Senate debates

Monday, 21 June 2021


Migration Amendment (New Maritime Crew Visas) Bill 2020; Second Reading

10:01 am

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Migration Amendment (New Maritime Crew Visas) Bill 2020. This is an important bill. It will help plug Mr Morrison's huge gaping hole in our border security at our maritime ports. Mr Morrison's a man who's got a trophy in his office of a boat, and it says, 'I stopped these.' You'd think that Mr Morrison would want to stay on top of emerging maritime border security threats. You would think that Mr Morrison would be doing everything he can to fight crime. But are we seeing this kind of behaviour from Mr Morrison? As Senator Sterle says, no, we are not. In fact, Mr Morrison has had a few bad weeks in one area where prime ministers really should not have a bad week, and that is in national security.

Many Australians will remember thinking how odd it was that Mr Morrison pushed his way into a press conference with the Australian Federal Police just two weeks ago. This was a press conference three years in the making for the AFP after they had worked diligently on Operation Ironside, working hand in glove with the FBI and state and territory police. The AFP were ready to tell their story to Australians about their extraordinary work, which has put such an incredible dent in the operations of some of Australia's most notorious drug barons. But what happened? Obsessed with photo opportunities, Mr Morrison stormed his way into the AFP's press conference, elbowing everyone out of the way, and took credit for years of hard work by the Federal Police. I'm sure it hasn't gone unnoticed that this press conference seemed to magically occur just in time for Mr Morrison to fly out of Sydney for the G7. The story appears in the morning papers, he jumps into the press conference, and then Mr Morrison runs out so that he can get on his plane onwards to the G7. What a coincidence. How extraordinary. Of course, I am hopeful that the Prime Minister did not seek to adjust any aspect of the AFP's media plan that day to suit his own political purposes. I certainly hope the AFP did not adjust any of its media plans to accommodate the Prime Minister, especially if the changes meant any officers might be put at risk.

But Mr Morrison did not stop just at hogging the limelight; he went further. Mr Morrison chose to use that moment to flat out lie about our national security, not once, not twice but three times. Mr Morrison lied when he said—

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Keneally, I ask you to withdraw. It's not appropriate to use that language.

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you. Mr Morrison misspoke when he said that Labor was holding up the progress of the Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2020. The truth is that the bill is still before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. Mr Morrison also misspoke when he said that Labor opposes the international production orders legislation. Mr Morrison said:

… that does not have bipartisan support and we need it passed.

In fact, the opposite was true. The intelligence committee had issued a bipartisan report in support of the legislation.

Then Mr Morrison claimed that Labor was holding up transport security changes. The transport security bill is a bill that has had in-principle Labor support since it was introduced in 2016 and that Mr Morrison allowed to lapse in not one but two federal elections. It could have become law in 2017 following amendments in the Senate, but the Liberal government did not proceed with the bill. Labor has long been concerned that the Liberals have refused to increase background and security checks for foreign crew working in Australia's domestic shipping industry. We want to work with the Liberals to improve our national security, but the government simply won't come to the table.

So we have Mr Morrison making false claims about three important national security bills. Mr Morrison politicising and playing games with national security, unfortunately, is not new. He sees everything through a political lens, and he thought that he could just politicise national security again. He was wrong. Most news outlets completely ignored Mr Morrison's claims. They knew these claims were false. They knew he was politicising national security. Those that did report the story called out Mr Morrison's false claims for what they were. Unfortunately, Mr Morrison did not learn from his mistakes and refused to improve the transport security bill. That is why we are here today debating the Migration Amendment (New Maritime Crew Visas) Bill 2020.

For all his photo ops and tough talk, Mr Morrison has left Australia's border security with a big, huge, gaping hole. That hole is caused by the Morrison government refusing to increase security and background checks on foreign crew who work up and down Australia's coast. After years of the Liberals undermining Australia's domestic shipping industry, most ships in Australian waters are now foreign flagged. Some 20,000 foreign flagged ships, with some 200,000 foreign crew, are in Australian waters every year. Yet, while Australian crew are generally required to hold a maritime security identification card, foreign crew are not. Obtaining an MSIC for an Australian is not easy, with Australians waiting for up to three months for their security checks to be finished. But how long does this Liberal government allocate for checking the backgrounds of foreign crew? Just 24 to 48 hours.

The Migration Amendment (New Maritime Crew Visas) Bill 2020 changes that. This bill will create two categories of maritime crew visa. The first visa, an international seafarers transit visa, is for seafarers entering Australia on a continuing international voyage. Indeed, this was the original purpose of the current maritime crew visa. The second visa will be an international seafarers work visa. Applicants for an international seafarers work visa must undergo similar security assessments as Australians do through an MSIC process. This is a common-sense reform to our visa system that will allow Australia to better protect its borders and root out a range of illegal activities that take place on foreign flagged vessels. Foreign flagged vessels, or flag-of-convenience vessels as they are known, have long been a source of illegal drug imports into Australia, with 83 per cent of cannabis, 72 per cent of cocaine and 72 per cent of amphetamines seized by authorities in 2018-19 coming from maritime ports. Despite these facts, the Morrison government has argued that foreign crew do not require vigorous security checks, because they are, 'Under constant supervision whilst in port.'

Well, events from just last week show that this is not true. On Sunday 13 June, two Vietnamese nationals escaped from their vessel while it was in port in Geelong. These two men also stole their passports from the master's cabin just before they escaped. To make matters worse, the Morrison government have refused to release details to the community to help them identify the escapees. If it wasn't for the Geelong Advertiser, who sounded the alarm, Australians may never have known about this border breach. The Australian Border Force is silent, with no Twitter updates and no media releases on its website. We know that a culture of secrecy has overwhelmed the Morrison government. It is now clear that that culture has spread into our border controls, with Mr Morrison limiting the information Australians can receive about border breaches. The incident in Geelong is symptomatic of the ongoing and significant risks of foreign crew working in Australia without sufficient oversight.

The Senate Regional and Rural Affairs and Transport Committee heard in March this year about an alarming lack of security screening conducted at our maritime ports. Our airports are investing in state-of-the-art scanners, with every crew member and passenger carefully scanned. But Morrison government officials have confirmed that there are no X-ray machines, no metal detectors and no bag checks at our maritime ports. The Department of Home Affairs also confirmed that foreign crew members can be left to wander through highly sensitive areas of ports without physical escorts accompanying them every step of the way.

I've previously spoken about the frightening case of Captain Salas and the Sage Sagittarius. He was provided with a maritime crew visa in 2015 and 2016 to sail into Australian waters, despite Australian authorities knowing he was linked to three suspicious deaths in 2012 and had admitted to being a gun runner. Despite all of that, Captain Salas was granted a maritime crew visa, which allowed him to work in Australia for a whole eight months. I could go on and on. I could speak about the gaps in the temporary licensing regime, whereby foreign vessels flagrantly flout Australia's laws. I could speak about how flag-of-convenience vessels have wreaked havoc internationally, used by al-Qaeda, North Korea, people smugglers and more. There are simply too many examples of the risks posed by a lack of oversight of flag-of-convenience vessels.

I could speak about how in 2017 the then Department of Immigration and Border Security advised this Senate that the regulation, rules and practices at our maritime ports allowed for flag-of-convenience vessels and foreign crew to undertake illegal activities—drug smuggling, gun running and more. In 2017 this chamber was warned by the Department of Immigration and Border Security that there are risks of foreign ships and foreign crew conducting illegal activities through our maritime ports. In the four years since, has this Liberal government done one thing to increase the security and to manage the risks at our maritime ports when it comes to foreign crew and foreign flagged vessels? No, they have not.

That is why this bill is before this Senate today. Where the government has failed, it is up to the Senate to step in and provide an appropriate security clearance process for foreign crew and flag-of-convenience vessels. They had their chance last week with the transport security bill. For some five years now they have had their chance to fix up the big gaping holes at our maritime ports, and they have failed to do so. It brings me no joy to bring this bill before the Senate. I would prefer that the government had tackled this problem. I would prefer that the government had amended their own transport security legislation last week. I would prefer that the government had listened to the advice of our national security agencies, including the Department of Immigration and Border Security. They have not, so it's up to the Senate now to take action.

I will conclude on this point. Australia's border security has a huge gaping hole at our maritime ports. It has been there for too long. It is a hole that organised crime is using to target and import illegal drugs into Australia. It's quite clear that the Liberals don't want us to think or know about this gaping hole in our border security. This is probably why Mr Morrison jumped into the AFP's press conference. He's obsessed with a photo opportunity. Mr Morrison wants you to think he's doing everything he can to stop drugs pouring into this country, but Australians are quickly learning that Mr Morrison is all about himself and he doesn't really care about them. When things go right, he is the first to take credit. When things go wrong, he refuses to take charge.

If Mr Morrison will not take charge, the Senate can. We must do everything we can to improve our border security to stop illegal drug imports, to stop illegal weapon imports, to stop human trafficking and to keep Australia and Australians safe. That is Labor's commitment to the people of Australia. That is why we have brought this bill before the Senate. That is what this bill will do. I look forward to the debate and seek the support of members of this Senate to fix this big gaping hole in our maritime border security.

10:16 am

Photo of Sarah HendersonSarah Henderson (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's my pleasure to rise and speak on this private senator's bill—the Migration Amendment (New Maritime Crew Visas) Bill 2020. I start by reiterating that this government has always been resolutely committed to the security of Australia's borders and the safety of all Australians. In particular, it is committed to safeguarding our ports and maritime transport. As Operation Ironside demonstrated, we know that serious and organised criminals use our airports and seaports as transit points to import weapons, illicit drugs and other harmful goods into Australia. This kind of trafficking puts everyone at risk. It puts Australia's security at risk and it puts Australia's prosperity at risk. It ravages our communities and it costs this country over $47 billion every year.

Senator Keneally raised Operation Ironside. What a pity Senator Keneally was not able to focus on the fine work of the Australian Federal Police rather than engage in a personal slanging match targeted towards the Prime Minister. Her contribution reflected not only on the Prime Minister but on the independence of the operations of the AFP. I commend the AFP for the outstanding work that it has done on Operation Ironside. This extraordinary work has resulted in more than 100 people being charged and the incredible seizure of guns and other illegal materials. It was a very big international operation, including in concert with the FBI. What a shame Senator Keneally was not able to speak about the fine work of the AFP and one of the most extraordinary criminal investigations we have seen by the AFP, which has had incredible results in law enforcement.

Our government's focus on the security of Australia's borders is why we passed the Transport Security Amendment (Serious Crime) Bill 2020, which strengthens our current aviation and maritime security identification card schemes, the ASIC and MSIC schemes, by ensuring that those with serious criminal convictions or links to organised crime do not exploit these schemes to access secure areas of airports, seaports and offshore facilities. Australia's aviation and maritime security identification card schemes are a vital part of our effort to curtail the risk of our transport network being used by criminals.

People who hold ASIC or MSIC cards are able to access the most secure areas of Australia's airports and seaports and remain there unmonitored. We know that over 200 people who hold ASIC or MSIC cards have already been identified by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission as having links to organised crime gangs and other criminal associations. These criminals use the access granted by their ASIC or MSIC cards to facilitate the trafficking of vast quantities of illegal goods through our airports and seaports. Through their hands, rivers of drugs and weapons flow into this country unchecked. This exploitation of our law and of all Australians must stop.

The government's bill strengthens our defences against organised crime by requiring background checks for ASIC and MSIC cardholders. Those background checks will determine if applicants have a criminal history and will harmonise the eligibility criteria under each scheme. It is essential that those accessing or working in the most sensitive areas of our airports and seaports are people of good character. We must be able to trust them to do their job without fearing that they may be involved in serious criminal activity. Such activity harms us all, and this government will not stand for it. Australians deserve to be kept safe from the machinations of organised crime syndicates. The government's bill is a strong step towards that worthy aim.

What does Labor propose? Labor wants to split the maritime crew visa class into two separate classes: one that mirrors the current maritime crew visa, and another, an international seafarers work visa, that is specifically for crews of ships under temporary licence to undertake coastal voyages under the coastal trading act. Labor wants to establish a legislative requirement that applicants for the coastal trading visa class be subject to security and criminal history checks consistent with the MSIC requirements prescribed in the Maritime Transport and Offshore Facilities Security Regulations 2003. As we have come to expect from this opposition, Labor's proposal muddies the waters. It is shallow, it is ill conceived and it is wasteful.

All maritime crew visa applicants are required to meet prescribed public interest criteria regarding their character. This includes a criminal history and national security check. If a new visa subclass were introduced as Labor is proposing, it is very likely that applicants for that subclass would be subject to the same public interest criteria that apply to maritime crew visas generally. Moreover, if we're worried about potential security breaches, international crew who require unmonitored access to maritime security zones are already required to obtain an MSIC card. Accordingly, these crew members are already subject to appropriate identity, criminal history and national security checks as part of that process.

Labor's proposal is wasteful and unnecessary. There is no reason to introduce a completely new subclass of visa merely to duplicate a screening process that is already in place. If Labor's proposal was merely wasteful, perhaps we wouldn't bat an eyelid; after all, wastefulness is par for the course for this opposition. But here Labor seems to be discontent with mere wastefulness. It goes much further. Under Labor's proposed changes, all crew on cruise ships with a coastal training licence will need to meet MSIC requirements whether or not they need to access security zones. This means serving staff would need to undergo a national security check to serve you dinner. Dishwashers would need to have their criminal history checked before working in the kitchen later that night or doing whatever other work is required. This is clearly ridiculous. It's so ridiculous, in fact, that we might wonder if there is a hidden agenda here.

What is Labor's real purpose in proposing such a nonsensical amendment? Its purpose is to kill the government's Transport Security Amendment (Serious Crime) Bill 2020. Labor has done this before. It used this bill to move amendments to the Migration Act which would have rendered the government's transport security legislation inoperative. The effect of Labor's amendments would be that, if the new maritime crew visas bill were not to commence, the government's transport security amendment would not commence either. Of course, given that Labor's bill is a private member's bill, there is obviously little chance that it would pass the House of Representatives and come into effect, and Labor well knows this. Labor has proposed this bill with only one thing in mind. The purpose of this bill is to render void the government's strengthened ASIC and MSIC schemes. Its purpose is to undermine government legislation that actually bolsters Australia's national security and protects Australians from organised crime. This bill is a cheap trick to stall the government's genuine and effective legislative defence of our national security.

Organised crime is a scourge on this great nation. From the shadows, criminal gangs work tirelessly, using Australia's transport network to import illicit drugs, weapons and other harmful goods into Australia. These criminals do not care for the good of Australia or Australians. Any delay or disruption to the government's transport security legislation just increases the risk that Australians will be harmed by organised crime. So I reject Labor's time-wasting, ridiculous bill and I ask: whose side is Labor on?

10:26 am

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in support of the Migration Amendment (New Maritime Crew Visas) Bill 2020. We Greens actually think this is a very important contribution that the Labor Party has made on this issue. So Labor and the Greens are on the side of fixing a gaping hole in our national security that the Liberal Party seem completely blind to. They seem completely unable to recognise that this is a massive problem. So I'm hoping that, while, yes, it's a private senator's bill, the Liberal Party government will be able to see sense—that here is a solution to part of the problem.

We have this massive problem of foreign seafarers who do not have to go through the same checks and do not have to have the same security clearances at the moment as Australian seafarers do. To us, it is just common sense. It makes sense. As others contributing to this debate have noted, this bill is being introduced in the context of the Transport Security Amendment (Serious Crime) Bill 2020. Others have also noted that, although that bill was dated 2020, it incorporated key elements of a much earlier bill from 2016 which passed the Senate in 2017, only a fortnight after it passed the House of Representatives. So we could have had action on this back in 2017, but the government has been dragging its feet. After that bill passed the Senate, it went back to the House. It went backwards and forwards. But the Liberal Party at that stage refused to pass the bill because the Liberal Party are all over the place when it comes to national security. For all that they like to strut and talk about how this is about national security, they are not willing to act. In particular, they're not willing to act on the gaping holes that have been exposed through multiple Senate inquiries.

I've been in the Senate now for almost seven years, and this issue of foreign flagged ships and foreign seafarers and the problems with national security has been raised multiple times. I call upon my colleagues here to go back and have a read of some of the Hansards from those inquiries, because it is all there in black and white. Their view of the world—that every foreign seafarer who steps foot on our ports is followed around by somebody with an MSIC and we know exactly where they are at all times and there are areas of the port that are designated security zones and we have nothing to worry about—is not what happens in reality. We have had that evidence presented to the Senate. It is there in black and white. We know from what happened in Geelong just a couple of weeks ago that those examples of the lack of security are ongoing today. You have foreign seafarers who are able to get through that security and get their passports and go off into Australia. And they're the people that we know about. Then there are the ones that actually don't have to abscond; they just have some time onshore having not had the security clearances that they should have. Who knows what arrangements they could be making when they are meeting with people when they are here in our port cities?

This happens. We know it happens and yet there has been nothing done to address this gaping hole in our national security.

The bill in front of us would make a significant improvement by creating new classes of maritime crew visas, and it would create a framework that could begin to address some of these risks, but the Liberals won't act. They will not act on this gaping hole. Why not? This is not about security. I mean, Senator Henderson was saying that this is a ridiculous bill that's just going to add extra work. What it means is that, if this was in place, it would maybe provide checks and balances with foreign flagged, foreign owned ships that at the moment are not just undermining our security but also undermining the conditions of Australian workers; they are undermining environmental controls as well. Basically, why they're refusing to act is because the government are acting in the interests of their supporters, of their donors, of their mates. They want to keep a shipping environment dominated by foreign flagged and foreign owned ships. They want to decimate the Australian shipping industry, because in the Australian shipping industry, where you have to pay workers a proper rate, you have to make sure that your ships are meeting all the environmental regulations.

Yes, this actually might cost a bit more, because we are not exploiting the workers and not exploiting the environment. These workers on foreign flagged, foreign owned ships, we know, in so many cases are being employed under the most atrocious of conditions. We know that they are being paid an absolute pittance. We know that the environmental controls on these ships are disastrous—but, yes, it means that it's cheap, doesn't it? The people, the vested interests that this government are governing in the interests of—that's all they're interested in. They just want to bring down the cost, bring down their bottom line, get away with paying as little as possible in their transport costs; that is what this is about. This is all about full bore ahead, full steam ahead for those foreign owned, foreign crewed, foreign flagged vessels at the expense of the Australian shipping industry.

The Greens are not going to be part of that. For all the government wants to talk about national security, we can see through it, and the Australian public can see through it, too. Certainly Australian workers can see through it. They know, by not supporting this bit of legislation, you're not governing in the interests of those workers; you are not governing in the interests of fairness. You are governing in the interests of your mates, of your donors, of your friends, who just want to keep the cost down as low as possible and put as few barriers in their way as possible. The Liberal government is not governing in the national interest. I mean, despite all of Prime Minister Morrison's spin doctoring, they're not governing in the interests of middle-class Australians—the quiet Australians, as he likes to call them. You see their position on this bill, and it fits with their position on so many other things. If their handling of the pandemic has shown us anything, they're willing to hand out billions of dollars to their mates in the fossil fuel industries but apparently not willing to pay so that Australians can get the Pfizer vaccine. Instead, as countries around the world are vaccinating large chunks of their population and are able to reopen, we're at the mercy of a leaky hotel quarantine system that the Liberal Party have refused to take action on. They're willing to govern in the interests of their mates and to give billions of dollars to their mates but not to take action that is protecting the interests of ordinary Australians, whether they are Australian maritime workers or people in the leaky quarantine system.

If the Liberal Party really cared about the national interest, if they cared about anyone, they would take action so that we actually had fair conditions for Australian workers. They'd be taking action to create a secure, safe future by acting on the climate emergency, but they only care about their corporate donors. Why aren't they acting on this gaping hole in our national security? They are failing to act because it's not in the interests of their donors; it might cost some of their donors. They've left a gaping hole and are happy to continue to leave a gaping hole in our national security system because it would cost the corporations. The Liberal Party, our government, should be supporting this bill. They should be taking action. They should stop propping up their corporate donors at the expense of actual people around this country.

10:35 am

Photo of Tony SheldonTony Sheldon (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Migration Amendment (New Maritime Crew Visas) Bill 2020. The Prime Minister, as was mentioned earlier by Senator Keneally, infamously keeps a trophy in the office. You've really got to picture this: in the proudest spot in his office is a trophy of a boat. On the boat is written, 'I stopped these,' in thick black letters. I don't think the Prime Minister could name a single accomplishment he's achieved in his current office, because he certainly hasn't achieved a competent vaccine rollout, he certainly hasn't figured out a national quarantine system and he certainly hasn't grown wages for Australia's middle class. One thing he will always take credit for, apparently, is stopping the boats.

But here's the kicker. Here's the dirty little secret the Prime Minister doesn't want you to know. The crowning achievement of the Prime Minister's career is a lie. It's a fraud. They didn't stop the boats, because, if you're a drug trafficker, a people smuggler or a terrorist and you board a boat as a foreign crew member, it's all clear. It doesn't matter where the ship is coming from or what flag it flies. It could be a Liberian flag or a Russian flag; it doesn't matter. You can apply for the maritime crew visas. They operate with as little as 24 hours notice, and they give them the tick to come in across our borders. These foreign ships regularly have more than 20 foreign crew on board, and, under the Morrison government, our intelligence agencies have 24 hours to vet them all. That proposition would make any sensible person ask the following: how thoroughly can the Morrison government do a background check on 20-plus foreign crew members in just 24 hours, when it takes the Morrison government up to three months to process background checks for Australian maritime workers? It's a gaping hole in our border protection. If you're an Australian maritime worker, you need a maritime security identification card, or MSIC. The waiting time for one of these is as long as three months. It takes the government three months to do background checks on a single Australian maritime worker, and the Prime Minister would have you believe he can do it for 20 foreign crew members in a single day. That doesn't pass the sniff test, does it?

When confronted with these facts, what did the Morrison government do just last week? It introduced a bill to add more red tape to the approvals for processing Australian workers but did nothing to plug the Prime Minister's huge, gaping border hole. Labor even put forward amendments, in good faith, to fix the problem, but the government voted them down.

That brings me to the private senator's bill before us today. The bill aims to ensure foreign crew are subject to proper security background checks. This bill will bring the background check requirement for foreign crews on ships with a temporary licence to engage in Australian coastal voyages into line with the background checks required for Australian maritime workers. This bill will end the blatant discrimination by the Morrison government against Australian seafarers and maritime workers.

Here's another dirty little secret the Prime Minister doesn't want you to know. Thirty years ago there were 100 Australian flagged vessels. If you saw a cargo ship come into a port in Australia, there was a reasonable chance it was an Australian ship with an Australian crew paid a fair Australian wage, and it was complying with Australia's labour and tax laws and border requirements. How many Australian vessels are here today? Just 13. An Australian flagged vessel is almost as rare a sight today as a Prime Minister taking accountability. As a result, the government has overseen the deaths of thousands of jobs across Australia. It has exposed Australia to a massive national security risk and put our borders at risk. That's a risk that's compounded by foreign crews being able to waltz into Australian ports with 24 hours notice. Within 24 hours for a foreign crew and up to three months for Australian crews—it doesn't compute, does it? It doesn't compute unless you've been lax on border security and left gaping holes.

The government's own then Department of Immigration and Border Protection in 2017—I'd be pleased if those on the opposite side could answer this one—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.

Here are some quick facts about the size and scale of the Prime Minister's gaping border hole: 20,000 foreign flagged ships with 200,000 foreign crew, both literally and figuratively, sail through Australian border control each and every year, again, on as little as 24 hours notice. The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission reports that 72 per cent of cocaine, 83 per cent of cannabis and 72 per cent amphetamines seized in 2018-19 came through our maritime ports. Last year, 18 foreign flagged ships carried ammonium nitrate on Australia's coastal routes.

Let's look at the issue of ammonium nitrate. We've got people that have given 24 hours notice sitting on ships with ammonium nitrate without getting proper security checks. They get flagged through. They get the tick and they come in. For those who may not be aware of the dangers of ammonium nitrate, it's the same material that caused the massive explosion in Beirut last year that killed, tragically, more than 200 people and was heard hundreds of kilometres away. The Beirut explosion was caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that had been seized from a Russian ship. The 18 foreign flagged ships that carried ammonium nitrate around Australia carried up to 6,500 tonnes each, more than double the amount in Beirut. In 2019, 85,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate were moved through the port of Newcastle alone. That's more than 30 times the amount that led to the Beirut explosion. The crew carrying the material gets their maritime crew visas from the Morrison government with 24 hours notice and without adequate security checks.

The Senate Standing Committees on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport heard recently that a foreign master, Captain Salas, was provided a maritime crew visa in 2015-16 to sail into Australian waters even though just three years earlier he had been investigated by the New South Wales coroner for three highly suspicious deaths on his ship. He had previously admitted to being a gun runner in Australia. Here is what the committee report said:

In giving evidence to the Coronial Inquest, Captain Salas admitted that he had assaulted a crew member on several occasions, and that he facilitated the purchase of guns. Captain Salas organised for crew to complete gun applications, collected money for the guns (with the guns to be collected in the Philippines), and 'kept a small commission for his administrative efforts'.

Or so he says. After all this, Captain Salas was granted a maritime crew visa in both 2015 and 2016. It's very apparent that the maritime crew visa system is absolutely a joke.

Just last week, two crew members of a Panamanian flagged ship, the Glorious Plumeria, snuck through security at the Port of Geelong. They're still at large nine days later: no Border Force, no security checks from screening and no on-time, real-time oversight. Quite clearly, the government has dropped the ball, but the thing is—we spoke about this last week—here is an opportunity for the government to rectify what is a gaping hole in our border security.

The Migration Amendment (New Maritime Crew Visa) Bill 2020 addresses that gaping hole in the Morrison government's border security by creating two categories of maritime crew visa: a transit visa for international seafarers entering Australia on a continuing international voyage, which is supposed to be the purpose of the existing visa; and a more rigorous maritime crew visa for international seafarers engaged on ships authorised under a temporary licence to undertake coastal voyages.

Now, it's quite clear that there are these lax arrangements on our borders. We see this lax arrangement when it comes to foreign crews. We see this lax arrangement when it comes to moving dangerous goods, such as ammonium nitrate, around our coast, from port to port. And yet the government fails to say that those people need to be properly checked. Sorry, I'm not quite telling the whole truth. What the government did say is that, if the criminal or the terrorist applies for an ASIC or MSIC, then they will get the same test that every Australian crew member gets. What a ridiculous suggestion. What a ludicrous suggestion. What a pathetic suggestion. It is demonstrating the fact they have not got the answer on this critical question of border protection.

The government argues that the foreign crew do not need strong security checks because they are under constant supervision while in port. However, the Senate Regional and Rural Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee heard evidence that there are no X-ray machines. We heard this last week. There are no metal detectors. We heard this last week. There are no bag checks. We heard that as well last week. These seafarers often just have a backpack, and they're not checked. And that's border security? That's the most lax border security, and the country will pay the price for what this government is failing to do. There is an opportunity to them redeem themselves: vote for the bill.

The Department of Home Affairs has also confirmed that, although some foreign vessels have more than 20 seafarers on board, all 20 foreign seafarers can be left to walk through highly sensitive areas of ports that are simply under security camera supervision, without any MSIC accredited officials physically present to escort them. That is interesting, because that information was given to a Senate inquiry this year. So what happened at Geelong? Exactly what Paul McAleer said, as I read out, when he gave evidence to the same inquiry—that is, that there are 'gaping holes' and that border security and the ABF are not aware of them. The government's certainly not aware of them; otherwise, they'd be filling them. It does raise a serious question: why aren't they filling the gaps in those lax border security arrangements? That's because their paymasters don't want to spend an extra amount of money, or have their businesses pay extra amounts of money, to make sure terrorists don't come into this country, drug traffickers don't come into this country and gun runners don't come into this country.

The Prime Minister owes Australia's maritime workers an explanation of why they should be forced to wait three months for an MSIC, while foreign crew can obtain a maritime crew visa in just 24 hours. And the Prime Minister owes an explanation to the Australian people why he's keeping our borders open to terrorists, drug traffickers, gun runners and people smugglers.

10:49 am

Photo of David VanDavid Van (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Migration Amendment (New Maritime Crew Visas) Bill 2020 and why it is clear to me that this bill is not in Australia's interests and not in the interests of the maritime industry. As an island nation, Australia conducts 98 per cent of its trade through its ports. We are incredibly reliant on the maritime industry to keep us connected to the world and in ensuring our ports and maritime industry are operating as efficiently as possible. It's of vital importance to Australia's economy and national security.

My grandfather was an ambulance driver on the wharves for most of his working life. I still remember hearing him talking around the Sunday lunch table about the crime and corruption he used to see going on at those ports each and every day. This is why I was proud to see the Transport Security Amendment (Serious Crime) Bill pass recently, so that good, honest people like my grandfather who work at our ports are able to go to work every day in an environment that is free from crime and corruption.

The government's role is, first and foremost, to keep Australians safe and secure, and this government is committed to combating the impact and the influence of serious and organised crime at Australia's airports and seaports. That is why we recently passed the serious crime bill: to stop corruption and crime at our ports of entry and to root out organised crime from areas of national security importance. Numerous inquiries and reports have noted that malicious individuals and organised crime groups have been exploiting weaknesses in the aviation and maritime security identification card schemes. That is why the government introduced the serious crime bill: to stop serious criminal activity occurring at our seaports and to ensure that our borders are secure. That is the bill that those opposite fought for days last week to try to stop.

The Migration Amendment (New Maritime Crew Visas) Bill introduced by Senator Keneally is largely a redundant bill that only duplicates existing security provisions and threatens to undermine the serious crime bill that recently passed through the parliament. The amendments put forward by the Labor Party will not help keep Australians safe, and this bill looks to undermine the Morrison government's hard work in rooting out organised crime.

Firstly, in regard to the amendments on sheet 1117, if the migration amendment bill 2020 ever commences, the amendments made by the serious crime bill will never commence. This means that Australians will be less safe and less secure. This means that organised crime groups will continue to exploit weaknesses in the aviation and maritime security identification card schemes. Is Labor okay with that—seriously? Is Labor okay with letting serious crime threaten our economy and our way of life? Labor's attempt to stop amendments made by the serious crime bill show that they will never be tough on crime and that they don't take border security seriously; they never have. If we can't trust Labor to take border security seriously, what can we trust them to do?

One of the many lessons COVID-19 has taught us is that we must ensure that our supply chains are free from constraint and that they are able to operate as efficiently as possible so that critical goods and services can get to where they are needed. We've seen that maritime workers are essential to our economy and that without them our trade stands still. Ensuring that our maritime industry is able to operate as efficiently as possible means that our ports must be free from crime and corruption and unencumbered by unnecessary processes so that honest, hardworking people, such as my grandfather was, can get on with the job. However, what Labor is proposing only looks to constrain our maritime industry and place further administrative burdens on our departments.

Let's have a look at the amendments proposed in this bill by Labor and at what they do and why they are not in the interests of Australia's maritime industry. This bill splits the current maritime crew visa into two new categories: the international seafarers transit visa, which is largely the same as the current maritime crew visa, and the international seafarers work visa. Currently all maritime crew visa applicants are already required to meet prescribed public interest criteria relating to character, including criminal history and national security. If a new visa subclass is introduced, it is more likely that character and national security public interest criteria would apply and that the security assessments and criminal history checks would result in potential duplication of existing visa criteria for a subset of MCV applicants, creating more work for the departments and slower processing times for applicants.

This bill requires applicants for the proposed international seafarers work visa to satisfy criteria consistent with any criteria in maritime regulations concerning security assessments and criminal history checks of an MSIC applicant. The proposed amendments attempt to link aspects of the MSIC background check to the maritime crew visa, which would be a replication of current regulatory requirements and cause unnecessary delays in the issuing of visas. As a proud member of the Liberal government, I believe in making our systems more efficient in ensuring our trade industry is as productive as possible. Unnecessary delays in the granting of visas only threatens to hurt our maritime trade environment and, with it, our economy and economic growth. While this may not be something that the Labor Party cares about, I do, as all of those on this side do. This risk is simply unacceptable.

Senator Keneally's proposal would duplicate screening processes for a cohort who already need to obtain an MSIC and it would also increase the workload of screening agencies for an approved cohort who would only enter a security zone while monitored. If a maritime crew visa holder requires unmonitored access to a maritime security zone, they would be required, like all individuals, to obtain an MSIC and undergo the required background check. The decision to issue a maritime crew visa already considers the individual's criminal history as a security assessment before the visa is issued. For most MCV holders, unmonitored access to a maritime security zone occurs only to transit the onshore zones to access the ship. Generally they do not access the security zone unescorted. The duplication of these processes is simply unnecessary and unlikely to provide any tangible benefits to increase the security of our ports and reduce organised crime groups exploiting weaknesses in the aviation and maritime security identification card schemes.

When Senator Keneally spoke on this in 18 February this year, she said:

… this government has done nothing to ensure that these foreign workers are subject to robust background checking.

And she said that this legislation would:

… level the playing field to make sure that foreign workers are subject to the same kinds of background checks that hardworking Australians face …

However, this is simply not true. Labor is deliberately seeking to create confusion around the issue. As noted earlier, when an applicant applies for a maritime crew visa they are required to meet prescribed public interest criteria relating to character, including criminal history and national security. Similarly, international crew who require unmonitored access to maritime security zones are already required to obtain an MSIC card, and anyone seeking to have unescorted access to secure areas of our ports must have an ASIC or an MSIC. There is no government requirement for Australian seafarers to hold an MSIC. Not only are foreign workers who apply for a maritime crew visa subject to background checking but this government is going one step further under proposed changes to the coastal trading act. All crew on cruise ships under a coastal trading licence will need to meet MSIC requirements. This will incorporate everyone working on the ship, including those working in the kitchen and those working behind the bar, even though they are not accessing the maritime security zone.

The criminal history check and security assessment elements that are required by the bill set out by Senator Keneally are simply not appropriate for international maritime crew and may delay the granting of maritime crew visas. The last thing our maritime industry needs is extended delays while crew wait for visas to be approved. Further delays could be expected if this bill is supported as there are no draft regulations to support it, meaning that the department would have to prepare new regulations to be made under the Migration Act.

When it comes to ensuring the integrity of our ports of entry and the safety and security of Australians, we can't afford delay. The Morrison government has provided targeted, effective measures to address what is a very serious issue. The Labor Party want to delay this action and put the integrity of our ports at risk. One must ask: what is Labor actually proposing with this bill? Is it that we make applicants undergo unnecessary processes and procedures? Is it that we increase the financial burden of the maritime crew visa scheme? Is it that we unnecessarily increase the load taken by our departments? This bill will only cause uncertainty and delay for industry and government, and, when it comes to our borders, any level of uncertainty and delay is unacceptable. Our border security is too important to get wrong. These amendments are not being put forward to protect Australians, and anyone wishing to ensure that our borders are safe and secure should not support this bill.

11:00 am

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in support of this bill, the Migration Amendment (New Maritime Crew Visas) Bill 2020. I also supported the Transport Security Amendment (Serious Crime) Bill 2020, but I think that this bill adds a proper dimension. The logic of Senator Van in his contribution—where he suggested we simply drop security because it might take a little bit of time—is hugely problematic. In terms of visa processing, if you care about time, why don't you care about the time it takes to give visas to people who want to come here and contribute to Australian life? The logic that's been put forward is fundamentally flawed.

We need to understand that ships are very large and complex machines. There's lots of working space, and there are lots of places where crime can be set up. It's an obvious place for criminals to exploit. On top of that, we know that customs doesn't have the resources to screen every container coming in from another country. That's just not possible. We know that they use intelligence to work through some of the selection processes for that screening, but we certainly don't get every container screened. When we're dealing with ports, there are two elements to the cargo that is transiting through them: there are the offshore parties that could be loading contraband and there are the crews working throughout the journey. That is problematic. We need to understand something about the seafarers who are on the ships that are transiting our coastal regions.

There have been a whole bunch of recent events in relation to criminal activity. I won't go through them, because of time. One of the problems we've got—and this has been quite typical of what I've seen coming from the Liberal Party—is that the Liberal Party says, 'We want a free market; we want to make everything easy,' but we load up the requirements for Australian companies, like leave loadings, super, long service leave, occupational health and safety standards, environmental standards and quality standards, and then we say, 'Let's buy stuff over here because it's cheaper.' We're doing the same thing in coastal shipping. Coastal shipping in Australia has been decimated as a result of the disproportionate measures that are applied. This is another good example of what's happening here. We've got Australian industry having to jump through hoops in order to make us safe, but then we drop the ball on the international component. Of course, that makes it cheaper for them, and their vessels may not of the same standards as the 13 ships with the Australian merchant flag. We've got all these ships running around with different standards and with crew that are simply not properly screened. That is hugely problematic. Because of the destruction of our coastal shipping, we've got more and more foreign ships ploughing through our waters, more and more of these people coming into Australia's maritime jurisdiction who have not been checked to the same standards that we check Australian workers. That is hugely problematic. We do not want to have a situation where we have a difference in the way we assess the security risks of foreign workers compared to Australian maritime workers. Risk is risk, and you have to deal with it. You don't say, 'It's going to take too much time to deal with our security risks; we're only going to apply that to the Australians and not to the international seafarers.' It doesn't make sense.

Ultimately, what we should be doing is restoring our Australian merchant shipping fleet. We need to be building a capability—we're going to be talking about fuel security a little bit later today. If we get to the end of 2027 or 2030 and we don't have any refineries, we're going to have to wean ourselves off these fossil fuels. I think it's inevitable anyway. One of the ways to do that is to have more efficient transport, and that may well be coastal shipping, and it ought to have an Australian flag at the back of any ship that is ploughing through our waters. That ought to be the goal of government, not to try and make it easier for the foreign entities to carry out that business.

I will be supporting this bill. This bill is a good bill. I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate interrupted.