Monday, 22 February 2021
Transport Security Amendment (Serious Crime) Bill 2020; Reference to Committee
Under standing order 115(2)(a), I move:
That this bill be referred to the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 11 March 2021.
One thing that is of no difference in this chamber of this building is that we must do everything we can to keep our shores safe. There is not a senator or member in any parliament around the states or in the nation that would disagree with that. We do everything we can to stop the flow of drugs coming into this nation.
One thing I can assume with confidence is that the majority of drugs coming into this nation aren't coming here by hot air balloon. I think I'd be pretty safe to say, senators, that they're not strapped to the legs of pigeon flocks heading down from South-East Asia or South America; I think I'm on the money there. One thing I could say without any fear of contradiction is that they're—and we see Border Security on the TVcatching everyone bringing in all sorts of food in their suitcases, so there's probably a good chance that the majority of these massive drug hauls aren't coming into Australia on our planes and we hope that everything is screened as it's going through. That's what they're telling us or showing us.
Coming back to what I can safely say, they have to get here by ship. It's pretty simple. I can say this without any fear of contradiction: they're not coming on Australian ships. How do I know they're not coming on Australian ships? We haven't got any. The only two Australian ships we've got flagged and crewed are our gas buggies running off the north-west coast on the big side of Australia. What I can safely say, without any fear of contradiction, is that it would be flag-of-convenience vessels.
In last week's media, we saw some major drug hauls off the coast of Hinchinbrook Island. Possibly it was cocaine. I haven't seen icing sugar wrapped up like that. It might have been heroin. Someone will correct me if I'm wrong and it's sugar or flour or some damn thing. To get back to the topic, we've seen the attempt of the government to make it as hard as possible, even harder, for our maritime workers, our wharfies or our seafarers, and our aviation workers. If they're doing something wrong, clamp down. But, as I said earlier today, I cannot for the life of me accept—no way—not applying the same standards to exploited foreign seafarers and flag-of-convenience vessels. It bewilders me.
We also know the murky, murky system that comes with the flag-of-convenience vessels, where most of the time we don't even know who owns the ship. And yet this government tries to look us in the eye and tell us, 'We have to get harder on Australian seafarers'—what we've got left of them, plying our coastal trade—'we have to get harder on wharfies and we have to get harder on aviation workers, but don't look over here, because everything is mickey mouse; it's all tickety-boo.' That is because 24 hours to 48 hours earlier—I think it's about 500 nautical miles—the shipping company, not the shipmaster, sends an email to our authorities saying, 'These passports will match the people that are on the boat. Look at the photos. It's not a problem, absolutely.'
I talked in here earlier about Captain Salas and the shameful events that happened on the Sage Sagittarius. Our authorities, God bless them—and I'll stand up and I'll support those men and women in uniform—couldn't even find him. It took Owen Jacques, the journalist on the Sunshine Coast, to inform our authorities, when the trial was on. They didn't know where Captain Salas, the convicted gun-runner and money-launderer, was. Three of his sailors had died on board—two of them had gone overboard. He was actually plying our coastal trade. He was in Gladstone and he was leaving the next day.
I've clearly spoken about the disrespect that is shown—and I lay the blame at the feet of the government and the relevant ministers—to inquiries, to Senate procedures, to the Senate and to all the senators involved in the inquiries by people not giving the answers. Madam Acting Deputy President Kitching, you know they cannot use the excuse of national security. We offer them the opportunity to go in camera. It is now time to call them back. The minister needs to lead the charge and tell his subordinates, 'Start answering questions. Australians need to know.'
I rise in support of Senator Sterle's motion to refer the Transport Security Amendment (Serious Crime) Bill 2020 to the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee for inquiry and report. We've had a last-minute amendment to this legislation, which has been on the books for years—an amendment that takes away the rights of so many workers within this industry. At the same time, as Senator Sterle quite rightly outlined, we've got ships being crewed by people that do not get proper security checks. How, within 28 or 48 hours, can you possibly turn around and do a proper check on an overseas seafarer who is carting ammonium nitrate around the shores of this country? How can you possibly do it so quickly? We know they can't do it for Australian seafarers. We know they can't do it for aviation workers. We know they can't do it for workers working on our ports. So they're not doing it and they're not doing it properly.
This particular bill seeks to extend a right to dramatically expand the powers of the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission—an organisation which, at this point, is substantially underresourced and which hasn't been cross-examined in any real detail about this proposal which would see workers lose their clearance entirely on the basis of untested intelligence. They would be doing it on the basis of a suspected future breach. It's a bit like saying: 'You're likely to get a speeding ticket sometime in the future. I will just fine you now.' But the fine in this case is losing your job. The fine in this case is pertaining to people they don't have evidence against. You can take the worst of all circumstances—be a pariah amongst your community, lose your job, be embarrassed with your family, and be robbed of your income.
What if we had this sort of approach to corporations on wage theft? My goodness! Imagine saying, 'I think this company is in that group that might steal by wage theft, if you cross-examine the sorts of statistics on wage theft—which parts of the market and who is most likely to offend—so let's just hold them to account straightaway.' That would be ridiculous, but that's exactly what they are doing with seafarers and aviation workers, based on intelligence that is not transparent and is not appropriately accountable. Quite clearly this is all trumped up. If you were trumping this up into some sort of national security concern, then you would actually have a strategy for the seafarers who have been brought in from overseas who do the coastal shipping. But guess what? They don't. It's not hard to work out why they don't; it's because that's where the big money is for those corporations that put us in danger. That's what good government is supposed to be about. It's supposed to be about making sure it's not about the dollar but about the community. It's about our national interests, not just about the next trip we can get at a lower rate.
As I said before in relation to ammonium nitrate—let alone gun running, drug using and murderers, as Senator Sterle has pointed out—it's critically important that we look at the appropriate merits of any proposition, and that opportunity has not been fully exercised. Yes, it had a momentary look at the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, but there was not a proper investigation into the aspects that the government has put forward. There has not been an opportunity for appropriate committee surveillance of these issues, and it will be able to give evidence in an appropriate way. Answers have not been given.
I've sat in various hearings of RRAT—not in camera—when we were cross-examining about the strengths, pitfalls and weaknesses. There was no suggestion that these sorts of arrangements were going to specifically be put into this bill when we were actually having these discussions. They avoided it because they're hiding from the facts and trying to put it through at the last minute because it doesn't stand the test.
This affects real people and the capacity to have this done transparently. The fact is that this is being sped through. It's appropriate that this be given further consideration so that all the parties and the crossbenchers can give it proper consideration. I urge people to support the proposition from Senator Sterle. Let's make sure we get this on track.
The Greens will be supporting this motion from Senator Sterle in relation to the Transport Security Amendment (Serious Crime) Bill. We think it's very appropriate that this legislation be sent off to the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport committee for further consideration because there are so many unanswered questions about it. As it stands at the moment, from what is known, without further consideration and further discussion to amend it and make it a workable bit of legislation, there is this huge disparity between extra security controls being placed upon Australian workers and, in contrast, the security controls on foreign seafarers just not being there.
I think we've been having this debate the whole time that I've been in the Senate, 6½ years, and nothing has changed. There is a lot of control—appropriately, yes. Where we need to make sure that Australian workers aren't a security risk, it's appropriate to have those controls. But this legislation is increasing the controls, making it more difficult for Australian workers to actually be able to work in our ports and airports. At the same time, nothing is being done about the security risk of foreign seafarers.
Their risk to security, as I said in my speech in the second reading debate, is a big question mark, particularly because of the very poor conditions that the seafarers are working under on a lot of these ships. In terms of the pressure on them, there is the potential risk of them thinking that maybe they could get a bit of money on the side, maybe do something nefarious, because they get paid next to nothing, they have families at home that are struggling and they haven't been home for months, if not years. They are at prime risk of being susceptible to taking action that's not in Australia's interests and potentially being a security risk, yet this huge gaping hole in our security is just not being given the proper consideration that it needs by this government. Along with the whole issue of the demise of the Australian shipping industry, the increasing reliance on foreign owned ships and flag-of-convenient shipping, where you have workers who are being really dreadfully exploited, you have environmental standards going out the window. Yet the government has sat on its hands and we have had nothing that has progressed this issue any further the whole six years I've been here.