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Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Page: 10221


Mr FRYDENBERG (Kooyong) (16:50): Last Sunday I joined federal and state parliamentary colleagues, the US Consul-General and religious leaders from Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths at the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001. It was a sombre occasion and an appropriate time to reflect on the impact the events of 9-11 had on the world and on our subsequent efforts to minimise the risk of it ever happening again.

I have vivid memories of that night, now more than a decade ago. I had been attending a local electorate function in the Adelaide Hills with my then boss, the then member for Mayo, Alexander Downer. I had just returned to my accommodation, a small bed and breakfast run by a lovely couple, Nan and Ted, when I received a phone call asking me to turn on my television. As soon as I did I saw the horrific image of the first tower burning. I quickly rang Alexander to alert him to what was taking place. As he turned on his own television I heard his wife, Nicky, scream out in the background as she, too, was shocked by what she saw.

I quickly drove around to the Downer home, where we all sat glued to the screen as we watched a tragedy unfolding before our eyes. With then Prime Minister John Howard in Washington, Alexander, as foreign minister, had an even more critical role that night. I remember his phone calls with Acting Prime Minister John Anderson as they talked about convening a meeting of the government's National Security Committee and canvassed the ramifications of this terrorist attack. That night details were sketchy—the who, the how and the why were still to be answered. But one thing was certain: the world was never to be the same again.

The events of 9-11, which saw nearly 3,000 people, including 10 Australians, lose their lives, has ushered in a new period of strategic uncertainty. No longer living in fear of another country's tanks rolling over their borders, as they did during the Cold War, Western nations are now more alert to the challenges posed by asymmetric warfare. A powerful army is no deterrent to the terrorist hijacking a plane or carrying a dirty bomb. They know they can bring a city to its knees with their limited means.

Australia is not immune to this global threat. Indeed, in many ways the Bali bombings and the subsequent death of 88 innocent Australians was our own 9-11. Any sense of innocence was lost that day. As the world picked up the pieces after 9-11 Australia has been at the pointy end of the global response. The ANZUS treaty was invoked for the first time, seeing our troops deployed to Afghanistan to take on al-Qaeda and their conspirators in the Taliban.

We also rapidly mobilised resources for our partners in the region as they built their intelligence and operational capacity to counter the extremists who had caused so much damage. Terrorist groups, Jemaah Islamiyah, Abu Sayyaf and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba were now all on notice that there were no safe havens to be found.

Domestically we responded by dramatically increasing our counter-terrorism capability, particularly in the two key organisations, ASIO and the Australian Federal Police, the AFP. The then Director-General of ASIO, Dennis Richardson, and then AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty showed great leadership transforming Australia's security architecture to meet this serious threat.

The government's own white paper on counter-terrorism, which was released last year, details how Australia has had 35 people prosecuted for terrorism offences pursuant to the Criminal Code, 20 of whom have been convicted, and, 'More than 40 Australians have had their passports revoked or applications denied for reasons related to terrorism.' It is a powerful reminder that the threat from home-grown extremists is real.

I have little doubt we are winning the war on terror. The death of bin Laden was significant; however, there is no room for complacency as circumstances can change overnight. We must continue to work closely with our closest friend and ally, the United States, whose global reach is unrivalled and whose values are most consistent with our own. We must also continue to strengthen our regional ties, including with Indonesia, the natural leader of ASEAN, our largest immediate neighbour and the world's most populous Muslim nation. Further abroad, we must see through our important contribution in Afghanistan as we assist their national army and police to develop the skills and resources to assume control. We cannot afford failed states in Afghanistan, in nuclear armed Pakistan or in our region. This will require a significant long-term investment from all countries, including Australia, which must play its part.

As we look back, a decade on from the events of 9-11, we mourn those who lost their lives but at the same time we take comfort from the substantial progress we are making to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again.