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BILLS: Defence Amendment (Call Out of the Australian Defence Force) Bill 2018 – 26 November 2018

Senator REYNOLDS (Western AustraliaAssistant Minister for Home Affairs) (21:42): Before I provide the government’s comments and summing-up speech, I would like to address a number of the issues raised by Senator McKim in the debate this evening. First of all, in relation to his questions about the Constitution, I can assure Senator McKim that the Constitution is relevant and that it’s not just about the vibe of the Constitution. The definition of ‘domestic violence’ is real, and it is very clear. While you might dismiss the fact that it is in section 119 of the Constitution, it does define domestic violence and it is very clear. Your recommendation would be unworkable at the very least.

I also agree with Senator Macdonald. I’ve heard a number of ludicrous things coming from some of the Greens senators, but saying to the parliament, ‘There’s been a terrorist incident. A state or territory government has requested urgent assistance,’ and having us say, ‘We’ll recall parliament, Mr or Mrs Terrorist. Please hold on, and we’ll wait for a number of days’—it is unworkable.

Senator McKim: On a point of order: I’ll save the minister embarrassment. That’s not what the Australian Greens are suggesting. As I explained to Senator Macdonald, you’re just making stuff up.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator McKim, I’ve already ruled on that point of order. That’s a debating point. Minister.

Senator REYNOLDS: Thank you. For the benefit of Senator McKim and anybody else who may have been listening to this debate tonight, thinking that domestic violence does not have a good definition, I will explain again that it is in section 119 of the Australian Constitution and it is quite clear about what it means. The term ‘domestic violence’ refers to violence occurring within Australia. The term is not defined in the legislation but refers to conduct that is marked by great physical force and will include a terrorist attack or a hostage situation. Part IIIAAA uses the term ‘domestic violence’ as this is a term used in the Constitution. Again, as I said, it’s not about the vibe or anything else; it is about the black and white of Australia’s Constitution. This section explicitly deals with state requests for assistance in responding to domestic violence in a very clear definition.

I would like to thank all of my parliamentary colleagues for their contributions to the debate on the Defence Amendment (Call Out of the Australian Defence Force) Bill 2018. I also thank the opposition for its support for these important amendments to the legislation. I would reflect that, for all of us here in the parliament and also for the executive government, there is actually no greater responsibility than the security of Australians. The review of Defence support for national counterterrorism arrangements, which was announced by the government in July last year, was initiated directly in response to the changing nature of the terrorist threat, as demonstrated in terrorist attacks in Paris, Brussels and London. The amendments are the most significant changes to the Australian Defence Force call-out powers under part IIIAAA of the Defence Act—the biggest changes since 2000, in the lead-up to the Sydney Olympics.

I can assure Senator McKim that, despite the denial—I think it’s a somewhat dangerous denial of the Greens—the threat is significantly more complex than the threat Australia faced 20 years ago. Now the threats include explosive devices and highly mobile and coordinated attackers who can move across large areas.

Senator McKim: The threat level is the same as it was five years ago. It hasn’t changed.

Senator REYNOLDS: The amendments will ensure, despite the interjections of Senator McKim—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator O’Sullivan ): Minister, would you resume your seat. Senator McKim, to the extent that I was in the chamber when you were making your contribution, you were heard completely in silence. I would appreciate if you would allow the minister to speak without interjection.

Senator REYNOLDS: Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I can assure Senator McKim that, despite all of his interjections and his denial, the threats here in Australia are very real indeed. Since 2014, our national terrorism threat level has been at ‘probable’ for very good reason. In that time, we have had 40 major counterterrorism operations which have resulted in the prevention of 15 probable attacks on Australians. Sadly, seven still occurred. We have had 230 passports cancelled and we have hundreds of people on the national watchlist. Senator McKim, the threat is real and all of us have a duty to protect Australians from that. The amendments in this legislation will ensure that the ADF is better able to respond quickly to those terrorist threats. The bill will enhance the ability of the ADF to support state and territory police in responding to incidents of significant violence occurring in Australia, including terrorism.

Under the amendments, states and territories will continue to have primary responsibility for protecting life and properties in their jurisdictions—again contrary to what the Greens have said will be the case. State and territory police forces are well equipped to respond to modern domestic terrorism incidents and also play a primary role as first responders within minutes of an attack. However, the amendments will ensure that the Commonwealth can more easily respond to requests from states and territories for ADF assistance where the states and territories are not able, or believe that they’re unlikely to be able, to protect themselves against incidents of significant violence. In deciding whether to call out the ADF, the Commonwealth will need to consider the nature of the incident and whether the call-out of the ADF would enhance the state or territory response.

I will highlight three things the amendments will do in particular. Firstly, they will allow the government to pre-authorise the ADF to respond to specified threats on land, at sea or in the air. Secondly, they will simplify, expand and clarify the ADF’s power to search, seize and control movement during a violent or terrorist incident. Thirdly, they will enhance the ability of the ADF to respond to incidents occurring in more than one jurisdiction. While the ADF’s primary role for counterterrorism is offshore, the ADF has personnel, resources and specialist skills that can assist our emergency services to respond in the event of a terrorist attack.

Debate interrupted.

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