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Second reading speech, Migration Amendment (New Maritime Crew Visas) Bill 2021 (ALP), 21 June 2021

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?

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