House debates

Monday, 18 October 2010

Ministerial Statements

National Security

3:52 pm

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Justice, Customs and Border Protection) Share this | Hansard source

While the risk of terrorist attack in Australia remains moderately low, the possibility of one is something that we cannot ignore, and we must prepare for any eventuality in the war against terror. Major counter-terrorism exercises such as Mercury 10 provide a full-scale, real-time test of our capacity and the capacity of our emergency and security services. Australia should be in a constant state of readiness, and exercises such as Mercury 10 are a valuable part of the preparations and training.

Since September 2001 the former coalition government provided over $10.4 billion of funding, up until the years 2010-11, to enhance Australia’s national security and counter-terrorism capacity by increasing the ability of our intelligence services, by boosting Australia’s aviation, maritime and border security and by enhancing our capacity to respond to and manage emergencies.

The coalition understands that isolationism will not make Australia any safer. To meet the security challenge and defeat the terrorist threat Australia must work with our allies and engage with the wider world. Australia’s relationship with the United States of America and our Asian neighbours has never been stronger, thanks to the hard work and dedication of the former Howard government.

Australia has played a strong role in promoting stability and democracy, both within our region and in the wider world, in particular the Middle East. Because strong and stable democracies are most likely to be peaceful allies, promoting stability and democracy abroad is not only right in principle but is in line with our own national interests.

Defending and securing Australia requires two things: a strong will and a strong economy. The Howard government had a very strong track record on both. To protect Australia against terrorism the former coalition government increased ASIO staffing numbers from 580 at the end of 2000-01 to around 1,400 by the end of 2007 and provided funding to increase staffing numbers to 1,860 by the end of next year. We gave our law enforcement agencies the legislative teeth required to combat the threat of terrorism by strengthening the legislative framework for terrorism related offences, and we supported that by constitutional reference of powers from the states.

The former coalition government increased international and regional cooperation in the fight against terrorism through the allocation of $266 million for three successive regional counter-terrorism assistance packages, including the counter-terrorism intelligence cooperation and joint intelligence, the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation, the regional movement alert list and regional law enforcement liaison and capacity building. We also sought to ensure all relevant agencies and jurisdictions were well rehearsed to respond in the most effective way to a terrorist attack by conducting frequent counter-terrorism exercises, and we committed an additional $27.4 million in 2007-08 to maintain and expand the successful National Counter-Terrorism Committee.

In government the coalition increased regional and global cooperation in law enforcement, Customs activities and legal assistance to boost the fight against terrorism and transnational crime. For example, the Australian Federal Police’s international network was expanded to include 33 cities in 27 countries around the globe, enabling effective collaboration with international law enforcement agencies to combat transnational crime including terrorism, illicit drug trafficking, people-smuggling and sexual exploitation. We also established the National Security Hotline in December 2002, which has since received over 140,000 calls. In a report released by the Australian National Audit Office, agencies, including the AFP, ASIO and state and territory police forces, said they placed significant value on the information they received from the hotline.

Following the establishment of the Philippines Bomb Data Centre in 2006 the AFP’s Australian Bomb Data Centre began working with partner law enforcement agencies to establish bomb data centres in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. These centres collect, collate and analyse information concerning explosives incidents, contributing to intelligence on the threat posed by the use of explosives by terrorists.

As the 2010 counter-terrorism white paper noted, effective intelligence cooperation assists significantly in Australia’s ability to disrupt terrorists’ planning and operations before they can target Australians or Australians’ interests, and implement a range of measures to mitigate emerging threats or to inform and contribute to international counter-terrorism efforts. Under the former Howard government Australia worked hard to develop the capacity of security services in countries where Australia has counter-terrorism interests. An example of the value of international intelligence cooperation is Australia’s Counter-Terrorism Intelligence Training Program, which was established in 2005 by the coalition. The program delivers counter-terrorism training and capacity building. The training program contributes to the development of trusted, cooperative relationships with counterpart agencies.

Strong border management is needed to prevent the movement of individuals seeking to enter Australia to conduct terrorist related activities, and we should not be blind in this parliament to the security implications of having porous borders. Over the past decade, as mentioned previously, the former coalition government massively expanded Australia’s border protection and counter-terrorism capabilities through Customs, Defence, state and Federal Police, ASIO and ASIS. We strengthened participation in intelligence sharing with our key allies. We cooperated closely with our key regional partners, in particular Indonesia. The fact that there have been no terrorist attacks in Australia, and few involving Australians abroad, testifies to our substantial success.

In this vital area it is important that the Gillard government continues to build on the good work of its predecessor coalition government. Keeping the Australian people safe is the most basic task of the government. The previous coalition administration left Australia economically, militarily and diplomatically stronger than it has ever been. Anti-terrorism intelligence operations are indeed an important element of national security. Thanks should go from this parliament to our hard-working men and women of our law enforcement and security agencies. Australia’s counterterrorism capability is extensive and the public can be confident that any terrorist incident can be responded to and dealt with effectively.

I would like to associate myself with the Attorney’s concluding remarks. The coalition also commends the work of the 3,500 participants in the national counterterrorism committee exercise Mercury 10. Their dedication has contributed to the improvement of Australia’s counterterrorism capability and this is welcomed by the opposition.


No comments