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Tuesday, 25 June 2002
Page: 2584

Senator ROBERT RAY (8:20 PM) —This press release that Senator Faulkner has alluded to is both disingenuous and dissembling. I have had something to do with this process, not as intensely as Senator Faulkner, but the implication in this press release is that the ASIO bill will not be proceeded with this sitting because of opposition from the Labor Party. That is the implication in this. The reality could not be further from the truth. I think, without too much big-noting, I drove that report into the House of Representatives on 29 May. We as a committee could have taken a bit more time and it would have been presented only last Monday week in both chambers. But, because we were at estimates and the House of Representatives was sitting, all members of that committee made sure the report would go at the earliest possible moment to the Attorney-General. It went through him for vetting to make sure we had not made any security blunders and, from memory, was presented in the other place on 29 May. That is 27 days ago. We realised the absolute importance from a political point of view of ensuring that, if the ASIO bill was to be amended extensively, it should be done in the House of Representatives first rather than doing it all and debating the bill in the House of Representatives not knowing what its final form was going to be.

The major amendments, if the government was going to accept them, should have been incorporated in the bill in the House of Representatives. That would have totally changed the nature of the bill before it came here and would have changed at least the focus of the debate here. So every opportunity was taken. At four o'clock yesterday we were sitting just across the road at the government service delivery committee of the Labor Party and on the agenda was our response to the ASIO bill—that was the main item on the agenda—but how could we consider that when we had no response from the government as to any of the recommendations of the joint committee or any views on how the legislation should be amended? Not one amendment had been forwarded to us— not even in principle, let alone the technical drafting—and we sat there like a jilted bride waiting for the information to come over and it never did. I doubt whether Mr Williams has seen this press release, frankly. I do not think he would have the gall to issue it, given the history of it.

Senator Faulkner —I accept that—he probably hasn't.

Senator ROBERT RAY —Some eager beaver, junior woodchuck staffer probably rammed this out and thought, `We can get a bit of mileage out of this. We are not going to get the ASIO bill through this session; let's blame the Labor Party.' What really annoys me is that we have been bending over backwards trying to be cooperative in progressing these security bills. We were probably overeager to negotiate on the ASIO bill and, having given extensive cooperation, our payback is to be slandered in a press release by the Attorney-General. He has not delivered one amendment to us. He could not deliver a pizza, this bloke—he really couldn't. Do you want to know what the real test of a good minister is? It is not whether they can handle a crisis; it is whether they can handle two or three at the one time. Mr Williams cannot, that is quite clear. He has had every opportunity from 29 May to give a proper response to this parliament on the ASIO bill. He has not been able to do so. Maybe he has an acceptable excuse. He has no excuse for putting out this press release.

Without the amendments before us now it is impossible to make a decision this week on the ASIO bill—he knows it, we know it and that is why it has been put off. But don't come out and put out a cheap, nasty press release like this blaming others when he himself is to blame. If he is not capable of responding to those 15 recommendations, then he should not get his bill. Let's face it: what sort of Attorney-General produces a bill that says it is okay to take a 10-year-old Muslim girl off the street, strip search her and keep her incommunicado indefinitely? Of course we want to change such a bill. Of course we want to put in the protection of legal representation—protection against self-incrimination. Of course we want protocols to say how the proscribed authority would proceed in the interviewing of people. All that complexity that is missing from his current simplistic bill had to be solved. He should spend more time at the hard grind of working out appropriate amendments and ticking off appropriate legislation before he puts it into the parliament rather than putting out cheap press releases. If he did view this press release, he should be ashamed of himself. If he did not view this press release, he should reorganise his staff to make sure that he does in future.