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Further Safeguards For Defence Bill

Joint News Release

Minister For Defence

The Hon. Daryl Williams AM QC MP

The Hon. John Moore MP
23 August 2000 MIN229/00

Further Safeguards For Defence Bill

Cabinet yesterday considered the report of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Reference Committee into the Defence Legislation Amendment (Aid to Civilian Authorities) Bill. The Committee reported last Wednesday.

The Government has agreed to address the Committee's concerns about some aspects of the Bill by adopting all of the Committee's recommendations. A number of these recommendations will require Government amendments to the Bill. The Government will move these amendments in the Senate when the Bill is debated next week.

State, Territory and Commonwealth Governments have always had the power to request call out of the Defence Force in Australia in rare situations where police need help to deal with an extreme emergency, such as a terrorist incident. The public would expect no less.

The Bill does not change the circumstances under which the Defence Force can be called out on Australian soil to aid police. Contrary to claims by some commentators, the Bill in no way permits the Defence Force to be used against peaceful protests, nor does it permit force to be used which in the circumstances is unreasonable.

However, there is currently no legislation outlining the process governing call out by the Commonwealth to protect its own interests. Existing legislation governing call out at the request of a State or Territory to protect that State or Territory from civil unrest or domestic violence is antiquated and unworkable.

The Bill will for the first time set out the Commonwealth's call out process in legislation. It will clarify the State and Territory process and include significant safeguards and accountability requirements on the exercise of a range of powers under the Bill.

The Senate Committee recommended further safeguards and accountability measures to which the Government has agreed.

The Committee recommended that the legislation should be reviewed thoroughly once it has been in operation for some time. In response, the Government has agreed to give an undertaking that a parliamentary committee will review the legislation within 6 months of any call out of the Defence Force or if there is no call out, within three years of the commencement of the legislation. The parliamentary committee will have the ability to take submissions from the public, State and Territory governments and their agencies and the Defence Force.

Cabinet also agreed to enhance parliamentary scrutiny of any incident of call out. Under the original Bill, if Parliament was not sitting some time may have elapsed before a report was provided to Parliament on the use of the Defence Force. In recognition of the proper role of Parliament, the Government will now seek an amendment to ensure that Parliament is informed of the use of the Defence Force within seven days, irrespective of the sitting calendar.

The Government will extend the prohibition on the use of the Reserves in relation to an industrial dispute in any circumstances under the Bill. Currently, use of the Reserves in connection with an industrial dispute is prohibited only when the troops are called out at the request of a State.

The Government will also amend the Bill to ensure that the Commonwealth notifies the State or Territory concerned when it has called out the Defence Force.

Finally, the Government will move an amendment that the authorisation for a deliberate assault must be made by the Prime Minister, the Minister for Defence or the Attorney-General, and not delegated to another Minister. The Government considers that this accords with the key role of these Ministers in the original decision to call out the Defence Force.

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