Thursday, 18 February 2021
Transport Security Amendment (Serious Crime) Bill 2020; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the Transport Security Amendment (Serious Crime) Bill 2020. Transport security—the security of our ports and airports—is fundamental to controlling our borders and to our national security. In this time of COVID, this fact has been made even more acutely clear, as we saw when there was a breakdown of our maritime security clearances with the Ruby Princess, which saw passengers allowed to disembark and take COVID-19 with them around the country and around the world.
One might think that a competent, responsible federal government would recognise the mistakes of the Ruby Princess and prioritise any further transport security legislation appropriately to avoid any further bungles. Instead, what we have is this bill today—poorly thought out, ill defined, an inadequate tinkering with the regime covering the aviation security identification card, ASIC, and the maritime security identification card, MSIC. Both of these cards are an important part of securing the aviation, maritime and offshore oil and gas sectors from acts of terrorism and unlawful interference. Labor supports these schemes as an important tool to ensure that workers hold a valid background check and are not a threat to aviation or maritime security. We know that there are people who want to try and use air and sea transport and travel to bring contraband such as drugs and weapons into Australia or take contraband out of Australia. It's the federal government's responsibility to take sensible measures to deter and detect these crimes and to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Labor would support sensible measures, but this bill, the Transport Security Amendment (Serious Crime) Bill, has a number of serious flaws the government has failed to address. It leaves a big hole in our border security by completely failing to address the issue of foreign crew on ships operating on Australian domestic routes and it adds an extra level of uncertainty for Australian workers, who already struggle with bureaucratic delays and inconsistencies. The government's own bureaucrats have warned that foreign crew on board vessels that use flag-of-convenience registration to operate in Australia are likely targets for organised crime syndicates and terrorists. The then Department of Immigration and Border Protection very clearly said in 2017 that the reduced transparency and secrecy surrounding the complex financial and ownership arrangements of these vessels make them and their crew attractive for use in illegal activity, including by organised crime or terrorist groups. The department went on to say that these 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 or exports.
There is no 'may' about it. Take the case of the ship Sage Sagittarius and its master, Captain Salas. In 2012 he became a person of interest in the New South Wales coroner's investigation into three highly suspicious deaths aboard the Sage Sagittarius. Captain Salas admitted to the coroner that he was involved in gun trafficking and trading in alcohol. Despite this evidence in front of the New South Wales coroner, the Liberal government still let Captain Salas back into Australian waters, in December 2015, as master of the Kypros Sea. That ship travelled between a number of Australian ports, primarily Gladstone and Weipa, in early 2016. Other examples of rogue elements on flag-of-convenience vessels include illegal fishing and people-smuggling. In August 2017 there was the incredible story of a North Korean crew exploiting the flag-of-convenience arrangements to smuggle 30,000 rocket grenades. In fact, Tonga shut down its use of flag-of-convenience vessels because at one stage al-Qaeda was actually found to own the vessels, which were transporting weapons, ammunition and crew to Europe.
Despite this proof of risks, this government has done nothing to ensure that these foreign workers are subject to robust background checking. Australian workers can be subject to a three-month wait for their MSIC, but foreign crew can currently get a maritime crew visa and come into Australia with as little as 24 hours notice and with no MSIC required. The inconsistency is brought into sharp relief when we look at the eight Rio Tinto ships trading in Queensland waters in 2020. Four of these ships had Australian seafarers and all of them required an MSIC. However, another four ships used the flag-of-convenience arrangements with foreign crew, who do not need an MSIC.
This is why I have introduced a private senator's bill to close this gap. The Migration Amendment (New Maritime Crew Visas) Bill 2020 will require the relevant minister to replace the current maritime crew visa with two new categories of maritime crew visa. The first is the international seafarers transit visa, which can only be used for crew entering Australia on a continuing international voyage. The second is the international seafarers work visa. This second visa will ensure that foreign seafarers who work off our coastline, often for years and years, on flag-of-convenience ships are subject to the same kind of background checking that Australians are subject to when applying for an MSIC. This is a commonsense piece of legislation, one to level the playing field to make sure that foreign workers are subject to the same kinds of background checks that hardworking Australians face when working in our seaports and off our shores.
I'm also introducing an amendment to this bill that delays the introduction of the bill, should it pass the parliament, until my private senator's bill is passed into law. Any risks to our transport security cannot be dealt with in isolation. The Prime Minister and the Minister for Home Affairs should not be turning a blind eye to the risks posed by foreign crew. This amendment will force him to take these national security risks seriously.
While addressing transport security risks makes sense, what does not make sense is the way this government made a last-minute, dramatic change to its own legislation by introducing criminal intelligence assessments as part of the ASIC and MSIC schemes. I want to be clear that Labor supports well-targeted measures to address serious crime. Serious crime deserves serious responses. This government cannot be taken seriously when its response is to introduce an entirely new function to the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission without any real examination of the legislation. The Minister for Home Affairs rammed this last-minute amendment through the House of Representatives after allowing members only minutes to consider its ramifications. There has been no Senate inquiry to consider if the government's criminal intelligence assessment legislation will do the job the government says it will. There's been no consultation with industry or workers, as there is with every other change to the ASIC and MSIC schemes.
In the supplementary explanatory memorandum, the government says that this change is about preventing persons who are known members of organised crime groups or known associates from obtaining an ASIC or MSIC. But the detail of this legislation goes significantly further than the government claims. The bill actually allows the ACIC to prevent any person from obtaining an ASIC or MSIC based on whether the ACIC believes the person 'may commit' a serious or organised crime or 'may assist' another person to commit a serious and organised crime.
I've got a great deal of respect for the ACIC; they do good work. But this bill is asking the ACIC to predict whether someone will commit a serious and organised crime, not if they have already committed a crime, not if they are a member of an organised crime group but whether, at some point in the future, they'll commit a serious and organised crime. For all of the ACIC's fine qualities, I doubt that fortune-telling is one of them. Labor has been advised by experts that merely having a suspicion that someone may commit a crime is a very low standard for denying a person an ASIC or MSIC. Further to that: 'The complexity of the ACC Act definition of "serious and organised crime" will make it very difficult for the ACIC to make and defend an evidence based assessment of whether a person may commit a serious and organised crime.'
There are already significant bureaucratic delays in the ASIC-MSIC system. All too often, Australian workers can't go to work, because the Department of Home Affairs contractors have bungled their paperwork or not finished it on time. A quarter of a million Australian workers currently hold an ASIC or MSIC. These Australians deserve a system that treats them with respect and allows them to do their job while also protecting our national security.
The changes that the government proposes will not produce that system. This is a rushed change. It is poorly legislated. The government must take its drafting of criminal intelligence assessments back to the drawing board. As I said, Labor supports well-targeted measures to address serious crime, but serious crime deserves serious responses, and this bill cannot be considered a serious response. In fact, there is not even a definition of 'serious crime' in the legislation. Instead, the government simply asks us to trust that they'll get it right in the regulation. It's a very big ask for the Morrison government. Get it right like they got right the price of Leppington Triangle land or like they got right the illegal, automated robodebt scheme or like they got right the response to COVID-19 and aged care? I'm sorry, but it is impossible to trust the Morrison government to get anything right.
That is why Labor will seek to amend the legislation to ensure the scope of the crimes covered under this legislation are targeted and not so unfairly broad that a range of workers are unnecessarily disqualified from the maritime and aviation industry when they do present a specific security threat, and to ensure that there is a legislated avenue of appeal for those who've been determined to have an adverse security status. People deserve to know why they cannot get a job and to have mandated processing times for ASIC and MSIC. This is a system that is plagued with bureaucratic bungling and delays, and it needs to be improved.
Other amendments will prevent the bill from being enacted until the Migration Amendment (New Maritime Crew Visas) Bill 2020 has passed into parliament; put more rigorous assessments, as I spoke to earlier, on foreign crew; introduce a statutory independent review of the act two years after it's passed the parliament and every five years after that; ensure oversight of the work of the ACIC by expanding the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security's jurisdiction to include the ACIC, as recommended in the 2017 Independent Intelligence Review; and remove schedule 2 of the bill, which introduces criminal intelligence assessments.
Our national security, the security of our ports and airports, is too important to get wrong. But this legislation is just another example of a government that isn't even getting the basics right. This is a bill with no maximum time frame to ensure that bureaucrats do their job on time and that hardworking Australians don't miss out on work; no legislated right of appeal; no background checks for foreign workers, but tougher checks for Australian workers; and no definition of 'serious crime' in a bill about, supposedly, serious crime.
Improving the security of our ports and airports is a great announcement—it gets a headline for the Minister for Home Affairs and the Prime Minister—but our border security is too important for laws protecting it to be based on what simply makes up a good press release. What we need here is strong protections at our borders, a robust framework: one that ensures that foreign workers are not easily able to come into the country while Australians face tougher security checks, one based on evidence and one based on the definition of 'serious crime'. There is too much that is wrong about this bill for Labor to support it in its current form.
I say to members of this chamber: our border security is not just a photo op; it requires a follow-up. It requires a government attentive to the challenges at our border. We know from COVID there was the Ruby Princess bungle; the bungles with quarantine, which is a federal responsibility; and a failure to actively manage the border, abandoning that responsibility to states and territories. And here there is a bill that purports to address the risks and threats of serious crime amongst the workforce on our borders but doesn't define 'serious crime' and doesn't address that significant threat posed by foreign workers.
For these reasons, Labor will be moving these amendments. I ask members of this chamber to consider them, and I ask members of this chamber to ensure that whatever comes out of this debate improves the security at our borders, at our ports and at our airports.
The bill that we are debating today, the Transport Security Amendment (Serious Crime) Bill 2020, is very similar to an earlier bill in a previous parliament. The Transport Security Amendment (Serious or Organised Crime) Bill 2016 in fact passed the Senate, and it returned to the House of Representatives with amendments for them to assent to. But it languished there for several years until it lapsed at the end of the previous parliament, because I think, at that stage, those opposite were basically too busy undermining each other to actually address some of the serious issues and the substance of those issues.
I spoke several years ago to the earlier bill, and I'd reiterate some of the points that were made then. Firstly, and critically, preventing serious and organised crime at our ports and at our airports is a critical issue that needs to be done well. It needs to be done well and it needs to be done appropriately, with a framework that protects workers and protects our security. But what we need to be asking is whether expanding a framework that was legislated to address terrorism risks is an appropriate way to be addressing the issues of serious and organised crime.
We've got two major concerns with this legislation and, unless these concerns are addressed, we cannot support it. The first issue is what impact this bill will have upon workers both in the maritime industry and in the aviation industry. As the Maritime Union of Australia, the MUA, have noted in their submission, the two cards that are core to this legislation, the maritime and aviation security identification cards, MSICs and ASICs, are right-to-work cards. You can't work in our ports or our airports unless you've got one of these cards. The changes that are proposed in this bill have got the potential to impact up to 260,000 workers, so you've got to get it right. There are a lot of workers whose very livelihood and very ability to work are going to be impacted by this legislation. If the process goes wrong, it can be devastating. Again as the MUA have noted, in some cases the MSIC renewal process is taking months and is rendering some workers ineligible to access their workplace while agencies fumble the checking processes.
Actually having a system that works, is timely and is effective is critical to both protecting our security and protecting the rights of workers to actually work. In some cases, you've got issues where workers may have an offence from decades ago that's been long dealt with, but it can cause delays every time a card is renewed—let alone the processes that are proposed in this bill, where what has to be assessed is whether they may in the future commit offences to do with serious or organised crime. It's not about whether they have a history of that but whether they may do that in the future. You can just imagine the processes, how long it might take and the impact on workers that that assessment may have. We've got to have a framework that is better managed and actually takes seriously the need for security and takes into account the need for some certainty for workers as well.
The second major issue that we've got with this bill is its focus on aiming to improve security by tightening up the conditions under which workers can get an MSIC or an ASIC, while at the same time we have got workers on foreign owned vessels, on flag-of-convenience vessels, that are able to access the country without these checks and balances. So I reckon it's really reasonable that, before you tighten up the controls on our domestic workers and make it more difficult for people here to get work, you actually have to be addressing some of the huge security holes in our framework as they apply to foreign seafarers. This is something that this legislation doesn't do. One of the issues that has been raised with us is the poor storage of ammonium nitrate. There was a tragic blast in Lebanon last year—a massive, huge blast—that involved poor storage of ammonium nitrate. One of the issues that the MUA have raised is that the government continues to issue temporary permits to ships that carry dangerous goods such as ammonium nitrate without checking whether they adhere to the safety standards of Australia and without carrying out crew safety inspections. It's really important that we ensure that we are applying frameworks fairly, systematically and without engaging in what is basically the theatre of saying, 'Yeah, we're improving security,' in one area while neglecting it in another.
The Senate has done quite a lot of work over the last few years looking at the issues associated with foreign flagged ships and flag-of-convenience ships, in particular. The risks that have been highlighted from flag-of-convenience shipping are very real. They have not been addressed by this government and they are not being addressed in this legislation. We had a Senate inquiry into flag-of-convenience shipping, and basically nothing has improved since that Senate inquiry. The International Transport Workers' Federation basically said after our report came out, 'Under the legislative abuses'—of the government at the time—'Australian seafarers, properly trained, security-screened and resident taxpayers, have been sacked and their jobs in a domestic transport sector given away to whoever comes over the horizon without a word of inquiry about their background.' Basically there is so little transparency in flag-of-convenience shipping and there are so few controls on the background of those seafarers that we have this huge gaping hole in our security that's not being addressed that needs to be addressed. Our Senate report said of flag-of-convenience ships:
The committee maintains that these vessels present serious security risks to the Australian coast, which need to be properly addressed.
All the while, this is happening in the context of lack of support for Australian shipping and an increasing proportion of shipping being done by foreign-owned flags-of-convenience ships.
I think it's important to note, if you also think about the working conditions on these ships—and I'm sure many of us here have read the media reports and know about the incredibly poor working conditions—and the incredibly low wages that these foreign exploited seafarers are under, the risk is that they are susceptible to pressure. They are susceptible to perhaps doing things that aren't necessarily aboveboard because of the pressures that they are under. They're not being paid properly and they've got families that are really struggling in their home countries. It means that they are very vulnerable to being under pressure from people to get them to perhaps do things that we don't want them to do, that are in fact a security risk to us here in Australia. These are some of the really substantial issues that need to be seriously addressed by this government that just haven't been.
In the 6½ years I've been in the Senate, and I've been the Greens' transport spokesperson, issues relating to Australian shipping and the issues of foreign-owned and flags-of-convenience shipping are things that we have been hammering away on, yet nothing has been done. Nothing has changed. Those risks are all still there.
In conclusion, we think it's really important that we are addressing issues of serious crime, but this current legislation is not dealing with the underlying issues and we can't support it in its current form, given the problems with how it's been implemented. I said 'in conclusion', but I just want to raise one further point, and that is the lack of consultation with the workers and with the unions in the changes that are now being proposed. Last year the ACTU said:
The ACTU shares the concerns expressed by our affiliated unions that the changes proposed in this bill have been developed without the typical level of consultation with affected workers and their unions—consultation which has typically resulted in more effective and well-targeted security…
So what we call upon the government to do is to actually go and talk to the unions, talk to the workers and listen to what they have to say, and actually propose some changes that are going to really work both for the workers and for increasing the security of our country.
We have a series of Labor Party amendments which are being put forward today. We believe that they do go some way to addressing our concerns, so I really call upon the government and the crossbench to seriously look at the ALP amendments and to support them, because with those amendments, if they are supported, we may end up with a bit of legislation that addresses some of these issues—at least as far as it goes for our domestic workers. We hope that we can arrive, through the scrutiny and debate that's appropriate in this place, at some improved legislation that we can support, because this is an important issue and it really deserves serious, careful consideration so that you end up with legislation that is both looking after the security of Australia and looking after the security and job security of Australian workers.
It is a pleasure to rise in support of the Transport Security Amendment (Serious Crime) Bill 2020. As an island nation, Australia is incredibly reliant on our ports and airports to keep us connected to the world and to facilitate the arrival of both people and goods into the country. A huge amount of goods and—COVID travel restrictions aside—a huge number of people pass through our ports and our airports every year. These people, services and goods are essential to our economy, our health, our livelihoods and our safety.
We've seen that, more than ever through COVID-19, with workers at our ports and airports playing an incredibly important role in keeping our country going—and that's a role we thank them for—given our reliance on ports and airports for all of our imported goods, it's no secret that they are also the way in which illicit substances and weapons arrive in Australia from overseas. It's an unfortunate reality that there have always been, and sadly, always will be, criminals and criminal enterprises who seek to profit from bringing these items into Australia. That is why it is so important to ensure security at these entries to our country.
Serious crime is a major threat to our way of life. It costs Australia up to $47 billion a year and causes enormous human suffering. We have fantastic police forces and security agencies who work incredibly hard and diligently each and every day to disrupt those criminal enterprises and reduce their cost and harm to the community. But, to allow them to do that, we need to keep our methods up to date and respond to the methods which have been used by criminals to breach security, and that's what this bill that we are debating today is all about.
Schedule 1 to the bill will expand the purpose of the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004 and the Maritime Transport and Offshore Facilities Security Act 2003 to prevent serious criminal influence and activity from occurring at our airports, seaports and offshore facilities. Schedule 2 to the bill will provide the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, or the ACIC, the ability to conduct criminal intelligence assessments for use in background checking for aviation and maritime security identification cards—ASICs and MSICs.
The ASIC and MSIC schemes are a vital part of the Australian government's approach to transport security. While they've been incredibly effective in helping to protect Australia from terrorism, our airports, our seaports and our offshore facilities are vulnerable to exploitation by serious criminals. That's because currently the scope of background checks for ASICs and MSICs is limited to only preventing unlawful interference with aviation and maritime infrastructure. This bill that we're debating today will provide for the strengthening of the ASIC and MSIC schemes by ensuring that those with serious criminal convictions or links to serious and organised crime do not exploit the schemes to access the secure areas of our ports and offshore facilities. This is a real and present threat to the nation's security.
We know, as at December 2019, there were approximately 227 ASIC or MSIC holders who were listed on the ACIC's national criminal intelligence lists. We know that there are real examples of people with serious criminal offences, including offences like trafficking illicit drugs, who have been granted an ASIC or an MSIC because at present the background for ASICs and MSICs only examines whether a person may be a threat to aviation or maritime security. Those checks do not consider whether a person could use their access to airports and seaports in connection with serious and organised crime. These individuals, without the provisions in this bill, can access secure and sensitive areas of airports and seaports without supervision. Clearly, we need to give authorities the ability to prevent this and close down the access which criminal enterprises have to our ports.
It's also important to note that, if there are gaps in our security regime which can be exploited by organised crime, they could also be exploited by terrorists, by foreign agents or by some other group with malicious intent towards Australia and towards our community. So it is vital we crack down on this now, and that's what the Morrison coalition government is doing with this bill.
This bill is appropriately targeted to exclude those who have been convicted of relevant serious offences, including offences arising from antigang or criminal organisation legislation, illegal importation of goods, interfering with goods under customs control and foreign incursion and recruitment. What we are talking about here are very serious offences directly relevant to being involved in serious organised crime and terrorism. The new criteria will ensure that those convicted of these offences will be ineligible to hold an ASIC or a MSIC. They will not be able to access secure areas of our ports and airports. This will enhance the government's ability to disrupt and hinder serious criminal gangs or syndicates in transporting and supplying illicit drugs and goods.
Strengthening the scheme to prevent individuals who are a high criminal risk from holding an ASIC or a MSIC is consistent with the findings of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Law Enforcement as well as the National Ice Taskforce. This bill will ensure that Australia's airports and ports are no longer safe havens for serious criminal activity, including the trafficking of illicit drugs, narcotics and weapons into our country. I commend the bill to the Senate.
I rise to speak on the Transport Security Amendment (Serious Crime) Bill 2020. I say with interest that the government have not looked at how you actually make our ports and our airports more secure. There are some fundamental failings on the part of the government. In actual fact these changes go to some critical elements of security in this country. Of course Labor supports legislation that will keep our ports and airports safe—and, as a person who has worked in airports and around our ports, I know how important the safety of our airports and ports is to both the national economy and the tens of thousands of people working on and off our ports—but striking the right balance with protecting the human rights of essential workers in these industries is critical. This bill, however, does not strike that balance. Instead, it compounds many of the existing inefficiencies with the current regime for approval of the aviation security identification card, ASIC, or the maritime security identification card, MSIC.
We have a number of concerns with this bill, many of which have been outlined in the Labor senators' contributions to the bill's review by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee—namely, that the bill will see working people denied natural justice, will entrench inappropriate standards for the domestic shipping workforce and will see an unnecessary and unsettling delegation of authority to the minister on a policy area that demands parliamentary scrutiny.
Firstly, the legislation's creation of a greater delegation of authority to the minister responsible for the definition of serious crime is problematic. It's a problem because it creates additional unsupervised means by which an employee would unfairly be stopped from receiving an ASIC or a MSIC—two cards that aviation or maritime workers require in order to work at our airports, ports or offshore facilities.
As outlined in the committee's report and specifically in the Labor senators' dissenting report, this legislation is significantly flawed on a number of grounds. Currently ASIC and MSIC applications are checked by ASIO, the AFP and Immigration. These checks are already time-consuming, sometimes taking 90 days or more to complete. Even in instances in which a worker has been previously approved for an identification card many times over the course of their career without incident, they are repeatedly forced to suffer through this limbo. This waiting period regularly holds them up from taking part in their livelihood, depriving them of the work and the resulting income needed to support their family. Particularly now, during a period in which aviation and maritime workers are facing job losses, reduced hours and wage cuts, the unintended consequences of this legislation would be a cruel blow to these workers.
This legislation could be improved by creating maximum time frames for the approval of ASIC and MSIC cards so that workers and employers are granted some certainty. Labor will move these amendments to this bill. When the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee reviewed the bill they heard stories of seafarers like Brendan McKeen. Brendan had to wait 90 days when renewing his existing identification card. He said that in that time the ship came and went and he missed an opportunity to take on work that he could ill afford to miss. The reason for the hold-up is an incident in a Queensland pub more than 30 years ago. Brendan has no other conviction, no other crime, and yet the system as it stands regularly punishes him for no legitimate reason. An unfair impediment to people working and earning an income to support their family should give senators pause, particularly during, and as we rebuild from, the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the government, instead of taking responsibility for the regular delays in processing clearances for workers and the effect this has on who works in the industry, has put forward legislation which could delay processing times even further. Moreover, the government's last-minute amendment to this bill before it passed the House, to expand the role of the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission to complete criminal intelligence assessments that would stop workers being granted an ASIC or MSIC, should be of concern to all senators and the general public. We have a last-minute amendment, not circulated in advance, to give the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission dramatically expanded powers that they are currently not resourced to do and to handle. It would see workers lose their clearance entirely on the basis of untested intelligence. This isn't what good governance looks like. This isn't due process. It is a cruel, low blow to workers, wrapped up in trumped-up national security concerns.
If this bill passes unamended, a worker's livelihood will be subject to intelligence, which doesn't have to be intelligent—intelligence that the agency does not need to disclose and that might not even be that credible. Denying or delaying someone's right to work because of some sort of rumour of intelligence denies the natural justice we are all entitled to. Imagine if such a law were brought to your workplace or to parliament, where a simple rumour could deny you your job for 90 days or so, without end. As a unionist I'll not stand workers being regularly denied natural justice in their workplace. As a senator I'm not convinced that this legislation does not contain the power to unfairly take away a person's livelihood.
Moreover, the bill does not provide an avenue for workers to appeal an unfavourable decision—if they have had their ASIC or MSIC denied to them. There is no appeal process. It's all done on the quiet. It's done without transparency and there's no appeal process. Imagine if that was in your workplace or in this parliament. The government's failure to legislate a means to appeal to allow workers to hear the allegations against them speaks to this government's lack of regard for workers at airports, at ports and at sea. It doesn't have the necessary transparency that is inherent in a well thought out piece of legislation.
Another issue in this legislation is that it entrenches the lack of standards for flag-of-convenience shipping. Flag-of-convenience shipping is a contentious business practice in which a ship's owners register the ship abroad to take advantage of less stringent laws or regulations, similar to the practices of some multinationals who operate heavily in Australia or in the United Kingdom but who remain registered in overseas tax havens. During the committee's hearings, multiple witnesses confirmed that the current provision in this legislation would not apply to the crew of foreign flagged ships. These crew only need maritime crew visas, available generally within 24 to 48 hours—in contrast with domestic crews, flag-of-convenience crews are not checked by ASIO, let alone by Interpol—while domestic Australian crews can wait up to 90 days just to renew their cards and may have them arbitrarily delayed or denied.
This legislation deepens the existing double standards while doing nothing to deal with the existing national security concerns inherent in Australia's growing reliance on flag-of-convenience shipping. Previous Senate inquiries into issues surrounding flag-of-convenience shipping have noted that its current registration, regulation and operation arrangements make it particularly susceptible to the influence of organised crime syndicates and terrorist groups. So let's make this very clear. The government are not serious about terrorist groups. They're not serious about organised crime. They're serious about looking like they're doing something whilst impeding the right to appeal and proper transparency. That bill says it all about this government.
In evidence to a Senate Regional and Rural Affairs and Transport References Committee hearing in 2016, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection 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 the illegal exploitation of natural resources, illegal activity in protected areas, people smuggling, and facilitating prohibited imports or exports.
Yet the government does nothing.
It might be of interest to senators that the sorts of things transported on flag-of-convenience shipping are not just cars or clothes; they are chemicals and goods used in our mining industry—chemicals like ammonium nitrate, the explosive chemical that was at the heart of the great tragedy in Beirut on 4 August last year. Australia regularly issues temporary permits to foreign ships that carry chemicals like ammonium nitrate. They'll be going past a capital city of yours, or dropping in to say hello. More than 85,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate was moved through the port of Newcastle this year, most of it moved by flag-of-convenience ships with workers who never get checked by ASIO or the AFP for terrorist activity, criminal activity and the like. They are ships flagged in Singapore, Panama, Liberia, Russia. What does this government do? Nothing! They are ships crewed by foreign workers who are not subject to the same background checks we demand of our domestic workforce. The government likes to talk big on borders and security but not when it's in the interests of multinational corporations who shirk their tax and labour standard obligations by running flag-of-convenience shipping. They're in the pocket of big corporations rather than for Australians. Does that surprise you? It doesn't surprise me.
A practice that undermines our domestic maritime workforce deprives our country of valuable tax revenue and poses significant security and safety risks. In a report by Greg Sheridan, Teresa Lloyd from MIAL, Maritime Industry Australia Ltd, the body that represents the Australian cargo industry, was reported as saying:
There are now just 13 Australian-flagged or controlled cargo vessels. Thirty-odd years ago there were 100. Britain still has 470 such commercial ships.
Admiral Barrett, as a board member, also spoke. He said:
If you don't have the capacity to requisition ships, there's not much you can do in an emergency.
The article went on:
A national government has legal authority in a crisis to requisition civilian ships, which carry its flag or are controlled by its companies, but has no authority over foreign ships.
This goes to broader issues about how this government operates in the shipping industry and how it operates on behalf of big corporations against our national interests, our employment interests and our national security interests. As I've just said, flag-of-convenience shipping has already undermined our domestic seafaring industry. This bill will deepen the double standard. This legislation provides additional support to flag-of-convenience shipping that will further offshore our domestic shipping industry.
I'm also concerned about the unnecessary and unsettling delegation of authority to the minister in this matter. It will prevent parliamentary oversight on possible expansions of the scope of requirements to have ASIC or MSIC cards. This is further compounded by the failure of the government to provide an early draft of the regulations that should be associated with this legislation, despite the idea of this legislation having been in the works since they first promised it in the 2013 federal election. The Senate committee reviewing this bill was denied any preview of the accompanying regulations. That should give any senator who is interested in transparency cause for concern about this bill.
The disturbing trend of governing by regulation denies parliament the same rights of oversight of legislation. of Giving the minister the ability by regulation, where the Senate must choose to allow or disallow the regulation, to expand the scope or definition of 'serious crime', change the definition of 'serious crime' and deny someone their security card grants the Senate very blunt powers of oversight. Instead, such things should be contained in legislation to this parliament. This delegation is unsettling because the serious crime bill doesn't include a definition of 'serious crime', which is farcical. Instead, that definition is ambiguously left to the department and the minister in question.
There are several definitions of 'serious crime' across a number of Commonwealth acts and regulations that the minister might have picked. The minister hasn't done so. You didn't even have to think about it; you only had to look at the options and consider the best ones. This has been in consideration since 2013. We're surely not at the point where ministers should have the right to unilaterally change standards. (Time expired)
The Transport Security Amendment (Serious Crime) Bill 2020 seeks to strengthen the regulatory framework surrounding the issuance of aviation and maritime security cards. It also provides the legislative basis for undertaking security checks, including background checks, of ASIC and MSIC holders. It seeks to do this by significantly expanding the number of background checks that have to be completed for each applicant. Aviation and maritime security identification cards are required for anyone who seeks regular access to secure areas of Australia's airports and seaports, Australian flagged ships, and our offshore oil and gas facilities. Workers requiring unescorted access to secure areas of airports, seaports, offshore platforms and Australian registered ships are all required to have a valid ASIC or MSIC. These workers include aircraft crew, baggage handlers, couriers, security screening staff, security guards, waterfront workers, seafarers, custom brokers, shipping agents, maintenance workers, truck drivers, train operators and anyone who works on an offshore platform. In other words, tens of thousands of Australian workers are required to have one or other of these security cards in order to do their jobs.
At the moment, applicants for an ASIC or MSIC are required to complete an identification verification, a security assessment conducted by ASIO and a migration status checked by the Department of Home Affairs. The government is now seeking to add a criminal history check, conducted by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, and a criminal intelligence assessment, which would also be conducted by the ACIC.
The problem is that this bill doesn't get the basics right when it comes to securing our important aviation and maritime infrastructure industries. That's because this bill fails to contain a maximum time frame to ensure that decent, hardworking Australians don't miss out on work due to delays in processing their applications for an ASIC or MSIC, nor does it contain any legislative right of appeal if an applicant is denied an ASIC or MSIC. It doesn't require any background checks for foreign workers entering our ports or airports and, unbelievably, as Senator Sheldon said in his contribution, it doesn't contain a definition of 'serious crime'.
Labor holds serious concerns with the potential impact this legislation will have on the granting of ASICs or MSICs. During its inquiry into this bill, the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee heard evidence that there are already significant delays in the renewal of MSICs. Some are taking up to four months. This means that maritime workers are left without a valid MSIC for a number of months and they are not allowed to work. This simply isn't good enough, and it is likely only to get worse if this legislation is passed. The International Transport Workers Federation and the Maritime Union of Australia gave evidence to the committee hearing of a worker who put in an application to renew their MSIC 90 days before having to join a ship; however, the card was not renewed in time. They put in their application 90 days before and the card was not renewed in time. In this case, the seafarer had been convicted of a crime more than 31 years ago. That worker concerned has learnt their lesson and has led a blemish-free life ever since. For it to take the authorities over 90 days to renew his MSIC under the current regime is outrageous. Those are 90 days in which this seafarer was not able to work and provide for his family. This seafarer is forced to go through this process each time he needs to renew his MSIC. This is despite the fact that he's only ever had one conviction over 30 years ago and has led a blemish-free life since that time.
Labor has serious concerns. One such concern is that, under the arrangements proposed in this bill, it would take even longer for seafarers, waterside workers and baggage handlers to have their security cards renewed. That's because the committee heard evidence from several witnesses from government agencies that they will now be taking intelligence into account when assessing whether to issue a card. Mr Phelan from the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission told the committee that suspicious intelligence and belief will now be all considered by the authorities when determining whether individuals can be issued with an ASIC or MSIC. Surely someone's belief should not determine whether a worker has a right to earn an income. These are people's livelihoods we're talking about.
In stark contrast to this, workers on overseas flagged vessels will not be subject to these new requirements. Let's get this straight: workers on overseas flagged vessels will not be subject to these new requirements. Foreign crews and overseas flagged ships will still have their maritime crew visas which give them access to our ports within 24 to 48 hours of application. They will be able to come and go and associate with whomever they wish to without any of the checks that are imposed on Australian workers.
Australian workers are already subject to ASIO checks, AFP checks and other checks. Most of the ships that pull alongside Australian wharves are foreign flagged with overseas crews. None of these crews are subjected to the checks and balances we place on our own workers. Workers have become accustomed to providing police record checks when applying for or commencing a job. I struggle to think of any other collection of occupations that are subjected to the legislative requirement of a criminal intelligence assessment.
One must wonder why this government is so determined to make life difficult for people that work in our aviation and maritime section. A number of years ago, the Rural and Regional Affairs Committee heard evidence from the then Department of Immigration and Border Protection that certain features of flag-of-convenience registered ships with the consequent regulation and operation makes them open to exploitation from organised crime syndicates and terrorist groups. This was brought to the attention of the government in 2017, but they have not acted. Foreign crews and overseas registered vessels will continue to have a much easier path to gaining access to our ports than our own workers, Australian workers. Like the aviation and maritime workers themselves, Labor believes in a strong, effective and consistent approach to border security. However, this does not mean that Labor will support an identity card regime that seeks to rely on suspicion or belief to determine whether a worker is suitable to have access to our ports, airports and offshore oil and gas facilities.
During its inquiry into this bill, the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee heard evidence from both the workers and government that there is no definition whatsoever of 'serious crime' contained within the legislation. The Australian Crime Commission Act 2002 did manage to include a definition of 'serious crime'. It is a very detailed definition, as you would expect. This definition focuses on offences punishable by more than three years imprisonment, offences causing high value loss and certain money-laundering and terrorism-financing offences. Surely, if a definition could be included in a 2002 act, it should not be beyond the wit of this government and their drafters to provide a definition in this instance. In fact, the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee was told that a generally understood definition of 'serious crime' does not apply in the case of this legislation. So not only do we not have a definition in this piece of legislation—