House of Representatives

Law and Justice Legislation Amendment (Marking of Plastic Explosives) Bill 2006

Second Reading Speech

Mr Ruddock (Attorney-General)

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The bill implements the obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Marking of Plastic Explosives for the Purpose of Detection, concluded at Montreal on 1 March 1991.

In October 2004, the government announced in its National Security Policy its intention to accede to the convention.

This convention is the last of the 13 United Nations counterterrorism conventions to which Australia is not yet a party.

In September 2005, Australia was one of the first countries to sign the new Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.

Accession to this MARPLEX Convention is a further demonstration of Australia's ongoing commitment to overcoming international terrorism and further improves Australia's counterterrorism measures.

To date, the convention has 128 parties including Australia's international partners, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand.

The convention and the bill will impose important obligations on Australia in relation to regulating and monitoring the manufacture, possession, trafficking, import and export of plastic explosives.

The convention was drafted and is administered by the International Civil Aviation Organisation following the December 1998 bombing of the Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which claimed the lives of over 270 people. The actual bomb which caused the disaster was located in a portable radio-cassette player and contained plastic explosives set with a detonator. The bomb had passed undetected through Customs.

The broad purpose of the convention is to provide a scheme to detect plastic explosives. The convention does this by obliging state parties to restrict the manufacture, and place controls over the use by each state party, of plastic explosives which have not been 'marked' with a specific chemical agent prescribed in the technical annex to the convention. The marker is a chemical vapour which can be detected by using specialised equipment.

The requirement to mark all plastic explosives manufactured or held by legitimate sources, combined with a regime which more closely manages stocks of plastic explosives in the country, will minimise the risk of plastic explosives being diverted from legitimate sources and used for criminal activity.

The bill adopts the obligations of the convention by inserting a new subdivision B into division 72 of the Criminal Code, and creating offences of trafficking in, manufacturing, possessing, importing or exporting unmarked plastic explosives.

The bill has a six-month delayed commencement period which will provide Australian manufacturers with a total of 12 months in which to comply with the provisions of the bill.

The bill also amends the Customs Act 1901 to ensure that Customs officers have appropriate powers to search and seize where necessary to facilitate the application of the legislation at Australia's borders.

The bill provides for exemptions from the requirement to mark a plastic explosive to permit the use of existing stocks, use for defence and police purposes and research uses.

Other exemptions will allow the Australian Defence Force and/or the Australian Federal Police to use unmarked plastic explosives for a seven-day period, before requiring a specific authorisation for their use, in the event that unmarked plastic explosives are discovered or obtained in the course of overseas operations. The ADF or AFP will then be allowed to destroy that unmarked plastic explosive if required.

The bill also provides that unmarked plastic explosives which are forfeited as a result of court proceedings, or surrendered to authorities will become the property of the Commonwealth.

The bill has been the subject of consultation with industry as well as the states and territories and the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties.

On 14 August 2006 the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties tabled its report into the convention. The committee supported the convention and recommended that binding treaty action be taken to accede to the convention.

The committee also noted that that accession to the convention will confirm Australia's commitment to combating the global threat of terrorism, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.

I thank the committee for their work in considering the convention and this bill as part of their review of the convention.

Debate (on motion by Mr Gavan O'Connor) adjourned.