Security Fundamental To The Cause Of Labor: Latham

This is the text of the speech delivered by the Shadow Minister for Economic Ownership and Community Security, Mark Latham, to the Northern Territory Press Club, in Darwin.

Latham spoke about security issues, including border security and community safety.

Text of speech by Mark Latham to the Northern Territory Press Club.

LathamSecurity is one of the most important issues facing our society. We live in an uncertain world, a world in which governments are devising new strategies to deal with the threat of international terrorism.

In this country, our national government has the wrong strategy. It is fighting wars against the women and children of nation states, when it should be targeting the terrorists themselves.

At the beginning of the war with Iraq, Senior Minister Tony Abbott said that the conflict would make Australia a bigger target for international terrorism. Last week’s Budget showed that the war cost Australian taxpayers more than $750 million.

This is not a smart way of waging war against terror. Spending close to a billion dollars to make Australia a bigger terrorist target.

The Howard Government is increasing the insecurity of the Australian people. It is increasing the risk of terrorism in this country. It has the wrong strategy for international security.

It has also neglected the need for border security and community security. Australia is the world’s largest island, with 37,000 kilometres of coastline. Yet we do not have a Coastguard, an effective maritime policing capacity. A cop on the beat, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, protecting our coast against people smugglers, gun runners, drug smugglers and terrorists.

Australia sits next to Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago, also without effective maritime policing. This is why we have so many problems in our part of the world: vast territorial waters without maritime policing, without maritime security. Again, the Howard Government is adding to the insecurity of the Australian people.

Community security has also been neglected. Law and order is a huge issue, with many Australians worried about their personal safety in their homes and neighbourhoods. Yet the Federal Government is content to leave this issue to the States and local government.

I say that the safety of our citizens is too important for political buck-passing. It requires the involvement of all levels of government.

For people living in fear and uncertainty in their homes, they don’t care where the solution comes from – local, State or Federal – they just want a solution. That’s why Simon Crean made me the Shadow Minister for Community Security – to develop a Federal Labor agenda for law and order.

And make no mistake, I see security as fundamental to the cause of Labor. Unless people feel secure, unless they have peace of mind about their safety and property, they will never reach out to others. They will never do the things that the progressive side of politics wants in society.

We want more tolerance and understanding, but this won’t happen if people are living in fear of gangs and street-crime. We want more compassion and fairness, but this won’t happen if people are wary of other cultures and creeds in an uncertain world.

Only in a secure society can we foster what Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature”. That’s why I see security as a basic Labor value – as important to our side of politics as the high ideals of social justice. We cannot have a fair Australia without also having a safe and secure Australia.

Border Security

Last week in Canberra we again saw the Howard Government’s confusion on border security. The Government reintroduced its migration excision policy, which removes from Australian law 3,000 islands from the Coral Sea to the North West Cape. Many of these islands are part of the Northern Territory.

The Government’s policy is to surrender 3,000 Australian islands to the people smugglers. Labor’s policy is to defend them. The Government cannot defend the islands, so it’s giving them away. This is an invitation for the people smugglers to head straight for the mainland.

It is also an admission of weakness in Australia’s border security system. The current arrangements are ineffective and inefficient. They feature a maze of different organisations with competing roles and responsibilities.

Just listen to the number of agencies involved in the protection of our coast. We have the Navy and Norforce, Coastwatch and Customs, the Australian Federal Police, the Department of Immigration and then there’s AQIS, AFFA, AFMA, AMSA and AusSAR.

This is not a border protection strategy. It’s an alphabet soup. It’s a sea of bureaucracy and red tape.

The structure is not only complex, it is uncoordinated. Because border protection surveillance has been separated from law enforcement, Coastwatch is unable to direct and control its own intelligence effort. Not only that, but Coastwatch doesn’t own any planes or boats. It has been forced to contract-in boats from other organisations, vessels that were never designed for coastal patrols.

If Australia is to adequately defend itself, we must develop a better system of border protection. If you want to guard the coast, you need a Coastguard.

Last November, Simon Crean and I launched Labor’s Coastguard policy, committing over $600 million to establish a genuine border protection force. Our Coastguard will have three new, purpose-built ships, staffed by specialist personnel and maritime experts. They will be able to operate across the northern approaches to Australia and out to Christmas Island.

The main operating base will be here in Darwin, with bases also established in Cairns and Broome. This means hundreds of new jobs and many millions of new spending in the Darwin economy. Our Coastguard policy is not only good for Australia, it is very good for the Northern Territory.

Once the Coastguard is established, we will develop an effective capability for surveillance and interdiction duties in our northern waters, in particular, looking at the need for smaller, faster vessels. This will be an integrated force, combining the current coast-watch resources with new boats and 250 additional personnel.

This professional service will be complemented by a major civilian effort. Just as the police force relies on the support of Neighbourhood Watch, so Coastguard will rely on our coastal communities. A Labor Government will create a nationwide team of Coastguard Volunteers, with new incentives and support for boat owners who participate in the program.

The Howard Government’s national security strategy is to send out fridge magnets and TV ads (funded by cutting domestic violence programs). Labor wants Australians to be more than just alert. We want them to them to be actively involved in protecting our country. We want them to be Coastguard Volunteers, the eyes and ears of the nation along our vast coastline.

Labor will also ensure that Coastguard controls its own intelligence effort, rather than having to rely on other agencies. It will have access to the JORN radar surveillance network. Plus, we will invest more in Australia’s technical surveillance capacity, including a new Fixed Sea Bed Array.

Our Coastguard policy is fully costed: $612.5 million over four years. As I mentioned earlier, the war in Iraq cost Australian taxpayers more than $750 million. In other words, the war cost more in four months than a Coastguard would cost in four years.

It is not a question of whether Australia can afford a Coastguard. It’s obvious that we can. The only question in an uncertain world is: how can we afford not to have a Coastguard?

Community Security

Security is not just a problem on our coastline. It is also a problem for local communities. Until now, law and order has been thought of as a State and Territory issue. Federal Labor wants to change this perception. We believe that the national government has a responsibility for the safety of its citizens, in all parts of the nation.

It’s time for politicians in Canberra to stand up for the victims of crime and take an interest in crime prevention. We should be tough on crime, but even tougher on the social causes of crime.

Too often at a State level, this issue is seen solely as a matter of punishment: a bidding war as to which side of politics can build the most prisons and put the most number of people in gaol. Crime, of course, is a problem of personal responsibility – but it is more than that. Crime is also a social problem that demands a social solution.

People do not turn to crime because they are inherently bad. Rather, crime is part of anti-social behaviour, where the relationship between people has broken down and they start turning on each other. This is where the Federal Government has a role to play: addressing the social causes of crime.

Labor’s community security policy is not designed to replicate the punishment and policing powers of the States and Territories. We have no intention of reinventing the wheel.

Instead, we want to change the nature of the debate, to recognise that law and order has a social and community dimension. Punishment and policing are important, but the best solution to crime is a social solution.

Research in the United States, for instance, has shown that the best predictor of a safe community is not the number of police on the beat or the strength of sentencing laws but rather, the number of people in a neighbourhood who know the name of their next-door neighbours. I am sure the same is true in Australia: that strong communities – where people know each other and look out for each other – these are the safe communities.

We also need to recognise the close connection between poverty and crime. As the problems of inequality and long-term unemployment have become more entrenched in Australia over the past 30 years, the problem of lawlessness has also grown. All of us have an interest in solving poverty, not just for a better society, but to protect our property and personal safety.

These are two big strategies for a safer society: solving poverty and building stronger communities. They are whole-of-government tasks for which Labor is developing major policy statements. My purpose today is to outline two specific initiatives for community security.

The first is the creation of Community Safety Zones. Just as criminals target certain neighbourhoods, the Federal Government should be targeting extra resources to solve this problem. We know that postcodes reflect the pattern of wealth distribution in society. They also reflect the concentration of crime in certain areas.

Where these problems are identified, Labor will establish a Community Safety Zone and invite local organisations to apply for funding. Priority will be given to strategies that:

  • Address the social causes of crime
  • Create partnerships between different levels of government, the local police and communities
  • And demonstrate a high level of policy innovation.

Let me provide some examples of what this might mean in practice. A community organisation might find a new way of working with young people to break down gangs and gang violence.

Or a family support service might work with the police to establish early intervention strategies for domestic violence, reducing the number of repeat offenders. Or a church group might develop community programs in a new housing estate, overcoming the problems of isolation and vulnerability to crime.

I also want the business community to be involved in this program. Chambers of commerce, for instance, will receive funding to implement CBD crime prevention strategies – tackling problems such as drugs, street-crime and late-night violence.

Law and order issues are not spread evenly across our towns and suburbs. They are concentrated geographically. Labor’s Community Safety Zones recognise this problem. They are a well-targeted response to the social and community causes of crime.

We also need to rethink the question of urban design. The way in which we plan and construct our cities has a huge impact on the rate and location of crime. This is Labor’s second initiative: the creation of Safe Cities.

In recent decades, most Australian suburbs have been designed to maximise privacy and minimise car and pedestrian movements. Unfortunately, privacy for the resident is also privacy for the burglar. High fences, quiet streets and isolated areas assist the criminals as they do their worst.

Turning inwards actually increases the crime problem. We need to design our suburbs as communities, rather than enclaves. In some parts of Australia, the real estate market is already moving in this direction, with a return to village-type principles.

In particular, I recommend to you the Safe City project undertaken by Gosnells Council in the southern districts of Perth. This is one of the best empirical research studies I have seen, matching different types of urban form against the incidence of crime.

It has the potential to transform the law and order debate in Australia, shifting the focus from punishment to the quality of urban design. Consider the following conclusions:

  • Neighbourhoods with visibility, activity and community life on the streets are likely to have a 40 percent lower rate of crime.
  • Streets that are within walking distance of major public facilities – that is, they have a lot of pedestrian activity – have significantly less crime.
  • Homes that back onto parks and other isolated places are 37 percent more likely to be broken into.
  • Homes at the end of a cul-de-sac are more likely to be burgled than those at the entrance, where car and pedestrian movements are maximised.

At one level, these findings are just commonsense. Pedestrians provide a natural form of surveillance for our homes, discouraging wrong-doers. The best way of minimising street-crime is to maximise visibility and community.

It may be commonsense but within the political debate, it is not common at all. This is why we need to shine a light on the Gosnells research and develop an urban policy response to law and order.

Again, Gosnells is showing the way forward. The Council is spending $5.7 million on the creation of a footpath network – to encourage pedestrian activity and surveillance. It is also running a People In Parks program to encourage community life and street activity.

As we build new suburbs, we need to create villages of people. Safe City has developed the planning principles that make this possible, cutting crime by 40 percent through better urban design. A Federal Labor Government will work with local government to spread this success across the country. We want all our cities to be Safe Cities.


Darwin is a perfect place to be talking about community security. Because Darwin understands the importance of security. It’s in your history. It’s in your geography.

Darwin is one of the few places in Australia that has experienced enemy action. The history of this city tells us that border security is more than just an abstract idea. It is part of our national ethos.

Darwin, of course, makes a huge contribution to Australia’s security. This is the home of the servicemen and women who defend our country. I want it to be the home of an Australian Coastguard.

When, as the Australian Constitution says, the colonies formed themselves into one united Federal Commonwealth, they did so for two reasons: so that Australia would have strong communities and that strong borders would protect our communities.

More than any other party, Labor has honoured this compact. Ninety years ago, our first wartime Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher, established the Australian Navy. When the Tories wanted to send the money to the British Navy, to let them buy the ships and control the seas, Labor insisted that Australia would defend itself.

Today, we are the only party committed to effective maritime policing. We are the only party that believes the world’s largest island, with the world’s longest coastline, needs a Coastguard. This is an essential part of our national security.

So too, Labor is the only party that believes in Federal responsibility for community security. The Liberals talk a lot about security but they have no agenda for making people safer in our streets and neighbourhoods.

In Canberra, I shadow a phantom. There is no Minister for Community Security. There are no government programs for Community Safety Zones or Safe Cities, just buck-passing to the States and Territories.

As a nation, we must do better. We need new thinking and new policies for making our country safe. Strong, secure borders. Strong, secure communities. This is how Labor will secure Australia’s future.

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