COAG agrees on enhanced biometric data exchange – October 2017
A special meeting of the Council of Australian Governments has agreed on a series of measures aimed at strengthening national security.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the meeting had been “very productive”.
“We’ve seen real unanimity, both in terms of the decisions that we’ve taken and in the purpose and in the commitment to keep Australians safe.
“We’re committed to ensuring that our agencies have the tools, the legislative tools and the resources and the techniques to keep Australians safe and to respond and prevent terrorist incidents.
“We know that we have to be constantly vigilant.
“I have said many times that there is no place for ‘set and forget’ when it comes to national security.
“Today, we have agreed to establish a national facial biometric matching capability.
“To be clear, this is not accessing information, photo ID, that is not currently available. We’re talking about bringing together essentially federal government photo IDs - passports, visas and so forth - together with driver licences.
“These are all available to law enforcement agencies now and have been for many years, if not for generations. But what we have not been doing is accessing them in a modern 21st Century way.
“It shouldn't take seven days to be able to verify someone's identity or to seek to match a photograph of somebody who is a person of interest. It should be able to be done seamlessly in real time.
“That is what this agreement will enable us to do.
“We’re going to enhance and strengthen the existing Commonwealth pre-charge detention regime.
“This will enable our police to detain and question a person who has been arrested on suspicion of terrorist activities, for up to 14 days. There will be a judicial oversight of that by a magistrate and it is a very important tool.
“With terrorist offences and incidents, the police have to move to disrupt them very quickly, often more quickly than they would with another type of offence.
“So it’s important that people who have been arrested can be detained while evidence is being gathered.
“It may involve going through masses of electronic data. It may involve forensic analysis. It may involve seeking information from overseas.
“This is a very important refinement and enhancement. It mirrors the situation that’s been established in New South Wales.
“We are also establishing new Commonwealth criminal offences for individuals who possess instructional terrorist material or make terrorist hoaxes.
“We heard today about enhanced Defence Force support for the states and territories in terms of dealing with counter-terrorist operations.
“These amendments will make it easier for states to access the special capabilities of the ADF, while of course recognising that state and territory police forces are the front lines and the first responders in dealing with terrorist situations.
“It also will see our special forces providing additional training to the tactical response groups in the various state police forces.
“We’ve agreed to expand the use of the existing emergency alert system which is used for natural disasters, to national security incidents.
“We’ve discussed the efforts underway to combat and prevent radicalisation and are committed to collaborating and learning from each other’s efforts as we work on that agenda.
“Clearly, the best way to prevent terrorism is to prevent somebody becoming a violent extremist or adopting an extremist ideology in the first place. We understand how important that is.”
Despite the extent of agreement at the COAG meeting, some of the changes have drawn strong criticism from civil rights advocates – particularly the 14-day detention period that could affect children as young as ten.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said that COAG had agreed to restrictions on the use of information required by the ACT. He said the restriction would ensure only one-to-one matches can be accessed by law enforcement agencies, rather than one-to-many searches for general crimes.
“Under this approach, only a 100 per cent match of an individual that law enforcement agencies are investigating can have their information accessed. The one-to many searches can only be utilised for national security reasons,” he said.
The Queensland government wants the system in place in time for the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.
The ACT also agreed to proposed amendments to parole and bail terms for suspects in terrorism cases.
Further details of the national security agreement are provided on the COAG website at the link below.