Border Protection

Mr CLARE (Blaxland—Minister for Home Affairs, Minister for Justice and Minister for Defence Materiel) (15:48): Today has been a very important day for Customs and Border Protection. The arrests that occurred in Sydney yesterday and the announcements by Customs and Border Protection Service CEO, Michael Carmody, and by New South Wales Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, demonstrate how effective Customs and Border Protection is. I would have hoped that today both sides would congratulate the Customs and Border Protection Service, the New South Wales Police, the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Crime Commission for the work they have done together. The result of all of that work is that police have seized seven firearms, ammunition, a parcel containing 140 Glock magazines, small quantities of steroids and prohibited drugs. It is a very important seizure. On top of that, some four people were arrested. It is important because it stops guns getting onto the streets of Sydney. It has happened because of the continued close cooperation of New South Wales agencies and federal agencies.

The Australian Crime Commission—as I said in the debate before the MPI—played a very important role in this. The Australian Crime Commission did trace analysis of a Glock weapon, linking it to weapons that were being distributed by a German firearms dealership. The Australian Federal Police played a very important role as well. Their international network, which is in the Hague, worked closely with the German federal police, the BKA. They also provided resources and investigation to support the warrants that were issued yesterday. Customs—which has been the subject of so much comment in parliament today—assisted the New South Wales Police by alerting them to the packages arriving from certain individuals from Germany during the package clearance process. They also provided officers, including detector dog teams, to assist with the execution of warrants.

The 20-person Customs team that was involved in this investigation included 10 investigators and search officers, two operations commanders to support the combined efforts of the agencies that were in the field, four dog handlers, three computer forensic officers and an intelligence support officer. Customs, New South Wales Police, the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Crime Commission working together dismantled a criminal syndicate and stopped a number of firearms and firearms parts making their way into Australia. It is a great example of what our law enforcement agencies do and what they do best.

Today should have been a day when we came in and congratulated them for their work. Mike Gallacher, the New South Wales Minister for Police and Emergency Services, and I have worked together on this issue to make it even more difficult for criminals to sell guns on the black market in Sydney or Adelaide or Perth—where the member for Stirling comes from. We have all been working to provide better intelligence to police so they can do their work

Unfortunately, it has been politicised. I think that speaks volumes for this shadow minister but also speaks volumes for the police minister in New South Wales who has taken a different approach and decided that he wants to work with the federal government, and I commend him for it. It speaks volumes about the measure of that man.

Today’s announcement by Commissioner Scipione and the CEO of Customs, Michael Carmody, also demonstrates the importance of firearms tracing. The tracing analysis that the Crime Commission did of this one weapon led to all of these arrests, all of these seizures and the dismantling of a criminal network.

The member for Stirling in his contribution talked about platitudes and tests. I would put to him that the real action I have taken here is to make sure that police right across the country have the information they need to do things like they did yesterday every day. I have done that by instructing the Australian Crime Commission to conduct the same sort of analysis they did for this firearm for all firearms that have been seized across the country over the past 12 months, as well as doing analysis of all of the shootings that have occurred across the country over the last 12 months.

This is part of a national intelligence assessment that I have asked the Crime Commission to conduct. I announced that with the New South Wales government last month. It is an analysis they will do into the illegal firearms market and its links to drive-by shootings as well as to other shootings across the country over the course of the last year.

This work will provide police across the country with additional intelligence on how illicit firearms are sourced, where they have been used in different states and how better to target the people who operate this black market. The intelligence the Australian Crime Commission collected as part of the strike force that arrested four people yesterday will be now implemented and injected into this important work the Crime Commission is doing.

The preliminary results of this work, as I mentioned in the previous debate, will be presented to state attorneys-general next month, and the final report and its recommendations will be presented to state and territory police ministers in July.

To the issue of cuts—and the shadow minister made much of cuts in Customs. I can only imagine the sorts of cuts that would be needed if you had to fill a $70 billion black hole. If you are not going to cut in Customs, where would you cut? It goes to hypocrisy of the Liberal Party when it comes to this debate. Two weeks ago, as I said earlier, the shadow minister said that cutting 11 people from the senior executive service in Customs was, to use your words, ‘drastic.’ If 11 is drastic, then what is 12,000? Because that is what you have promised to do: sack 12,000 people.

On Q&A, the shadow Treasurer said:

For a start, 12,000 public servants in Canberra will be made redundant over a two-year period immediately upon us being elected.

That is the starting point.

The Leader of the Opposition last week said how he would do this. He said that he would set up a commission of audit. Remember what happened with the last commission of audit: it did not sack 12,000 government workers; it led to 30,000 government workers being sacked. The Leader of the Opposition went further: he said where he would make these cuts. He said one of those areas was education. He said one of those areas was health and he said one of those areas was defence, which is another part of my responsibilities here as the minister. He said the audit commission would consider:

… whether we really need 7,000 officials in the Defence Materiel Organisation, when the United Kingdom, with armed forces at least four times our size, gets by with 4,000 in the equivalent body.

To start with that claim is just plain wrong. The UK body, Defence Equipment and Support, which equips the UK’s armed forces for current and future operations, does not employ 4,000 people; it employs 20,000 people. Like the men and women working in the DMO, they do very important work. These people working in Defence make sure that our troops—

Mr Keenan interjecting—

Mr CLARE: You are talking front-line people and affecting front-line workers. There are no front-line workers in the Australian government more important than our troops. These people in the Defence Materiel Organisation make sure that our troops in Afghanistan, East Timor and Solomon Islands have the equipment they need to do their job.

Over the last 18 months, I have seen that happen, whether it is lighter combat armour, better uniforms for our troops, upgraded safer Bushmasters—

Mr Tehan: You are cutting the Bushmasters.

Mr CLARE: That statement is just plain wrong. Whether it is the counter-rocket system that we have employed at Tarin Kowt to make sure that our troops have early warning of any rocket attack or the ground-penetrating radar system that we are providing for our troops in Afghanistan to give early warning of improvised devices on the roads—

Mr Keenan: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker: this MPI is specifically about Labor budget cuts to Customs and Border Protection. The minister is now talking about things in relation to Afghanistan. I ask you to return him to the substance of the MPI.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): The minister was making relevant remarks about budget cuts.

Mr CLARE: It is an MPI about cuts, but they do not like it when you ask the question: where will they cut? They have said they will cut from the Defence Materiel Organisation. Where do these people work? They do not all work in Canberra. There are 58 that work in Gippsland. There are 37 that work in west Victoria. There are 340 that work in Newcastle and 193 that work in Nowra. There are 39 that work in Cairns in the electorate of Leichhardt and 143 that work at the helicopter base at Oakey. The member for Groom would know the good work that the Defence Materiel Organisation does in his electorate. There are 161 in Edinburgh in the member for Wakefield’s electorate. There are 11 in Exmouth. In Stirling and in Rockingham there are 213 DMO workers—workers that provide the equipment that our troops need to do their job. These are the sorts of workers that this opposition are planning to cut if they come to government. So whilst this shadow minister puts his hand on his heart and says that he will not make any cuts from Customs, he knows full well that there will be cuts in defence. There will be cuts to the people who provide the equipment to keep our troops safe and there will be cuts to people who work even in his own electorate. It is hypocrisy that you see evident in the work of the opposition here.

Mr Keenan interjecting—

Mr CLARE: The member for Stirling says he is concerned about Customs. He should be listening to what Customs say. This is what Customs and Border Protection Command have said about your policy to turn back the boats, released in an FOI last month—he does not like it but he should sit down and take it.

Mr Keenan: Madam Deputy Speaker, on a point of order: the minister has been given enormously wide latitude to range over all sorts of things, except the substance of the MPI about Labor’s budget cuts to Customs.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The MPI relevance rule is one that is very elastic. I did not stop him when he was straying but the minister will return to the topic before us.

Mr CLARE: It is a debate that includes the words ‘border protection’ in its title, so it is worth asking the question: what is their border protection policy? Their policy is to turn back the boats. They are concerned about Customs. What do Customs say about their policy? In an FOI released last month they said that it would lead to asylum seekers exhibiting non-compliant behaviour and that Australian Defence Force personnel tasked to implement this policy proposal would be exposed to additional hazards. That is what Customs and Border Protection Command—whom you are so concerned about supporting—say about your policy. They say that turning back the boats, the policy you stand for, would put Australian sailors in harm’s way.

Everybody has attacked this policy, from former Chief of the Defence Force, Chris Barrie, to the Indonesian ambassador. Perhaps the most important people who have criticised this policy are the Australian men and women who would have to do the job. Why? It is because it would put their lives at risk. This is what a senior naval officer said in the Australian newspaper on 25 January: ‘They will disable their boats when they see us coming.’

Mr Keenan interjecting—

Mr CLARE: Are you not concerned about this? Are you not concerned about people dying on our seas? This is what a naval officer says about your policy: ‘They will burn their boats. The policy will encourage them to do so—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: It is certainly not my policy. The minister will not use the term ‘you’.

Mr CLARE: This is what a senior naval officer has said about the opposition’s policy: ‘The policy would encourage them to do so and it would place Navy lives and refugee lives at risk.’ We know this is true because it happened before—whether it was on 7 September 2001, when naval personnel boarded a vessel and were threatened and forced to withdraw; on 9 September; on 11 September; a month later with SIEV5; on 31 October; or 16 December—more sabotage, more fires, more threats of self-harm and boats not able to be turned around because it would have put the lives of Australian sailors at risk. That is what the opposition’s policy would threaten to do.

We have the chance here to do something good on Customs and Border Protection by implementing a policy that would reduce the risk of people losing their lives at sea—by implementing the Malaysia solution. The opposition just says no.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member’s time has expired.

Mr Tehan: Thank God for that!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Wannon may want to think seriously about such calls across the chamber.