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Monday, 22 March 2004
Page: 26770

Mr LATHAM (3:00 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer to other comments made by the Australian Federal Police Commissioner on 14 March on the Sunday program, when he told the Australian people:

... there's a level of honesty that has to exist here in terms of what the problems are here, not only in Australia but in our region.

Prime Minister, given the need for honesty to properly defend ourselves against terrorism, why was the police commissioner rebuked for expressing his honest opinion? What guarantee can the Prime Minister give that no independent statutory office holder involved in Australia's national security will be treated this way in the future—that they will not be publicly rebuked and shamed for simply telling the truth?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the Leader of the Opposition. I notice that the Leader of the Opposition has developed a new reverence for holders of statutory office! He did not have much reverence for the holder of a very high statutory office—namely, the head of ASIC—on 25 September 2001, when he was prepared to use the privilege of parliament to traduce the reputation of an honest citizen. But I shouldn't mention that, should I?

Government members interjecting—No!

Mr HOWARD —That was in 2001! What an outrageous thing! But when he went in to bat for Nick Whitlam he did not care about the reputation of David Knott—he could not care less. So the last person in this parliament who has a right to give me lectures about treatment of statutory office holders is the Leader of the Opposition.

I will say this about our security agencies. Over the last several years, because of the tragic security circumstances that the world has faced, I have worked probably more closely with the leader of the Australian Federal Police, the leader of ASIO, the leader of ASIS and the Director-General of the Office of National Assessments than any of my predecessors. That is no reflection on any of my predecessors; rather, it is a statement of the obvious. It is fair to say that over that period of time the greatest attacks that have come on our agencies have come from the Australian Labor Party, not this side of the parliament.

I have stood up for the reputation of the Office of National Assessments. I have stood up for the reputation of ASIO. I have a great regard for the Director-General of ASIO and I have a great regard for the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police.

Ms Gillard —Oh yes!

The SPEAKER —The member for Lalor, for the fourth time!

Mr HOWARD —He continues to enjoy my very strong confidence. I do not accept for a moment the categorisation that the Leader of the Opposition has put on my conduct. All of the exchanges that have taken place over the last week have been entirely proper and entirely consistent with the normal exchanges that would take pace in similar circumstances. If the Leader of the Opposition has any more questions or a censure motion, please bring it on.