Maritime Security Matters

It is my pleasure to be speaking on this bill, the Transport Security Amendment (Serious or Organised Crime) Bill 2016, that amends the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004, hereafter referred to as the aviation act, and the Maritime Transport and Offshore Facilities Security Act 2003, hereafter referred to as the maritime act. 


The purpose of this legislation is to regulate access to secure aviation and maritime areas and zones to safeguard against unlawful interference. The originating legislation had its history in the heightened levels of security concerns that followed the September 11 attacks. That legislation enjoyed bipartisan support across the chamber and this amending legislation continues to do so.

Organised crime is a serious threat to Australia's security and prosperity. There is no contention about that proposition in this place. Those who use our aviation and maritime transport systems as a means to commit organised crimes will not be tolerated. Labor support targeted measures that address serious and organised crime. Sensible measures which are going to minimise this illegal trade and detect perpetrators and bring them to justice are initiatives which Labor will of course support. But there are aspects of this government's policy that touch upon these issues that we will not support. I will have something more to say about what we describe as 'Work Choices on water', because it goes directly to the issues that we are debating in this House today—and that is the security of our borders, particularly our maritime borders.

This legislation rests in part on the recently published recommendations of the National Ice Taskforce, a task force commissioned by the previous Prime Minister. The report was released by the current Prime Minister. The report of the National Ice Taskforce was welcomed by Labor. The report recommended that the Commonwealth government continue to protect the aviation and maritime environments against organised crime. It was particularly concerned with the porosity of our borders and the fact that organised crime gangs are connecting with supply routes through South-East Asia and bringing drugs, not only methamphetamines but also those, through our borders on board ships. In part this is in response to a crackdown on the domestic production of methamphetamines in meth labs in this country. The report recommended that the government strengthen the eligibility criteria for holders of aviation security identification cards and the maritime equivalent, the MSIC. Labor support measures to align and refine the systems. We believe that they are sensible reforms. We must ensure that persons accessing secure areas around airports, ports, aircraft and ships are subject to proper background checks that are appropriately balanced against the risks that we are attempting to mitigate.

I represent a region where there are several hundred men and women who put to sea out of the port of Port Kembla. The livelihood of the region depends, in part, upon the security and the vitality of the port of Port Kembla. We are critically interested in the security and the issues that this bill touches upon. We have a few concerns and we have said that we will not object or oppose this bill in the House. We believe, given the subject matter that it deals with, that it should be subject to a very efficient Senate inquiry if the course of this parliament allows it. The speculation around this building today and over the last couple of days has been frenzied. It may not be allowed to occur because of the early calling of an election—that is entirely within the government's hands—but it is our view that an efficient Senate committee inquiry into the subject matter of this bill is warranted.

We have a few prima facie concerns. The first is that the bill attempts to amend two acts that deal with aviation security and maritime security. This is in an effort to prevent the use of the services in connection with serious and organised crime. We are concerned about the confusion of priorities for transport security. We support a transport security framework that has a clear purpose in its own right. Transport security is a vital mission for government but it is a very different task from that of targeting organised crime in our transport system. The two acts that this bill attempts to amend currently target unlawful interference in the aviation and maritime sectors. As such, the current focus of these acts is on targeting behaviour which may cause harm to passengers, crew, aviation and maritime personnel, the general public, and damage to property.

This is not, however, related to organised crime, which is a new secondary purpose that the government is attempting to insert into these acts. The government hopes to administer this new purpose solely through changes to eligibility criteria for existing aviation, security and Maritime Security Identification Card holders. Labor believes that there is a potential risk in that widening the purpose of transport security legislation will confuse the two missions of, firstly, transport security and, secondly, targeting serious organised crime in the transport system. We rather suspect that the government is alive to this issue given the severance provisions that have been drafted into the bill. They are both important but the question is whether achievement of both is best achieved via the mechanism that the government suggests. We are not an obstacle to these occurring, we just want to ensure that it is done in the best way possible.

I want to talk about the great risk to maritime security that is not being addressed by this legislation. It goes to the government's increased use of flag-of-convenience vessels for the maritime trade plying our coastline. The government is actively encouraging shipowners to sack their Australian crews and to replace the Australian flag—the red ensign—from the back of those Australian owned ships so that they can replace them with a flag of a foreign nation and replace the crew with a crew of a foreign nation. We are calling it 'Work Choices on water’ for very good reason. In fact, the most dangerous place for an Australian flag in Australia today is at the back of an Australian owned vessel. This government is attempting to remove those flags and the Australian crew and to replace them with a foreign crew. What does that have to do with national security? I want to explain exactly what that has to do with national security, because the people that we are talking about, the Australian crew who are working aboard those vessels plying the coastline, who are coming in and out of our ports, are required to be in possession of a Maritime Security Identification Card. They have to go through all of those checks and I can tell you that, if they do not meet those checks, they do not get a card and they do not get a job on board that ship.

It is a tough system but it is a system which is designed to preclude the sorts of criminality that the government is intended on excluding from our maritime trade by the bill before the House today. Let's be clear about this, if you are Australian maritime worker working on one of those boats, you are required to have an MSIC. No card, no job. What is the situation with one of the foreign crew who is working on one of those flag-of-convenience vessels? They are not required to have an MSIC. There is no card requirement for one of those crews.

You have to ask yourself: where are the government's priorities? I want to draw your attention to the provisions, because they are broad, indeed, and could lead to the exclusion of somebody getting an MSIC, because the regulations which are supported by the current legislation have five tiers of exclusion. The highest tier is one that everyone would agree with. It includes offences such as terrorism, treason, foreign incursion, the recruitment offences, offences relating to weapons of mass destruction, and offences and crimes and misdemeanours of a similar sort. People smuggling is also listed as a tier 1 offence. They go through to tier 2 offences, which are slightly less but also serious, of an adverse finding against somebody, for example, if they have been involved in threatening or assaulting persons in or on an aircraft, an airport, a vessel or a port, and the theft of government or commercial aircraft or vessel. You could understand why this is the sort of person who we would not want to be carrying an MSIC. We would not want somebody who has been involved in terrorism or who has been involved in highjacking or somebody who has been involved in a tier 1 offence or even a tier 2 offence. We would not want a person such as this working on a ship, whether it is a foreign owned vessel or an Australian owned vessel coming into our ports, and all the risks that are associated with that.

Tier 5 offences are offences that of course we do not approve of—offences such as theft; forgery or fraud; offences involving sexual abuse or exploitation of a minor; assault, including assault of an indecent or sexual nature; affray or riot; and tax evasion. So there are a whole range of offences that could exclude an Australian from having an MSIC and, therefore, from working on board an Australian ship.

If a government is seriously concerned about protecting our borders and ensuring that the crew on board ships—including ships that maybe a couple of months ago were Australian flagged vessels but today are carrying a flag of convenience, the flag of a foreign nation, and the crew of a foreign nation—do not have criminal backgrounds, why would it not make the same rules apply to everyone? You end up scratching your head and saying, 'This does not add up.' But this is exactly what is happening under this legislation and the policies of this government. We call it 'Work Choices on water' for a very good reason: it is driven by a blind ideological agenda to replace Australian crews, including people from my own electorate.

I had the opportunity to catch up with Zach Kinzett, from Shellharbour, in my electorate, and several other shipping workers. He was one of those seafarers who lost their jobs because of the government's policy. He was marched off his ship, the MV Portland, by security guards in the middle of the night. A couple of days later, his entire crew was replaced by foreign seafarers. He makes the point: 'We should have the right to work in our own country. We pay taxes, we buy things in this country, we have a mortgage in this country.' He should have a right to work in this country, under its laws. He cannot for the life of him see why he has been excluded from working on board an Australian owned ship, plying its trade in the ports of Australia, and why the rules that apply to him are different from the rules that apply to these foreign workers.

And it is not just Zach. Joanne Kerin from Kanahooka, who I have spoken about in this House before, lost her job aboard the Alexander Spirit. She and the other 36 Australian crew that she had worked with for many, many years lost their jobs and were replaced by a foreign crew—no warning, no respect, no concern for Australian jobs.

This is a perverse situation, where we have legislation before the House today to beef up the requirements under and expand the objects of the act to ensure that MSICs and ASICs are being provided to people in the right circumstances and in accordance with the legislation, yet somewhere else we have this massive back door, this massive loophole, that the government has created because of its own ideological obsession with pulling down the Australian red ensign flag on the back of Australian ships and replace it with a foreign flag, and replace the Australian crew with a foreign crew. Yes, it might be allowing the shipowners to pay cheaper wages, but it is doing nothing for national security, and that is what the parliament, as we have said today, are very concerned about. These are the issues that should be traversed when and if a Senate committee gets the opportunity to scrutinise this bill.