Actions taken to keep Australians safe

As the previous speaker, the member for Forde, mentioned, keeping Australians safe is a priority for this government. There is no more pressing matter of national or international security than reducing the threat of terrorism, and that is what we see with the bill before the House this evening, the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014.

We are all aware of the threat from ISIL, or Daesh, al-Nusra Front and other forms of al-Qaeda affiliated groups. We know that they are more dangerous, more global, more organised perhaps and more diversified than previously. We know as well that terrorists are younger. They are more violent and often more interconnected.

We have seen the interconnected nature of social media and the internet. They are extremely violent, as we have seen. They are, clearly, very easily recruited and very tech savvy. They also have been subject to incitement by others, and we have seen communication of such propaganda and violence through disaffected young people.

Australia has been working with the Iraqi government, the United States and many other partners to attack and degrade ISIL overseas and to assist in taking back Iraqi territory. We have also taken significant steps at home. This bill is just the next stage of that. The government has cancelled the passports of more than 70 Australians suspected of planning to commit a terrorist act or engage in a form of politically motivated violence overseas.

We have seen the Minister for Foreign Affairs freeze the assets of two Australians who were recruiting for ISIL online. We have introduced new foreign terrorist fighter laws to help to disrupt the organisation, the financing and the facilitation of foreign fighters by enhancing our ability to track the financial transactions of suspected foreign terrorist fighters, by lowering the threshold of arrest without warrant for terrorist and terrorism offences, which really helps our agencies to disrupt terrorist activity at an earlier stage, and by cancelling social welfare payments to cut off the diversion of such funds for terrorism.

The minister has also taken steps allowing the Australian government to suspend as well as cancel a person’s Australian passport. We have enhanced screening and security measures at international airports, including through the collection and matching of biometric data.

Each one of these successive laws that the government has introduced enhances our ability to investigate and prosecute foreign fighters. That has been done by: introducing a new, broader offence for advocating terrorism; introducing a new offence for entering or remaining without a legitimate reason in designated areas overseas where terrorist organisations are fighting; amending the terrorism organisation listing provision to include the promotion and encouragement of terrorist acts; requiring that the prosecution must prove that a person intended to engage in a hostile activity in any foreign country, rather than a particular foreign country; allowing courts greater flexibility in determining whether to admit as evidence material obtained from overseas in terrorism related proceedings—a significant development that will rely on good information sharing; and requiring telecommunications companies to retain metadata, enhancing Australia’s capacity to track, to investigate and to prosecute foreign terrorist fighters and supporters of terrorism.

The government has introduced law after law to enable our police to more easily seek control orders on returning foreign terrorist fighters and broaden the grounds on which such control orders can be sought.

The government is also working with Interpol to deliver training in our region in the use of technology by terrorists and how electronic evidence is gathered and managed. We are building targeted early intervention and counter-radicalisation programs.

The work has been very active, also involving women and girls. The government has worked with the ICT sector to reduce the risk posed by terrorists and extremist groups online through education, by promoting alternative messages and removing extremist content.

When you look at a terrorist act—and they are abhorred both here and around the world—it is an act or threat to act that intends to coerce or influence the public, or any government, by intimidation to advance a political, religious or ideological cause.

It can cause death, serious harm or danger to a person, serious damage to property, serious risk to the health and safety of the public, and serious interference with and disruption to or destruction of critical infrastructures, such as telecommunications or electricity networks.

Advocating, protesting, dissenting or taking industrial action are not terrorist acts if the person engaged in the activity does not intend to cause serious harm to a person or serious risk to public safety. Anyone guilty of committing a terrorist act could face up to life imprisonment.

The bill before the House today contains a package of amendments to the Intelligence Services Act 2001 and the Criminal Code 1995. The amendments facilitate Australian Secret Intelligence Service, ASIS, in supporting and cooperating with the Australian Defence Force on military operations, enhance the arrangement for the provision of emergency ministerial authorisations to IS Act agencies, to undertake activities in the performance of their statutory functions, and enhance the control-order regime to allow the Australian Federal Police to seek control orders on a broader range of individuals of security concern and to streamline the application process.

The measures in the bill identified by relevant agencies, subsequent to the introduction of two previous tranches of legislation, have been included as a result of instances of operational need. In the case of the proposed IS Act amendments, the government has authorised the ADF to undertake operations against the Islamic State terrorist organisation in Iraq.

As a result, the need for this amendment is urgent.

These operational activities will include the collection of intelligence in relation to Australian persons who are known or suspected participants in the hostilities and particularly in relation to those who are known or suspected of fighting with or alongside the IS terrorist organisation. Such intelligence will assist in protecting ADF personnel, members of other defence forces and civilians from death or serious harm as a result of terrorist or other hostile acts committed in the course of the conflict.

The proposed amendments are directed to two key areas. First, the primary purpose of the amendment is to better facilitate ASIS provide timely assistance to the ADF in support of military operations and its cooperation with the ADF on intelligence matters.

Secondly, the proposed amendments make provision for the contingency that the relevant ministers may be temporarily uncontactable when there is an urgent previously unforeseen need to act on vital intelligence.

Presently, there is no legal basis on which agencies can undertake activities in these circumstances, which means that critical intelligence collection opportunities may be missed. The amendments will address this by enabling an agency head to grant a limited emergency authorisation, subject to rigorous and extensive safeguards and oversight mechanisms.

The minister must be notified, as soon as is practicable, within 48 hours and is under a positive obligation to make a decision about whether it should continue within the 48-hour maximum or be cancelled or replaced with a ministerial authorisation.

The amendments also provide for contingency arrangements in the event that the Attorney-General is not readily available or contactable to provide his or her agreement to the making of an emergency ministerial authorisation, where such an agreement is required because the authorisation concerns the undertaking of activities in relation to an Australian person who is or is likely to be engaged in activities that are or are likely to be a threat to security.

The amendments to the Criminal Code will further strengthen the control-order regime and enhance the capacity of law-enforcement agencies to protect the public from terrorist acts.

The amendments will allow the AFP to request an issuing, and an issuing court to make, a control order in relation to those who ‘enable’ and those who ‘recruit’. The amendments to the control-order regime will also streamline the application process by reducing the volume of material that must be provided to the Attorney-General, when seeking consent to request an interim control order, and extend the time for obtaining the Attorney-General’s consent when making an urgent request to an issuing court without first obtaining the Attorney-General’s consent.

As we see from this bill, the government is very directly concerned about the issues surrounding terrorism and will do everything it can within its power to protect Australians, both here and overseas. Making sure that Australians are secure and safe is a very important role for this government.

The $400,000 to support INTERPOL’s foreign fighter initiatives, over and above our ongoing annual membership contribution, is very important. There is $20 million to boost AUSTRAC’s ability to stop cash being funnelled to terrorists and to crack down on money laundering. These are very practical ways of assisting management of these issues.

The additional resourcing to the Australian Federal Police at airports, the counter-terrorism office in Turkey and the recent passage of crimes legislation dealing with psychoactive substances are all part of a very direct focus on all forms of safety and security of Australians.

I also note the recent and very important drug seizures. I saw that HMAS Toowoomba intercepted and seized 388 kilos of heroin off the coast of Africa. In September, the ship’s company seized more than 5.6 tonnes of cannabis resin onboard a dhow off the east coast of Africa. This involved 267 bags of resin, with a street value of around A$280 million.

We recently saw the arrest of six men in Sydney for drug importation. We saw that the Joint Organised Crime Group, comprising the Australian Federal Police, the New South Wales Police, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, the New South Wales Crime Commission and the Australian Crime Commission seized almost 2.8 tonnes of MDMA and methamphetamine, with a street value in excess of $1.5 billion. Potentially thousands of Australians’ lives have been saved as a result of the work done by our police and law enforcement agencies.

I commend them for their work. This particular effort would have taken countless hours and commitment by all of those agencies. I commend all of the officers and people engaged in that particular seizure.

We cannot underestimate the effect of drugs in society. I note that the number and weight of amphetamine type stimulants detected at the Australian border increased in 2012-13 to the highest on record. Australia is clearly a market for individuals seeking to import all of these forms of drugs. I also saw that there were a record number of cannabis detections at the Australian border in 2012-13 and an increase in the number and weight of heroin detections as well.

It was the highest on record—513.8 kilograms in 2012-13.

This tells you that there is a lot of work for our law enforcement agencies, the Australian Federal Police and the Customs service. It is never-ending. We saw that the amount of cocaine detected at the Australian border halved in 2012-13.

The number of detections, however, more than doubled and is the highest on record.

The other thing that concerns me greatly is that the number of performance and image enhancing drugs detected at the border increased by 751.6 per cent, the highest number on record.

I have said previously that the number of people who pursue this particular source are also often engaged in trying to source drugs online, with no idea of what they are actually buying and what is contained within the drugs. They are taking a major risk with their health, as well as it being illegal.