Australian Defence Force

24 August 2021

Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (14:23): [by video link] My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, Senator Payne. Last week the New South Wales government announced that 800 Australian soldiers would be deployed to help state police enforce movement restrictions and the Queensland government announced that 100 soldiers would be employed to help state police enforce state border restrictions. Can the minister tell us what reasonable and necessary force will be permitted for these personnel to carry out their duties, such as the power to make arrests or to use force against Australians?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women) (14:24): I thank Senator Griff for his question. I can advise the senator that the scope of ADF support to states and territories is constitutionally limited, as I'm sure the senator is aware, particularly for tasks with an element of law enforcement. ADF personnel are not authorised as law enforcement officers; nor are personnel able to enforce health orders. These remain the responsibility of relevant state or territory agencies.

Senator GRIFF : What happens if something goes wrong on one of these patrols or doorknocks, and a member of the public gets violent or makes threats? In these circumstances, what powers do the ADF personnel have? Are they only able to follow directions of police officers or can they take actions on their own initiative?

Senator PAYNE : I would reiterate what I said in response to your first question, Senator, which is that the ADF are not authorised as law enforcement officers. The authorisation for those powers remains with the police of the relevant state or territory, and these matters are determined, planned and operationalised between the ADF and the relevant police service, whether it is—the examples you have used—in New South Wales or in Queensland. In fact, given the amount of time since the beginning of Operation COVID-19 Assist in 2020, where we have seen over 20,500 ADF personnel deployed nationally under Operation COVID-19 Assist, there has been a very significant period for agencies to work together on exactly these matters.

Senator GRIFF : Thank you, Minister, for that explanation. Every Australian police force has hotlines and online reporting portals for members of the public to report police misconduct. How will Australians be able to report any misconduct of ADF personnel supporting law enforcement? Who will investigate these reports?

Senator PAYNE : Through any normal channels by which one would report such a concern. But, to be very clear, the scope is constitutionally limited, particularly with regard to tasks with an element of law enforcement. There is no authorisation for the ADF to act as law enforcement officers, nor, as I said previously, to enforce health orders. This remains the responsibility of those state and territory agencies. Can I say in conclusion, to all of those women and men in law enforcement agencies around Australia and to all of the women and men who have been deployed with the ADF through Operation COVID-19 Assist, that we recognise that these have been very demanding, very challenging times in Australia, and we acknowledge their service and their contribution.

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