft or unattended item, if they believe, on reasonable grounds, that the item constitutes a threat.
Division 6 addresses the need for security authorised contractors and special defence security officials to prominently display ID cards at all times. Division 6 also provides for the exercise of powers by a defence security screening officer, given consent, when it is not practicable for that power to be exercised by a security authorised member of the Defence Force. Division 7 makes it an offence for persons to enter defence premises or accommodation without authorisation.
Specific subclauses are also useful for wider scrutiny. Proposed section 71X addresses the key concerns that many members of the public had following the incident at Holsworthy Army base. Under this section, security authorised members of the Defence Force may respond if an attack on defence premises is occurring or is imminent and the attack is likely to result in the death of or serious injury to one or more persons on the defence premises. While this power allows use of force, including a lethal use of force, it only applies to security authorised members of the Defence Force. Under proposed section 72A, a defence security screening officer may exercise the powers of a special defence security official in the event that it is not reasonably practicable to wait. Proposed section 72G allows a defence security official to exercise a reasonable use of force and limits defence security guards and defence security screening employees from using lethal force or causing grievous bodily harm.
The bill contains a range of allowable actions, appropriate to each level of authorised security personnel. The bill also protects the rights of visitors to the Defence Force base if they have a legitimate right to be there. These amendments needed to be made after the attempted plot at the Holsworthy Army base. We need to ensure that our defence facilities have the highest level of protection against all threats. We owe it to the nation, the members of the Defence Force, their families and indeed the communities who live and work near Defence Force facilities to support members of the Defence Force in the exercise of their duty of protecting us. It is a mutual obligation of the highest order and this bill sets out measures that will provide that support. I commend the bill to the House.
in reply—I thank the members who have contributed to this debate. I respectively thank the members for Blair, Cowan, Fadden, Macquarie and Paterson. The government is very pleased that we have been able to bring the Defence Legislation Amendment (Security of Defence Premises) Bill 2010 back before the House after the election. A comparable bill, of course, was presented to the parliament before the last election and the proroguing of the parliament. As I thank individual members for their contribution, I make the point that I have not had the opportunity of listening to all of those contributions. I will, of course, consider all of the contributions in detail and respond to members in writing if appropriate or required.
If I see anything in those contributions, or anything in the pending report of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, which might require some technical or other amendment then I am very happy to consider or progress that. The security of our defence facilities is, of course, very important. This is why the government has responded in the aftermath of the incident at Holsworthy. We very much look forward to further parliamentary consideration of this matter in the other place. I thank members for their contribution and, if required, I will respond to them in detail in the future.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Ordered that this bill be reported to the House without amendment.