House debates

Monday, 13 February 2017


Transport Security Amendment (Serious or Organised Crime) Bill 2016; Second Reading

12:20 pm

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) Share this | Hansard source

I rise somewhat belatedly because it has taken some time for the Transport Security Amendment (Serious or Organised Crime) Bill 2016 to get to a debate in this chamber. To that end, I move an amendment that has been circulated in my name, which reads as follows:

That all the words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading, the House:

(1) notes that the Government failed to articulate a policy for the aviation or maritime sectors at the 2016 Federal election;

(2) notes the Turnbull Government's failed WorkChoices On Water legislation would have seriously undermined the Australian maritime sector;

(3) notes in particular that the Government has:

(a) failed to rule out further laws in coastal shipping that would aid the displacement of Australian crews on the Australian coast with foreign crews doing the same work for reduced wages and conditions;

(b) failed to outline its response to the High Court's decision to overturn the Government's attempt to circumvent Parliament's intention to give priority to Australian jobs in our offshore oil and gas sector;

(c) actively worked to facilitate the replacement of Australian maritime crews by foreign crews for permanent work in Australia, by arranging rapid visas, skills recognition and access to ports in cases such as the MV Portland in January 2016; and

(d) previously considered relaxing air cabotage arrangements that could have the effect of displacing Australian flight and cabin crews with foreign crews on lower wages and conditions while working in Australia; and

(4) notes that the Government and its expert agencies have repeatedly acknowledged the obvious point that criminal and security vetting of foreign aviation and maritime workers is much harder than for Australian workers; and

(5) calls on the Federal Government to develop as a matter of urgency aviation and maritime policies, ensuring that such policies prioritise jobs and skills for Australians while also facilitating more reliable background checks".

Security standards in Australia's maritime and aviation sector should have nothing to do with politics. Public safety should be the only priority. For most of the time, that is the case, whether the Labor Party is in government or the coalition parties are in government. Laws and regulations relating to the security of ports and airports need to be tough and clear so that Australians and criminals who might wish us harm are in no doubt of the strength of our resolve to keep our nation safe. The legislation which is before us today would toughen background checks on workers in airports and in the maritime sector.

Under existing arrangements, people applying for aviation security identification cards, or ASICs, and maritime security identification cards, or MSICs, undergo background checks, and those checks are designed to establish whether applicants have links with terrorist organisations. This bill would add an extra layer of checking, to ensure that applicants have no links to serious and organised crime. Therefore the opposition will not oppose this bill, but we will be proposing amendments to this legislation, both in the form of the second reading amendment that I have just moved and in the form of consideration-in-detail amendments, because we certainly take security seriously.

I have had the privilege of serving as the transport minister, and, when that was the case, we introduced a range of legislation to ensure that security was maintained at our ports and airports. We have quite an enviable record in this country, and it is appropriate that we take advice from experts when it comes to aviation and maritime security. We are, however, very deeply concerned indeed about the glaring inconsistencies in the government's approach, particularly when it comes to maritime security but also, of course, aviation security, and that is the point of the second reading amendment that I have moved.

When it comes to ideology before common sense, what happened during the last term of government, in both the aviation and the maritime sectors, was that various people, some of whom have moved on—I speak of Andrew Robb, the former minister for trade—had a real flat-earth approach to competition in the sector. They refused to acknowledge that both aviation and transport are global industries that have within them, however, national interests and that governments around the world understand the importance of having either a domestic aviation industry or a domestic shipping industry and therefore put in place regulations that ensure that that can occur.

If we have unilateral disarmament, if you like, in the form of regulation unlike the rest of the world, there is the potential for Australia, as an island continent located where we are in the world, to not have an aviation or a maritime sector. When it came to aviation, the former minister had a view that I know was opposed by many—particularly in the National Party and regional members—which was that you could open up cabotage, remove the preference for Australian aviation, in the northern part of Australia, as a first step, and foreign carriers could come in, and that would somehow solve problems by providing reduced airfares. Of course, what Qantas and Virgin—and the various subsidiary airlines that they operate—stated would happen was that you would have a withdrawal of those sectors that rely upon cross-subsidy, if you like, within the aviation sector from operating in northern Australia. So you would have a withdrawal of Qantas and Virgin, effectively, from those regional airline routes and they would just concentrate on the highly profitable Sydney-Melbourne and Sydney-Brisbane and other major routes. So routes to and from places like Mount Isa, Cloncurry, Charleville and Bundaberg, and other routes in regional Queensland, in particular, would stop. Roma is the first step on the way to further destinations. In New South Wales, the same thing happens with routes like Taree and Grafton and other routes; you would have a withdrawal. Then, of course, the next step would be to just allow them to fly to Adelaide. And, because the Australian companies could not compete with those airlines offering fares based upon, essentially, Third World wages and Third World conditions and safety checks—safety checks that are not of the same standard that we have here in Australia—you would have a competitive disadvantage for Australian carriers and they would withdraw. That would lead to ongoing consequences for the people and the economies of regional Australia.

But in the end, that proposal was resisted and defeated in the early period of the Abbott government. It was defeated because of the principled actions of some people in the coalition and of the Labor Party, but also, of course, from those regional communities, themselves, who understood what the consequences were. There are also consequences for national security because the truth is you cannot have the same level of checks that are required with ASIC and MSIC in the transport sector as you have for foreign employees. The same thing has happened with the government's Work Choices on water legislation in the maritime sector: legislation that was defeated in the parliament. The explanatory memorandum for the bill outlined that it would result in the replacement of the Australian flagged vessels with foreign flagged vessels and Australian crews with foreign crews being paid cheaper wages and conditions. And that, indeed, was the advice that the department was giving out to people like Mr Milby, the cruise ship operator in the Kimberley who gave evidence before the Senate committee which led, in part, to that legislation been defeated.

But what has happened is that the government has circumvented its own legislation and has ignored the national security implications behind that, let alone the issues of safety. The national security implications were completely dismissed when the government, for ideological reasons, agreed to a temporary licence to replace the MV Portland. The MV Portland operated between the smelter at Portland and the Western Australian coast. It picked up the natural resources and went around Portland—one top and then back again. It was anything but temporary. For more than a decade, that ship went from one location to another, to and fro, employing Australians—Australians who lived in the local community and people down on that southern coast of Victoria. Yet, on the replacement vessel, people were granted special migration visas and cleared to take that ship to Singapore to be sold off. It was replaced by a foreign vessel without any clear indication about what the implications were for our national security.

That move destroyed Australian jobs. And today, we are being asked with this legislation to toughen the background check on Australian mariners in the name of security but, on the other hand in practice, this government is allowing for temporary licences to be issued with minimal checks—a free-for-all around our coasts. Where do these ships go around our coasts? They go into our ports and into our harbours. The idea that there are not national security implications! I say this in the sincerest way possible, we have not sought to engage in a campaign that is provocative about these sorts of issues. When a ship is in Sydney Harbour or in Brisbane port or in Port Phillip—and many of our harbours located in the most densely populated areas of Australia—you want to be pretty clear and pretty sure that the security of those people who would seek to do us harm is looked at. Do not say on the one hand, 'We want a free-for-all, we want to get rid of the Australian flag, we want to get rid of the Australian crews around our coastlines,' and say on the other hand, 'If you're an Australian working at a port, we're going to further toughen up even further the security clearances that you have to go through.'

So I say to the government, and I say to the minister who is here in the chamber, with respect: Minister, you have a great responsibility. I know that you have taken these issues seriously and have been prepared to sit down and engage with people in the sector and that is to your credit. But put the ideology of the free market aside because it does not work for Australia's economic interests. It does not work for our environmental interests because every one of the major incidents around our coastlines—the Shen Neng and the other disasters that have occurred—have all had something in common: they have all had a foreign flag on the back of the ship. They have all had a mariner who has said that they were not aware that they had to turn through the reef at the appropriate time, and they have crashed into the reef causing a great deal of damage. Australian mariners know the coastline, they have the skills, they have the training and they have the long-term commitment to the national interests. But it is also in our national security interests to have an Australian maritime sector.

I offer again to work with the government in the national interest to get outcomes that would see a growth in the Australian flag—rather than a reduction in the Australian flag—around our coasts. Because—and you do not have to spell it out; common sense tells you—there are people in the world who seek to do us harm, who seek to cause incidents. We know that our security agencies work very hard, and they are doing a great job. I am someone who has been prepared to call it out as I see it; our infrastructure is obviously an area of vulnerability. That is why it is fine to toughen up MSIC cards and ASIC cards—and we will respond constructively to any proposals that come forward. But you cannot do that on the one hand—say we are going to have increased checks of Australians—and on the other hand actually replace those Australians with people who cannot possibly have undergone the same level of checking. That is why this amendment also refers to the High Court decision which overturned the government's legislation seeking to undermine the priority to be given to Australians working in the offshore oil and gas sector. It is almost at the point where it just defies common sense—when the court decision came down, we had Senator Cash give an ideological statement in the Senate, opposing the court's actions—what could go wrong in the oil and gas sector in terms of security! I mean seriously; if people do not understand that, then there is something very, very wrong.

In the last campaign, Labor put forward a comprehensive shipping policy. It covered the full range of maritime issues including security, industry taxation arrangements, workforce planning, cruise shipping, ports, the Australian International Shipping Register and Labor's approach to coastal trading. We have an aviation policy that sets out all of our policy principles for that sector. Indeed, we have put in place mechanisms that have seen a considerable growth in the Australian aviation sector, and I think the success of Virgin and Qantas, as the two major carriers—particularly Qantas as our major international carrier—has been something of which we can all be proud. When it comes to issues of aviation and shipping, that—in part—is how the world sees us as well. I think it is important that the flying kangaroo on the back of a plane is seen in Los Angeles, Beijing or London, or in Johannesburg, Bangkok or Tokyo—anywhere in our region. That really says to people: this is an iconic Australian company. That has a great deal to do with promoting our nation. And we know also that one of the things we can point to in that sector is security and safety, and our proud record. Australian carriers and Australian ships have an extraordinary record, second to none in the world, We should make sure that we recognise that.

This bill would amend the Transport Security Assessment Act and the Maritime Transport and Offshore Facilities Act. These acts concern the issuance of MSICs and ASICs. It comes to us as a response to a recommendation from the National Ice Taskforce for greater rigour in guarding against drug smuggling in ports and airports through a toughening of background checks. The opposition agrees strongly with the need to secure our borders against drug smugglers. We would also like to see the government increase its focus on the treatment of people whose lives are being ruined by drug addiction. Drug abuse is a serious problem affecting tens of thousands of Australians. Law enforcement is important, but so is helping the victims of dealers of hard drugs to recover from their addiction, so they can improve their own lives and make positive contributions to our community.

This legislation came to the House in the 44th Parliament, and I noted then the opposition's concern about whether the addition of an organised crime check to the existing terrorism check might inadvertently reduce the level of rigour that applies to the terrorism check. That remains our concern, and we put that on the record. For example, when people are engaged in security checks through our airports, they are concerned with a very narrow task—which is keeping people on those planes, in those airports and in those areas safe. That is their one priority. They concentrate on what they are looking for because, if they were looking for everything then, by definition, they would be diluting the concentration on the issues at hand—and when it comes to the threats to our airports and ports, the main issue at hand has to be terrorism. It has to be. And so we seek assurance from the government that this broadening of the definition will not dilute that concentration.

For many years, the number of Australian flagged vessels operating in coastal trade has been an issue. Labor tried to arrest the decline by having the Revitalising Australian Shipping package; a series of mechanisms working with industry, with unions and with the sector, including the Navy, around those issues. We think that is particularly important. There is a security element to the importance of our national legislation as well.

In a submission to a Senate inquiry into the increasing use of flag of convenience vessels in Australian waters, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection rang alarm bells about the use of overseas vessels. It said:

There are features of FOC registration, regulation and practice that organised crime syndicates or terrorists may seek to exploit.

This is the government's own department. It went on to say that in many flag of convenience nations, there was limited transparency about the identity of the owners of vessels. It said:

Reduced transparency or secrecy surrounding complex financial and ownership arrangements are factors that can make FOC ships more attractive for use in illegal activity, including by organised crime or terrorist groups.

This means that FOC ships may be used in a range of illegal activities including illegal exploitation of natural resources, illegal activity in protected areas, people smuggling and facilitating prohibited imports.

The security advisers, the Department of Immigration and Border Security, under the coalition government, could not have been any clearer in their advice to the government. There is greater security risk in using overseas vessels whose crews have not been properly vetted, than it is to use Australian vessels, with clear ownership lines of accountability, crewed by Australians whose backgrounds have been carefully examined by the authorities.

The government chose to ignore this advice about the growth of flags of convenience rather than Australian flagged vessels, yet today it wants our support to toughen checks on Australian transport workers. In the words of the great John McEnroe: 'You cannot be serious.' You have to look at both. You have to look at proper checks on Australian workers but also take account of those alarm bells. I note that this minister is conscious of those issues, and I hope that we can work together to get reforms. The amendment that I have moved is very important in addressing these issues.

A High Court judgement last August exposed the government's zeal for facilitating the replacement of Australian workers with cheap overseas labour. In December 2015, the government granted working visa exemptions to overseas workers on oil and gas rigs in Australian waters. The government argued that oil rigs were vessels; they were not rigs at all. It wanted to help employers to cut costs by hiring overseas workers instead of Australians. In August, the High Court ruled the exemption invalid and declared that the minister for immigration had exceeded his authority. The government has made no formal response to the judgement. But, in comments to The Guardian, reported on 31 August last year, the minister for immigration made no apologies for exceeding his authority to put Australians out of work. Instead, he complained that requiring overseas workers to go through the working visa process would increase costs.

Given these comments, it is clear that we need to do much better. The temporary licences for vessels such as the replacement of the MV Portland with a foreign vessel crewed by overseas mariners should not happen again. The government should rule out changes to air cabotage, because it is very clear that that is not an appropriate change at all. Also, the government has exceeded the changes which are in the bill. This arises from the National Ice Taskforce. There is a big change here. Instead of having the recommendation as 'serious and organised crime' the legislation refers to 'serious or organised crime'. That is a very important legal distinction to draw. I will be moving an amendment to change this back to the original intention of the experts that were put forward, and I would ask the minister to seriously consider supporting that amendment in the spirit in which it is moved.

We are not moving amendments to legislation such as this just for the sake of it. The minister would know that, in the area of transport and security, I have a record of more than a decade in this place of not attempting to just play politics with it. The amendment that we will move is to bring the legislation in line with the expert recommendations. If you expand it to 'serious or organised crime' as opposed to 'serious and organised crime' you really widen what you are looking at in terms of the impact on the workforce. Overzealous consideration—with the greatest intention—of what that means means that, if you are looking at things that are not serious, you, by definition, are undermining the intent of the bill. So, when it comes to the consideration-in-detail debate we will move that amendment and hope to get the government's support.


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