Wednesday, 30 May 2012
Maritime Powers Bill 2012; Second Reading
That this bill be now read a second time.
I am pleased to introduce the Maritime Powers Bill 2012. The maritime domain poses particular challenges to the effective enforcement of laws. Enforcement operations in maritime areas frequently occur in remote locations, isolated from the support normally available to land-based operations and constrained by the practicalities involved in sea-based work.
Commonwealth officers across a range of portfolios work tirelessly on the community's behalf to enforce Australia's maritime laws. This work often takes place in treacherous conditions. We owe it to these hardworking Australians to provide a legal framework that fully supports their commitment by being tailored to the conditions and recognising the inherent difficulties of the environment.
Under the current legislative structure, operational agencies use powers contained in at least 35 separate Commonwealth acts. This structure is inefficient and can lead to operational difficulties for the primary on-water enforcement agencies.
The government has undertaken an extensive review of existing arrangements. The product of that review is the Maritime Powers Bill. The bill provides a smarter and simpler approach to maritime enforcement through a single maritime enforcement law. This single law consolidates and harmonises the Commonwealth's existing maritime enforcement regime. The powers contained in the bill are modelled on powers currently available to operational agencies.
Outline of bill
The bill contains a comprehensive framework for enforcing Australia's laws at sea.
The bill establishes a system of authorisations under which a maritime officer may exercise enforcement powers in the maritime domain.
In addition to providing the necessary operational flexibility, this system of authorisations puts in place a range of safeguards to make sure maritime enforcement powers are authorised and exercised appropriately and for a proper purpose.
A key safeguard is the requirement for the exercise of powers to be authorised on specific grounds by a senior maritime officer or member of the Australian Federal Police.
This provides clarity around who must make decisions to take enforcement action and ensures appropriate oversight in relation to the exercise of powers.
The types of authorisations available under the bill will cover the full variety of situations which arise in the maritime environment, including fishing, customs and migration matters.
Once an authorisation is in force, a maritime officer generally has access to the full suite of powers set out in the bill.
The powers contained in the bill are based on powers currently available to operational agencies and under the bill the role and functions of these agencies will not change.
The powers include searching things and people, seizing and retaining things, boarding of vessels and requiring persons to cease conduct that contravenes Australian law.
Enforcement powers under the bill will be exercised by officers of the Australian Defence Force, Customs, the Australian Federal Police, and other persons appointed to conduct enforcement and monitoring activities in the maritime environment.
The Australian government is committed to ensuring that Australia's laws are monitored and enforced in the maritime domain. The unique aspects of the maritime environment merit a tailored approach to maritime powers, helping to ensure flexibility in their exercise and to assist maritime officers to deal with quickly changing circumstances and often difficult and dangerous situations.
As the Leader of the House noted recently, we are getting on with the business of government. These reforms are just one aspect of the government's work to provide Australia with a modern legal framework.
This bill will streamline and modernise Australia's legal framework for maritime enforcement and thereby support the hardworking Australians who work on our behalf to uphold Australia's maritime laws. I commend the bill to the House.