Monday, 22 February 2021
Transport Security Amendment (Serious Crime) Bill 2020; Second Reading
When considering this legislation and Labor's amendments, can I urge members of the crossbench to also consider the private senator's bill recently introduced by Senator Keneally. It is Labor's strong view that risks to our transport security must be dealt with as a complete set of reforms to address often complex issues. If this legislation is passed in isolation, foreign workers will still be able to freely access our ports and other transport infrastructure on very short notice, while hardworking Australians will face even more checks and delays before they can carry out their vital work.
Senator Keneally's bill would replace the current maritime crew visa, which is usually issued to applicants on 24 to 48 hours notice, with two new categories. There would be a new international seafarers transit visa, which would only be issued to crew entering Australia on a continuing international voyage. The second new category would apply to foreign seafarers who work off our coastline, often for years, on flag-of-convenience ships. This proposed category would mandate that these seafarers are subject to the same kind of background checking that Australian workers are subject to when applying for an MSIC.
These vital reforms will truly address some of the loopholes in our transport security regime. But as good as Senator Keneally's private senator's bill is, it is not likely to come into effect—because of this government's opposition—unless the crossbench support Labor's amendments. That is why Labor has put forward an amendment to this bill that would delay the commencement of the Transport Security Amendment (Serious Crime) Bill 2020 until the passage of Senator Keneally's Migration Amendment (New Maritime Crew Visas) Bill 2020 is through both the Senate and the House of Representatives. If colleagues are serious about closing some of the loopholes in the transport sector, I urge them to not only support Senator Keneally's bill but also support Labor's amendments that would ensure its passage.
We are also seeking to amend this legislation to ensure that the scope of crimes covered under this bill are appropriately targeted and that hardworking Australians won't be denied the right to work based on rumour, innuendo, belief or suspicion. Of course, those who pose a credible threat should be denied access to the operations of our aviation and maritime infrastructure but, as is the view of fair-minded Australians, when government agencies seek to deny a worker an ASIC or MSIC, that decision should be able to be appealed. But there is no such right to appeal in this legislation.
During its inquiry into this bill, the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee was told that the generally understood definition of 'serious crime' does not apply in the case of this legislation. As the bill currently stands, we are left in a position where we know what definition of serious crime doesn't apply but we are yet to be told by the government what definition of serious crime does apply. This is truly staggering when you consider the fact that the government has been seeking to pass this legislation in one form or another since 2013. That is why Labor will also be moving an amendment to insert a new definition. The workers in Australia applying for these cards have a right to know the definition of serious crime that will be applied to their application that has been duly considered and voted on by parliament. To leave important features of this legislation which will directly impact on the ability of tens of thousands of Australian workers to maintain their employment to the whim of delegated legislation is truly appalling.
Too often these days the government come in here with incomplete legislation and then seek to tidy up their mess through the promulgation of regulations. Surely, simple matters like the definition of serious crime should have been well and truly dealt with in the intervening seven to eight years. In every terrorist related act that impacts on the transport sector, you will always find transport workers included on the list of dead and injured. That is why transport workers and their unions understand better than most the need to uphold the integrity of the laws and the application of those laws to protect our important national infrastructure and the workforce. For years now, these workers and their unions have been seeking to get the government to act on the real threats to our national security by foreign maritime workers, who are issued visas without any of the background or other checks that Australian workers are subject to. I ask senators to vote for the Labor amendments and I commend the Labor amendments to the Senate.
I rise to make my contribution to the Transport Security Amendment (Serious Crime) Bill 2020. I have chaired the Senate Standing Committees on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport inquiry into this since 2017 and I know there have been other Senate inquiries going on with another committee. The bill aims to change the aviation and maritime security requirements that need to be met by aviation and maritime workers in order to receive either the ASIC, the aviation security identity card, or the MSIC, the maritime security identification card. At the outset, Labor fully supports tightening up whatever we have to do to make our nation safer that will address international drug running, weapons and drugs. There's no argument about that, but there is far more evidence we need to seek, far more questions that need to be answered that haven't been answered; therefore we have amendments to put up. Labor will be supporting our amendments and putting forward our argument.
The bill will also see MSIC and ASIC cardholders subject to five different elements of a background check: first, is an identity verification to confirm the individual's identity, with a name, date of birth et cetera—not a problem; second, a history check conducted by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, which I will refer to going forward as the ACIC, to determine whether the individual has been convicted of certain offences identified in the eligibility criteria; third, a security assessment completed by ASIO; fourth, a migration status check conducted by the Department of Home Affairs; and fifth, a criminal intelligence assessment conducted by ACIC which relates to potential involvement in organised crime—remember the word 'potential'. Serious crimes do deserve serious consideration by the Senate; there is no argument about that. Here it remains, what we have are several components of the bill.
The bill will only apply to Australian workers and will do nothing to ensure foreign workers on ships working in Australia's domestic shipping network are subject to similar background checks—similar. What happens currently, we know, is that 24 to 48 hours—500 nautical miles offshore—the company will fax a list of names of seafarers, who will have their relevant passports, and who will be sent to Australia. By the time they land, they're free to go. My concern about this bill is there is no way of knowing. I'm still waiting. I'm speaking now as the Chair of the Senate Standing Committees on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport. I put a series of questions to the department officials and—I am not moving here—when a lot of questions were asked, answers were not given.
As everyone in this place knows—and I've done that many inquiries I can't remember but I can remember six shipping inquiries I've done—at the beginning of every single one of those inquiries we give the witnesses an opportunity to be heard in camera. We go on for about three or four minutes talking about it and they only have to choose to go in camera. If they. were matters of national security that were not there for the world to see, the senators are grown up enough and mature enough to accept that there is certain information that is not for public knowledge. We get that, for crying out loud. Over the weekend I pondered even more about the thought that our agencies could treat the Senate with such disrespect that they wouldn't answer our questions. It's up to them; if they're doing anything different, come and tell me. But they couldn't give us answers to numbers of question like: what constitutes a serious crime? What's the world's secret about telling us what constitutes a serious crime, for crying out loud? We've heard what the Crimes Act determines as a serious crime. One would think that the officers in charge, whether they be ASIO or border protection or whoever they may be, could just answer simple questions of the Senate. It's like: how long's a piece of string?
I'm absolutely disgusted, as chair of the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee, when they can't even give us the opportunity by saying, 'It's a national secret and guess what, senators: we know you won't go out and do talkback radio or television.' I know I wouldn't, anyway, but I'd also say that all my colleagues in this building treat national security with the respect it needs. It's just a shame that, whether it's the government under the direction of the minister—I don't know, I've got no idea—or just the government boffins who are over it and think they can snub Senate inquiries, they do not give us the courtesy of providing answers. I have no proof of who it is. But as a long-term senator in this building, what I do know is that you could not insult us more because, when we ask questions of the departments, the least you can do is give the appropriate response. So you will see from my frustration that if we—and prove me wrong—could apply the same diligent background checks to foreign seafarers as we do to our own, I'll be the first one to stand up here. I'll wear a clown suit and I'll apologise profusely that I got it wrong. Guess what? That ain't going to happen.
I think we do know that there were known criminals on flags-of-convenience ships coming here and exploiting foreign workers. Let me just go further with that: in all the six inquiries I've done in shipping, every single inquiry has ended up talking about flags of convenience, the lack of security and the exploitation of foreign seafarers. While I'm on this, there are a couple of examples that I do need to raise. It's important that the Senate hears about these as well as everyone else. One of the hearings here in Canberra was to do with this inquiry. We raised with border protection whether we know who's coming in and who's on these ships. What we do know is what we're being told; we don't know if they've done anything else. One of the examples was given by Border Protection, and I want to get the wording correct. These are not words made up by me, but actual evidence given by the department. It virtually says that the concern that they have—this is Border Protection—is that 'foreign flags of convenience are an opportunity for bad people to utilise flags of convenience to do bad things like drugs and guns and all sorts of stuff like that and people smuggling'. No argument; I thank Border Protection for being so open and honest with us. If the department's got a concern, and we haven't had answers given to us, where is that right? I want to take my hat off and tilt my hat to the people at Border Protection, all those diligent and hardworking men and women in uniform. But one would think that those in suits and ties could back it up and at least answer the senators' questions. God help us if the ministers could answer the questions.
Here is another example that gives me grave concern. We've heard senators talking about Captain Salas. I want to tell you what I know about Captain Salas because I was the chair of the committee when Captain Salas was running rampant on our shores. Captain Salas was on the Sage Sagittarius. This is not made up. This is reported all the way through. They called it the Sage Sagittarius. When they did the inquest they called it the 'death ship' because somehow when Captain Salas—I think it was back in about 2015 or 2016—sailed into Newcastle, on the way in, in international waters, someone went missing, one of the crew. One could assume that the poor devil fell overboard. There is absolutely no way the inquest has shown otherwise. He was tossed overboard. The coroner even went as far as to say that he could've been killed before he went overboard. Damn it, on the way into Newcastle one of the other poor fellas fell into the hull and died—two deaths on Captain Salas' ship.
Then all of a sudden the owners of the ship, a Japanese coal vessel I think it was, put on an undercover—no secret; it has all been reported—Japanese superintendent. He was put on that ship to sail back to Japan. Do you know what happened, Senator Ciccone?
He died. They found him in the conveyor belt when unloading—three deaths. Then they tried to get Captain Salas, but no-one could find Captain Salas. They were trying to charge him in Australian waters. They couldn't charge him over the Japanese death. Alerts were going out all round the world—where is Captain Salas?
I spoke to Owen Jacques, a reporter from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, who was reporting on Captain Salas, who told me when the inquiry was going on down in Sydney, I think it was. He flew down to it, because he was reporting on it. They were talking there, the prosecutor, and no-one could find where captain Salas was—border protection didn't know, immigration didn't know, ASIO didn't know, AFP didn't know. No-one could find him so they were going to abandon the trial. I am not making this stuff up. I can't make this stuff up. I am not that damn fanatical about pretending things happened.
At the smoko break Owen Jacques walked up to the prosecutor and said, 'Dear prosecutor, I know where Captain Salas is.' You think I am making this up, don't you? It's hard to believe isn't it? They said, 'No-one else can find him'. He said: 'I know where he is. He is in Gladstone.' I have the name of the ship here—I can't remember. He was going out the next day. This is our intelligence network at work here. You wonder why I'm cranky. It's because I can't get answers. All of a sudden there was a flurry of activity and off they went. I think it was AFP that went up there, chucked him in a headlock, put handcuffs on him—whatever they did—and brought him down to trial.
At the trial he confessed to gun running—a confessed gun runner and money launderer. We know that there were two deaths on the ship coming into Australia and one on the way out. No-one knows nothing. Some reporters said he was selling guns to the crew. Are we to believe he was selling guns to the crew, the same ones he was killing and throwing overboard? It is getting worse all the time.
Here is a classic example of when our intelligence agencies or our government say: 'It's all right, bucko. It's all in hand. We've got full control. We know who's coming into this nation.' No, you don't. What you do know is you have a list of names provided by the company. What you will find out is there will be a passport and there will be a photograph—fine, great, not a bad start—but you don't know what they've done or what they're planning to do or what they've been tied up in unless they've been caught on the system you've got now. Someone tell me I've got it wrong. There's no way I've got it wrong. You haven't proved it to me yet.
I'll tell you what I'm dying to hear—and I would love the opportunity for this Senate to back me in giving the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee, and all participating members, the opportunity to say, 'We're going to hold onto this bill for a month while the committee goes back to do its work that it set out to do in 2017.' And the minister responsible should pull in the jug heads from the bureaucracy and say, 'You will treat the Senate with the respect that it demands, you will treat the senators with the respect that they have earned and you will answer questions.' And if those questions go to national security the senators are grown up enough and mature enough to back the words that I will give them once again—as I do every damn time I have a hearing and as does every senator—the right to be heard in camera.
Chair, with the greatest respect, if I had named someone and denigrated them, yes. I am telling the truth. I am being absolutely honest when I tell you the Senate has been disrespected, the committee has been disrespected. If I had mentioned someone and said that they were stealing or something, I wouldn't even do that; I'd pull it. But, if they're that precious on that side and you need me to blow bubbles at you or something, do whatever you want to do. Now I want to get back to what I was actually talking about.
Senator Brockman interjecting—
I sit in that chair too, Acting Deputy President, and, if it appears to you that somehow I've upset someone, please explain it to me and I'll pull it. You just may have to remind me. I don't know where I've actually done the wrong thing.
Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I do appreciate the opportunity to put forward my case, because I too sit there and I know that these speeches can be far-ranging.
I'm going to go back to where I was before I was interrupted in my train of thought—and I'm happy to go back to 15 minutes! There is the challenge. Bring it forth. Tell me I've got it wrong. You can't have three deaths on one ship and a confessed and convicted gun-runner and money-launderer and say that we are absolutely on top of this. I'll tell you what we're on top of. We're on top of making it as hard as possible, for the right reasons, to get an MSIC or an ASIC—absolutely no problem. But now I'm only just getting started. So why is it different for our Aussie seafarers? Why can Rio Tinto up there in the Top End have eight ships and four of the ships have Aussie crew and four of the ships have foreign crew? The Aussies have to jump through hoops and do backflips and all sorts of stuff. That's fine, but the foreign seafarers don't. Where is it in the Australian psyche that we'll make it as hard as possible for Australians to work but as easy as possible for poor, exploited foreign workers?
Now I want to come back to a few of my other concerns. When can someone start assisting me on the issue of guilt by association? Think about this. If your best mate is a bikie and you're hanging out with the bikie every week, we've got a right to be seriously concerned. But what happens to a 55-year-old wharfie whose 23-year-old son joins an outlaw motorcycle gang? The father can't stop him. The son is of mature age. He can do whatever he likes. Where do those guys sit with their MSIC? (Time expired)
I don't think I can top the contribution by Senator Sterle, who has for many, many years, whether here in the Senate or in his previous life in the movement, been very passionate about standing up for workers and workers' safety. It's good to see the contribution by my good friend Senator Sterle here, and I certainly echo the comments by him about trying to refer such matters off to the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee, because I think they do warrant greater scrutiny by this place.
As my colleagues have already articulated, Labor has some serious concerns about the Transport Security Amendment (Serious Crime) Bill 2020 and the flaws that are contained within it. But, before I address those, it is important to make clear that, despite some of the measures that we'd like to see toughened up, there are some meaningful measures to combat serious crime in our community. Such conduct really is a scourge and ought to be subject to considered, strong and well-targeted laws.
As Senator Sterle articulated so well, there are a lot of gaps in this legislation that we seriously need to consider, and I would hope that the minister and others opposite take on board the contributions by a number of Labor senators who have been well across the issues for some time now. However, Labor will never shirk away from the task of keeping Australians safe, and that's why we've proposed a number of amendments to the bill to ensure it meets the highest of standards that ought to be upheld for a law relating to matters as serious as national security. Nonetheless, it is clear that the bill before us, in its current form, does not meet that standard and, as was noted by many Labor senators as part of the committee inquiry into the bill, very little consideration has been given by the government to ensuring that it is fit for purpose and fair.
My colleague Senator Keneally rightly pointed out last week that, despite seeking to address the scourge of serious crime in our community, the bill before us lacks a simple definition as to the exact meaning of 'serious crime'. One is left to ask: how can this bill be serious about serious crime when it does not even define what serious crime is? Seriously, it's a bit of a joke and it reflects the government's attitude towards this bill.
One of the key elements of this debate relates to the issuance of aviation security identification cards and maritime security identification cards. ASIC and MSIC cards serve an important role in securing Australian transportation facilities from unlawful activity, and Labor supports the schemes behind them. But many of those seeking to engage in our work at our airports and on our docks are required to acquire these cards. In assessing these applications, background checks are undertaken to ensure that applicants possess an appropriately sound record to fulfil such an important role in our economy, and currently over a quarter of a million Australians hold either one of these two cards. Despite the importance of these cards to such workers, we know that the current system for the issuance is beset with problems, with delays, sloppy paperwork and decision-making being commonplace. Workers report waiting times in excess of three months for assessment of their applications and say they experience great anxiety each time their renewal is due. This is because, when errors occur, being without an ASIC or MSIC card means being without a job. Part of this bill would seek to add more extensive background checks to the schemes, including intelligence assessments, and I'm concerned that the bill does not outline a pathway for appeal for those who are given an adverse security status judgement in relation to their cards.
Of greatest concern with this bill, however, is its lack of arrangements regarding foreign crew on foreign vessels carrying flags of convenience. These crews are spared the levels of scrutiny that Australian workers seeking ASIC and MSIC cards undergo. These workers, who are often from developing countries and paid far less than what is permissible under our laws, are most commonly the holders merely of maritime crew visas and thus are not required to meet any standard or background inspection. This arrangement, which has been described as facilitating a poorer system of security at our transportation facilities, is deeply troubling.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection articulated its concerns about the use of foreign vessels carrying flags of convenience for serious crime. A submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport in 2017 stated—and this was the section that Senator Sterle was trying to find earlier:
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 or exports.
With concerns such as these at hand, one is left to wonder why this bill does nothing to address them. Why, instead, does it specifically target Australian workers merely going about their work and seeking to provide a living for themselves? It appears to many that what we really have here is one law for Australians on our docks and one law for foreigners. With this bill we have a set of measures from the government that would make it harder for Australian workers to get appropriate checks to do their job but would do nothing to protect Australia from foreign threats. Make no mistake: Australian transport workers understand the importance of robust security arrangements. Let us not forget that, should the worst occur, they are the ones onsite most likely to suffer injury as a result.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that this government seeks to make life difficult for Australian maritime workers. After all, this is the government that has presided over the systemic undermining of our domestic shipping industry and the workers who rely on it to support their families. Whilst there are certainly real concerns that this bill should address, in its current form it falls well short of doing so. I urge those opposite to seriously consider the amendments proposed by Labor. Only with those amendments in place can this bill achieve what it is supposed to do: keep us all safe.
In this debate today we can hear that, as a nation, we're in need of well-targeted measures to address serious crime and maintain our national security. Unfortunately, as Labor senators have been outlining to this place, the bill before us, the Transport Security Amendment (Serious Crime) Bill 2020, does not do that. It is far from doing that. It is not well targeted; it does not address the issue of serious crime at our ports and airports. The fact that we've got a quarter of a million workers who have the qualifications required to do this work, ASIC or MSIC cards, really highlights that these kinds of measures do need to be well targeted. We don't want to see legislation before this place that, as this bill does, makes it harder for Australian workers in our ports and airports to get the checks they need to do their job.
Yet again we have from this government an announcement, a headline: 'Let's improve security at our ports and airports.' But this is far from the truth. In fact, this bill weakens our border security by not addressing the issue of foreign crew on ships operating on Australian domestic routes. Indeed, as my colleagues have outlined, it means bureaucratic delays and inconsistencies for Australian workers. The government should acknowledge that these kinds of bureaucratic delays and inconsistencies are actually where security risks can manifest, but in this legislation we have an avoidance of those truthful facts.
For us to be able to control our borders and maintain national security, foreign aviation and maritime workers have got to be subject to robust background checking. It's the responsibility of the federal government to take sensible measures to deter and detect perpetrators who want to exploit loopholes in air and sea transport and travel to bring contraband, including drugs and weapons, into Australia or to take such contraband out. But the fact of the matter is that this government has little appreciation for the reality of this. While they let exploited workers and flags of convenience come in and out of our shores, they show little appreciation of the fact that exploited labour on those ships can be far more vulnerable to demands to smuggle contraband in and out of Australia.
If you are not being paid fair wages, if you are of uncertain immigration status in Australia or in the other routes that you are travelling, you can be very vulnerable to such manipulation. Indeed, organisations like the ITF, which represent transport workers right around the world, are very familiar with the vulnerabilities that workers face in being exploited. For example, there are instances right around the world where national governments and corporations, in nations that I won't name now, are so anti-union that they leave their workers on these ships open to manifest exploitation.
In Australia the aviation security identification card and the maritime security identification are an important part of keeping our aviation, maritime and offshore oil and gas sectors free from interference and terrorism. They are important benchmarks in safety and security standards in all of these sites and they are of critical importance. We also want to see foreign workers being held to a standard of background checks to ensure they are not a threat to aviation or maritime security. So I ask the government: why, today in this place and in this bill, do you want to make it easier for foreign workers than Australian workers to be accredited to work in these Australian conditions?
It is quite telling the number of times that flag-of-convenience ships around the world have been found to be engaging in criminal and terrorist activity. Why is this the case? A great deal of the world's shipping, including shipping that takes place here in Australia, where foreign goods are imported or exported from our ports, takes place under flags of convenience. This is where everything from safety to emissions standards, to environmental standards and labour standards, aren't regulated by a sovereign nation with attention to this detail but, rather, are conveniently flagged in the equivalent of a tax haven that just does it for the convenience of the operator. And the evidence shows that these flag-of-convenience ships, which are much less regulated, have been found to be active in criminal and terrorist activity. Yet this government seeks to continue to make it easier for these ships to operate in Australia, not harder, as this legislation shows.
Globally the consequences of having flag-of-convenience ships are well known. They do things like undercut the labour standards of sovereign shipping capabilities. That's very much the case here in Australia. For example, we've seen flag-of-convenience ships operating off our shores, even from one domestic Australian port through to another, displacing Australian shipping. Also, in that race to the bottom, they're displacing Australian on-land transport routes such as rail and road. It's globally well known that that's the kind of stuff that occurs in this race to the bottom that you see here, perpetuated by legislation like this. Australian workers have been subject to a three-month wait; it could be up to a three-month wait for their MSIC, but do you know what? People as part of a foreign crew can get a maritime crew visa and come into Australia with as little as 24 hours notice, and that is with no MSIC required at all. Why should there be such a difference? Well, I don't think that there should be. Why is this government making it harder for Australians to do their jobs? They put in their forms to get these clearances, and yet it can take months for them to get their clearances to do this work.
I can't help but think sometimes that this government hates Australian workers, or, at least, it knows no bounds in its race to the bottom in labour standards, in immigration standards, in wages and conditions, which allow Australians to be undercut over and over again. What are the consequences of this? Think about it in the context of having a sovereign shipping capacity where we can move goods from one port to another under a sovereign shipping supply chain. What are the consequences of our capacity to ship goods from one port to another totally reliant on flag-of-convenience and foreign ships? What does that mean for our sovereign capability in a time of international crisis or disruption or war? It's not good news. So, when you make it harder for Australian workers to do their jobs, be that by allowing flag-of-convenience ships in our waters and offering an unlevel playing field in terms of regulation, this is the source of losing our sovereign capability as a nation, sovereign capability that we need to make sure is protected in times of trouble.
When the government says that this bill is about serious crime and not about making it harder for Australian workers to earn money for their families, I would have thought that the government would have defined serious crime as those looking to bring contraband into or out of Australia. But, sadly, this bill does not even define what serious crime is. Under this bill, we would see Australian workers with minor criminal convictions exposed to bureaucratic nightmares that make it harder for them to make money for their families, harder for them to take that money home to their families. As I said at the outset, when you're going to expose a quarter of a million workers to these kinds of questions, it goes to show how inept this government is at actually targeting organised and serious crime. I'll give you the example, as I'm sure others have, of Brendan McKeen's conviction for getting into a pub fight some 31 years ago. When someone like Brendan needs to renew his card, he faces a 90-day wait and he's left in the position of not being sure whether that card will arrive in time for his next shift. Is it any wonder that flag-of-convenience shipping finds it easy to compete against Australian regulated standards when this is the case?
I ask the government: why is this costing Australian workers more than it's costing foreign workers? We know flag-of-convenience vessels are rife with exploitation. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection said, in 2017, that the ownership and financial arrangements of these vessels is complex. They also admitted that it makes them attractive for use in illegal activity, including by organised crime or terrorist groups. And I have to say, I've seen many cases of visa exploitation taking place as well. If they've got bosses who make it difficult for them to get home to see their family or if they've got bosses who underpay them, it absolutely leaves many maritime crew members open to needing to answer their master's call to do whatever illegal activity they're asked to undertake, rather than being able to stick to the rules here in Australia, with which they might be unfamiliar.
The department admitted that these ships are targets for exploitation of natural resources, illegal activity, people smuggling and facilitating prohibited imports or exports. Labor seeks to amend this legislation. I'm sure you've heard from others about what our intentions are in terms of looking at the scope of the offences, review and other issues. We recognise that national security is important, but we also want this government to recognise that workers being able to do their jobs is of critical importance. That is what will keep our nation safe. And this bill does nothing to address any of these important issues. Labor proposes an alternative bill that will. (Time expired)
The government says that the Transport Security Amendment (Serious Crime) Bill 2020 will tighten up security checking on people who work in maritime ports and airports. What it's actually going to do is give public servants free reign to hire and fire workers at will. It gives bureaucrats the power to kick someone out of a 10-year or 20-year career based on nothing more than a hunch that they might do something wrong in the future.
Don't get me wrong, I don't really have a problem with bureaucrats. But when I know they've come in from school or the parties have picked them up when they're young and they have no life experience and they come through this house, it scares the hell out of me; I'll be honest about that. I'll tell you what: that's a pattern of behaviour that's been going on for years. By the time they've made it to the stage where they're high up in the Public Service and they're making decisions about other people's lives, I have a problem with it when they've lived in this bubble. I have a significant problem with it.
Do you wonder why, in this house, we're not making the best decisions we probably could for the nation? If you're comfortable with thinking that the government makes the right call 100 per cent of the time, you'd be happy with this bill. If you have no worries about the government's ability to figure out what the right thing to do is, you tell me to go ahead and vote this legislation through. But I know, and you know, that the government gets things wrong, and so do the bureaucrats. If we pass this bill and they get things wrong, they could destroy someone's entire livelihood—not just their livelihood but their family's too. And for what? For nothing. The mistakes of a public servant sitting in a government department could force airport workers and maritime workers onto the dole queue. That is what this bill has the ability to do. It changes the security assessments done on the workers who need access to secure areas in our maritime ports and airports.
At the moment, to be allowed into secure areas in our ports or our airports, those workers need a maritime security identification card, an MSIC, or an aviation security identification card, an ASIC. Every person who has access to those secure areas has to get one of those cards. This is great. It's wonderful. So they should. This bill would mean that someone who has a criminal conviction from years ago could lose their job because of that. I don't know about you people but I've spoken about this many times in here. Just because somebody buggered up when they were a bit younger, if they've already paid the price, they should not have to pay the price twice. That is very un-Australian. Do not dip at them twice, especially if they've got themselves back on their feet and they've become a great citizen in this country. Why should they get punished for something that they've already done their time for? For what? How is that fair? They should not be punished twice. Once is enough. That's the way it works here in this nation. You don't penalise them twice.
The second part of the bill scares me even more. That's the part that means the government could reject someone's application for an ASIC or MSIC because a public servant thinks that they may commit a crime in the future. These are the guys, with no policing or court experience, making decisions over a crystal ball, saying, 'Oh, you know what, mate? I reckon they'll do that again.' Come on! This is not how it works. Last time I checked, you guys didn't have a crystal ball, and these public servants don't have access to one either. You're playing with fire here. This is not the way it should work. And, if you do have this crystal ball, then please bring it out on the floor so we can finally get some things right, because we'd all like to have a shot at it.
You can't see into the future, and you can't determine or dictate somebody's life by some sort of second-guessing. That is not fair. I want to be really clear here: I don't want ice getting into the suburbs. I don't want ice running rampant. I know the effect this can have, and has, on families and I don't want it getting the chance to do the harm I know it's capable of doing. But the way to stop it is to go after people who are spreading it. That's who we should be targeting. If you really want to put your foot down on this stuff, when it comes to ice, you're going to need to double your border force, you are going to need a lot more state police and you are going to need a lot more feds out there on our streets. That's what needs to be done. If you want to deter it, put the boys in blue out there, and make them loud and proud so they can be seen. That's your deterrent.
If you really want to tackle this stuff, stop twiddling around the edges. That's all you're doing, twiddling—you're not even tweaking, you're twiddling. If you want to fight ice, fight it with fire, not an MSIC card. Don't throw that in my face because of my past. I won't tolerate it. While you're out there, put some more quarantine officers on the job. Wonderful! Great! There's a good start. Get into those courts, and put some legislation bills up here that make harsher penalties. You want to get the kingpins? I'll tell you what: put them in jail for life, once they get there. They're called deterrents. That's what works. That's how it works.
A bill that makes it easier for an anonymous bureaucrat to end the career of a person who's done nothing wrong gives that person no chance to defend themselves against that wrong decision. That's not how we keep our communities safe. It's how we'll ruin another family's life, and their life—because they made mistakes earlier on in their life—but it does not keep the community safe. If we say that honest, hardworking people should lose their jobs and lose the ability to work in any other job in the same industry, based on evidence they never get to see, considered by a bureaucrat they'll never get to meet, we open up the chance that some nong at a desk will get it wrong and cause them harm. That's what we're doing here. We're allowing a public bureaucrat to come in here, without any investigative skills, policing skills or law skills, to make decisions on somebody else's life. That's what we're seeing here.
I won't have somebody else judged or determined on whether or not they should hold a security working permit by some sort of public bureaucrat who has spent a lifetime living in a bubble in Canberra. I won't do that, because over the years I've seen those bureaucrats make too many wrong decisions and ruin people's lives. They have no life experience because everything has been given to them on a silver platter. They've made their way to the top without any security checks and without any questions being asked about why they got in here in the first place, let alone policing checks. It seems that what's good for the goose is not good for the gander.
I have no confidence. Bureaucrats get things wrong. The way you normally check those things is by taking them to court. That's what we should be doing here. That's how it works in this system. That's how it works in this country. If you have evidence that someone's bringing in drugs, then throw the book at them. Make your case. Stick hard evidence to get a conviction. Do what you're supposed to do. If you want more power to make that happen, then, as I just said, I'm ready to talk. Come on, bring it to the table. Don't be lazy. Do it the harder way. Bring in the bills. Make it happen. But don't put some bureaucrat in control of this. It's just lazy, lazy, lazy.
I'm not going to hand over the power to go around the courts and just let public servants decide who's innocent and who's guilty based on evidence that would be torn apart if it ever went to court. And—here we go—guess who's going to pay for this? Guess who'd pay for it? The taxpayer. That's right; the taxpayer. You go and pay for this. You go and pay for the poor decisions that are made up here. You go and pay for it, because nothing will happen to the public servant. Eventually they'll just be promoted and moved on to another department. That's how it works; it's just like how the military works. The higher ranking you have and the more you bugger up, the more you get posted and the more you get promoted. It's standard procedure.
It is shameful. Maybe giving that kind of power would keep people on their toes, but honest people shouldn't have to fear the overreach of their government, let alone that of a public servant. That's what this bill will do. It will make it too easy for a bloke to tick the wrong box and put you at the end of the dole queue. Your kids won't get fed and your mortgage won't get paid, and there'll be absolutely nothing you can do about it, unless, of course, you've got hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight it in the courts. And I wish you the very best of luck with that, because that's where we're heading here! Anybody who wants to go through the court system had better have some dimes behind them because they are going to need them. And if you're not working because some public servant said so, then you've got a problem.
Anyone who has ever seen a public servant tick the wrong box or make you fill out the wrong form has seen what happens when you get it wrong. It's annoying and it can be soul destroying and it can destroy your family. Imagine that you didn't get that chance, and then you'll see what kind of stupidity this bill represents. Who in their right mind would think that the same people who dreamed up robodebt should get to decide, without any trial, whether you're too dodgy to keep working in your chosen career? I see we've learnt nothing from the past—and the recent past at that. I get why they want the power to make these choices without the chance to have them reviewed properly, because who wants to give someone the right to show how wrong you are? Who wants to give a normal person out there the right to show up the government and call them out and say, 'Hey, you were wrong'? Wouldn't that be embarrassing going towards an election? But why would I vote for something that gives one side all the power and the other side none of the power, in the hope that the power isn't abused?
I hold very little hope, let alone faith, in that power not being abused. If you want me to vote on something based on trust that you'll only use it for good, show me an example of a policy where that has ever happened in this place. Find me one government program where nobody has ever made a mistake and caused detriment to somebody else's life. Mistakes should be found and fixed. They shouldn't be swept under the rug, which, once again, is common practice here. If the government want the power to put you out of business, you should demand that they have extraordinary evidence to be able to do so. Not only will this bill not require them to have that kind of extraordinary evidence, as is common practice in our legal system; it won't even require them to share with you what the evidence is when they make a decision to end your career. Very scary, isn't it!
Let's shut down drug importation by hitting people who are importing drugs. Don't ask me to support any enormous new power to punish anyone you see fit for punishment based on nothing more than a hunch, which is all you're doing. It's so untidy and it is so un-Australian. It's a pattern with this government—every two weeks, there's another scandal. They argue they've done nothing wrong, that there's nothing to see here. What's new? A bit of self-reflection might explain why they're not getting my support today. If you want to go in hard against ice importers, by all means do so. I'll help you at the table, no worries. I'll do it in five minutes—just call me in. Just prove they're importing ice before you throw the book at them. As far as I'm concerned, those people who are smuggling drugs into Australia deserve everything that's coming their way. If you want to lock them up for life, I'm with you. But, because the penalties for drug importation should be so high, the threshold you've got to meet before you're punished for doing it should be high, too.
On indulgence, I'd compare this to the current investigation into alleged war crimes by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan. The accusation has been made and it's got to be investigated, but, until accusations are proven, they're just allegations, and that's all they are. An allegation isn't a conviction, and we shouldn't ever treat it as such. You've got to prove that someone is doing the wrong thing before you punish them for doing the wrong thing. That is the Australian way. I get that sometimes proving it is hard. However, tough! Suck it up. Show your resilience and get out there and prove it. Do it the right way. Show some leadership.
I can tell you that all it takes for an innocent person to become a guilty person is for someone to accuse them of something, and you lose what it means to be guilty at all. What matters is what is proven. Evidence does matter, and evidence needs to be on the table. An accusation isn't a conviction, and the power should not be given to a public servant to say so. Put the evidence on the table and do it properly through the courts, through the law, and follow it correctly.
I thank senators for their contributions to the debate on the Transport Security Amendment (Serious Crime) Bill 2020. This bill is evidence of the government's commitment to ensuring our airports and seaports are not safe havens for criminal activity. Serious and organised crime causes enormous and real human suffering. The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission has estimated it to cost the Australian economy more than $47 billion a year. This cost will continue to rise, and it is imperative for the safety and for the security of all Australians that the government puts measures in place to prevent serious crime.
A number of inquiries and reports have noted that individuals and organised crime groups are exploiting weaknesses in the aviation and maritime security identification card schemes, also known as ASICs and MSICs. That's enabling them to conduct serious criminal activity at our airports and at our seaports, such as the importation of illegal weapons and drugs. This bill will provide greater security outcomes for Australians by ensuring that people with serious criminal convictions or links to serious and organised crime are not able to access secure areas of our airports and seaports.
I'd like to thank the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for its work on this bill through its inquiry and its recommendations. It's a committee that I very much enjoyed working with. The secretariat and all of the support staff who helped us along the way did an amazing job. The committee recommended that the bill, as introduced in the House, be amended to incorporate a criminal intelligence assessment in the background check process for ASIC and MSIC schemes, and, subject to this recommendation being implemented, that the bill be passed.
The committee recognised that prominent organised crime figures with a history of engaging in serious and organised crime and influencing others to do the same can have unmonitored access to aviation and maritime secure zones. Some of these individuals have no or minor criminal convictions and could only be identified through the introduction of a criminal intelligence assessment by the ACIC.
The government supports the committee's recommendation to include criminal intelligence assessments as part of the background check process for ASICs and MSICs. The bill establishes the regulatory framework to ensure that people with known links to serious and organised crime groups will be ineligible to hold an ASIC or an MSIC. The bill provides the ACIC with the ability to conduct their assessments as well as providing for merits review of adverse criminal intelligent assessments, making sure that we have due process for those who are affected.
The purpose of the bill is to ensure that ASICs and MSICs are not issued to individuals who pose a serious security or a serious criminal risk. We know that serious and organised criminals use our airports and seaports as transit points for the importation of firearms, weapons, illicit drugs and other harmful goods into Australia. ASIC and MSIC holders have trusted positions within our airports and our seaports. People convicted of serious offences or with known links to serious and organised crime groups shouldn't hold these trusted positions. The Transport Security Amendment (Serious Crime) Bill will strengthen the government's efforts to reduce the influence of serious organised crime groups in the aviation and maritime environments, and ultimately ensure that Australians are kept safe and secure.
This bill gives effect to the government's election commitment to strengthen background checking regimes to ensure that individuals with links to serious crime can't gain access to our airports or our seaports. I thank senators for their contributions in debate. I call on all senators in this chamber to support this vital bill.