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Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Page: 10235

Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (17:56): Just last week I stood in New York, in the empty space where the Twin Towers once dominated Lower Manhattan. Just as an observer, I cannot describe how the yawning, empty space—even a decade later—really strikes to the core of your soul. As with the assassination of President Kennedy, everyone remembers where they were on that fateful day. It was evening here in Australia and I, with a lot of the leadership of the Victorian Labor Party, was with Kim Beazley at a fundraiser. All I remember was that the event broke up into total chaos as people found out what was happening. It was surreal; almost like a movie.

In the early hours of the morning here in Australia many of us were glued to the TV watching the events in New York. Three thousand people were murdered that morning by al-Qaeda, including 10 Australians: Yvonne Kennedy, Andrew Knox, Leanne Whiteside, Alberto Dominguez, Leslie Thomas, Kevin Dennis, Elisa Ferraina, Craig Gibson, Peter Gyulavary and Steve Tompsett. We remember the American firefighters, police officers and emergency personnel who sacrificed their own lives to save those trapped. We remember those brave passengers on flight 93, about whom that incredible film was made. If anyone in this House has not seen it I urge them to. Those passengers sacrificed their own lives in order to stop other senseless deaths.

We remember and honour, in particular, those who have sacrificed their lives in the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq, including 29 Australian soldiers killed in action to prevent September 11 ever happening again. We are not in Afghanistan to preserve in office a crook like Mr Karzai, the President, but we are there in a judicious military effort in Australia's interests in close alliance with the United States. As our recent VC, Corporal Roberts-Smith, memorably described it on AM:

I believe that we—

that is, the soldiers fighting in Afghanistan on Australia’s behalf—

are making a difference in stemming the flow of terrorism into Australia, and I want my children to be able to live as everyone does now without fear of getting onto a bus and having it blow up.

We also remember those lives that were lost in the subsequent, and linked, attacks in Bali, London, Madrid and Mumbai by jihadist terrorists—either members or affiliates of al-Qaeda.

Since 2001, more than 110 Australians have been killed in these terrorist attacks, including 88 of our countrymen murdered in Bali in 2002 by al-Qaeda's local franchise Jemaah Islamiah. Remember, the finances for that attack came from Hambali of al-Qaeda and were filtered through to Jemaah Islamiah. So al-Qaeda was directly involved in the murder of those Australians in Bali.

Professor Greg Barton has argued:

The sort of threat that we face with groups like al-Qaeda and those inspired by al-Qaeda is not a traditional insurgency … it is not about territorial war.

The extremists who committed these attacks do not distinguish between creed, religion or colour. That day in New York, al-Qaeda killed thousands of people of many faiths and nationalities—Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists. People everywhere around the world felt that our modernity and modern, democratic and pluralist society, not just in the United States but everywhere, was being assailed. Immediately after the attacks, Australia invoked article IV of the ANZUS Treaty, standing with our ally the United States of America. Le Monde expressed the essence of our visceral reaction all around the world with its headline, 'We are all American'. We stood then, as we do now, side by side with the United States. President Obama recently wrote to the Prime Minister in one of only three letters sent to international leaders. He said:

In the decade since the attacks, we have had no more steadfast partner than Australia in our effort to defeat terrorists in Afghanistan, in Bali, in the Middle East, and in Southeast Asia.

In the 10 years since the attacks, Australia has been at the forefront of counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and our region. We pay tribute to those men and women serving in Afghanistan who are making a difference in suppressing the Taliban. The Taliban, we remember, hosted al-Qaeda, which orchestrated many attacks on Australians.

At home we developed non-partisan ways of protecting the homeland. The bipartisan Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and Security, which I am honoured to serve on, made recommendations on terrorist organisations that have led the Australian government, under Prime Minister John Howard, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and now Prime Minister Julia Gillard, to proscribe the following 19 organisations: Abu Sayyaf, al-Qaeda, Tanzim Qa'idat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn, Asbat al-Ansar, Ansar al-Sunna, the Armed Islamic Group, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hizballah External Security Organisation, Islamic Army of Aden, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Jamiat ul-Ansar, Jemaah Islamiyah, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Jammu and Kashmir, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Salafist Group for Call and Combat and the Kurdistan Workers Party.

Together with the counterterrorist legislation that we have in this country and the courts, the security agencies, the Australian Federal Police, ASIO, ASIS and Australia's intelligence agencies have all worked to ensure that there have been no attacks on mainland Australia. The Australian anti-terrorism legislation of 2004, the Australian Anti-Terrorism Act 2005 and the subsequent changes made to the national security legislation ensure that our law enforcement and security agencies have the tools they need to fight terrorism, as in September 11.

On Monday in his speech on the anniversary of the attacks, Attorney-General Robert McClelland, the member for Barton, spoke of Australia's investment in national security, which has increased from $18 billion in 2001 to $33 billion in 2011. The member for Barton explained that 38 individuals have been prosecuted as a result of counterterrorism operations and 22 have been convicted. Because of our determination to prevent other September 11s, to prevent mass casualty attacks within the framework of our democratic system, we have seen six series of trials and convictions of terrorist suspects in this country. First of all was Jack Roche, who trained in Pakistan with Jemaah Islamiah and who was convicted of conspiring to bomb the Israeli embassy here in Canberra in 2000. Faheem Khalid, who trained in Pakistan, was convicted of terrorism related offences in 2006 by the New South Wales Supreme Court for plotting to attack the national electricity supply at the Holsworthy Barracks and HMAS Penguin naval base. Willie Brigitte, trained in Pakistan with another al-Qaeda affiliate, was deported in 2003 and is currently in custody as a terrorism suspect in France. Another trial to put away people who would have caused September 11s to happen in Australia were five men in Sydney: Khaled Cheikho, Moustafa Cheikho, Mohamed All Elomar, Abdul Rakib Hasan and Mohammed Omar Jamal, who were arrested, charged and found guilty under Australian law on 15 February 2010 of conspiring to commit terrorist acts. The group in Melbourne led by Abdul Nacer Benbrika were convicted in September 2008 for planning mass casualty attacks at the 2005 AFL Grand Final and at Crown Casino. The Holsworthy Barracks terror attack was planned by Saney Edow Aweys, Nayef El Sayed, Yacqub Khayre, Abdirahman Ahmed, Wissam Mahmoud Fattal. All were convicted on 4 August 2009.

Finally, there was a case only mentioned today in the Australian where Omar Baladjam pleaded guilty to four counts of terrorism, acquiring ammunition, acquiring chemicals for the preparation of a terrorist attack, possessing guns, chemicals and phones connected with the preparation of a terrorist attack. This is typical of a judgment of one of our learned judges, Justice Whealey, who told the New South Wales Supreme Court:

The offender intended that the terrorist act or acts to which his conduct was related would involve action that, at the very least, would cause serious risk to the health and safety of the public … In blunt terms, the collective thrust of the material [in Baladjam's possession] embraces a view that Muslims are obligated to pursue a violent form of jihad to undermine and overturn liberal democratic societies and to replace them with Islamic rule and sharia law … it advocates the use of violence, the killing of people and the wholesale destruction of buildings, as the means by which [Western] governments will be persuaded to make these political changes.

Of course, this shows that we have the laws, the police agencies, the intelligent services, all working in concert, and the wonderful work that they have done has prevented anything like September the 11th happening in Australia. But it just shows you how comprehensive the work has been over the last decade. As the member for Calwell said, of course the vast majority of people involved as members of the Islamic religion only want a peaceful and productive life here in Australia and have to be treated with great sensitivity, as Ambassador Bleich argued in his wonderful speech which I was present at with the Prime Minister just the other night. But at the same time we have the laws, the police and the intelligence services to see that people cannot get away with these kinds of bastardries in Australia as they were able to get away with on those days in New York.

President Bush said in a memorial service for those who lost their lives in flight 93, 'Whatever challenges we face today and the future, we must never lose faith with our ability to meet them together. We must never allow our differences to harden into divisions.' However, most important is the intellectual framework to understand these events of September 11. They are not just examples of criminality. They are a war launched against our way of life. The Professor of Law at the University of California and former Justice Department official, John Yoo, explained that the decision to treat the 9-11 attacks as an act of war rather than criminality was crucial. He argued convincingly:

Looking back over the decade, the first clear lesson is the critical importance of the decision to consider the struggle with Al Qaida a war. We do not see Al Qaida as some middle eastern version of the mafia, if on a grander scale. The 9-11 attacks were an act of war. They were a decapitation strike aimed at effectively eliminating the US leadership in a single blow. If the Soviet Union had carried out the same attacks no-one would have doubted that the United States was at war. Al Qaida's independence from any national state should not shield it from our military, relegating it to just police agencies and the courts.

Choosing this intellectual framework, Yoo argued, opened the arsenal that has decimated Al Qaida's leadership and blunted its plans of attacks, its plans to do more September 11s, not just in the United States but here in Australia and other Western countries. A nation at war does not need to wait for suicide bombers to arrest the suspects who remain. Instead it can fire missiles or send in covert teams to pre-emptively capture and kill the enemy. Our government does not need a judge's permission before tapping an al-Qaeda phone, intercepting his emails or arresting him. I think that the fact that the Prime Minister here in Australia congratulated the President of the United States on the killing of bin Laden is an example of the framework which we all now accept. Obviously, we do not need to ask the SAS to provide Miranda warnings for terrorists on the battlefield.

The events of that September morning were an act of war, a direct attack on our leaders and the citizens of the free world. In the aftermath of these attacks the ability of the intelligence agencies across the globe to work against al-Qaeda was crucial in the counter-terrorism effort. Critical knowledge collected by Australia's agencies, analysed and exploited, allowed the government of Australia, in cooperation with the United States and like the United States, to counter and convict those people who would plot further attacks on our country, including the seven cases I mentioned. On that morning in September, those who attacked the World Trade Center sought to destroy the very foundations of our democracies. We have shown in the last 10 years that our belief in decency, in freedom of speech and freedom of religion, in the rule of law and in humanity does not waver. The individual freedoms we uphold have emerged even stronger since 9-11. As Professor Yoo concluded:

But individual freedom emerged from the decade stronger than before. The government did not censor the media, sabotage political opposition or mobilize the economy. No dictatorship arose.

His comments equally apply to Australia:

… the executive, legislative and judicial branches freely used … their powers to struggle for influence over national security policy. Five bitterly contested national elections—

in the United States; there have been an equal number here in Australia—

… switched control of the presidency once, the Senate once, and the House of Representatives twice. Meanwhile, new technologies and social networking have created an expanding space for political activity and organization unlike anything in our history.

Civil liberties would certainly have suffered far worse had al Qaeda succeeded in landing a second blow on a par with 9-11.

The fact that we are able to secure Australia, as the United States has been able to secure the United States, has been a great victory—the most important victory that has come out of the terrible events of 9-11.

To those who state that we have wasted billions of dollars on counterterrorism in the aftermath of 9-11, I ask them: if that money had not been spent but invested elsewhere, how many of those with September 11 in their hearts would have been able to get away with similar events in Australia? You simply have to look at the record of the seven widespread attempts by groups of people to perpetrate those kinds of deeds in Australia. I think it is a great tribute to this country that we have kept our way of life. We have acted circumspectly, with our courts, intelligence agencies and police cooperating to preserve the Australian way of life to see that September 11 never happens here.