House of Representatives

Customs Amendment (Serious Drugs Detection) Bill 2011

Second Reading Speech

Mr Brendan O'Connor (Minister for Home Affairs, Minister for Justice and Minister for Privacy and Freedom of Information)

I Move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill will allow Customs and Border Protection to conduct a 12-month trial of X-ray scan technology. The equipment will be licensed for the internal search of a person suspected on reasonable grounds to be internally concealing a suspicious substance.

Currently, an internal X-ray scan of a person can only be carried out by a medical practitioner at a place specified in regulations, for example, a hospital or surgery.

The bill will allow, with the consent of the detainee, an initial nonmedical internal X-ray scan of a person to be carried out by Customs and Border Protection officers using new body scan technology that produces a computer image of a person's internal cavities within a skeletal structure. Where the body scan image supports a suspicion of internal concealment, the existing regime governing an internal search by a medical practitioner will then apply.

The use, by consent, of body scan technology as an initial nonmedical internal scan will reduce the number of people referred to hospital for an internal search thereby reducing the impact on the resources of the Australian Federal Police, hospital emergency units and Customs and Border Protection. In the 2009-10 financial year there were 205 detainees referred to the AFP to be taken to hospital for an internal search, of which 48 were confirmed to be internally concealing an illicit substance.

The bill will extend the existing safety and training safeguards applying to the conduct of an external search of a detainee using prescribed equipment to the use of body scan equipment to carry out a nonmedical internal scan.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner has provided input to the privacy impact assessment and all comments have been incorporated. The Office of International Law in the Attorney-General's Department has advised that the amendments would not breach the right to privacy as set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or the Convention on the Rights of the Child. I also want to add that the X-rays not required for any potential criminal proceedings will be destroyed in a timely manner.

The Privacy and FOI Policy Branch of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner will be consulted prior to the prescription of body scan technology. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Andrews) adjourned.