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Monday, 24 March 2003
Page: 9964


Senator WONG (3:24 PM) —I rise to speak to the motion moved by Senator Faulkner in relation to answers given during question time today, in which we saw the continuation of this government's mixed messages and incomplete information when it comes to the issue of the assessment of the level of threat to Australians as a result of its decision to engage in the so-called coalition of the willing. There is an ongoing denial, continued today in question time, by this government that there is any increase in the level of threat to Australia as a result of our involvement in Iraq.

You would have to say that commonsense would generally tell us that it would be strange, if we are one of only three countries committing combat troops to this war, if that did not have some implications for the level of terrorist threat to Australians domestically and overseas. Most thinking Australians would have to question the government's continued denial that there has been any change to the level of terrorist threat to Australia as a result of our commitment of troops to this war. One would have thought that that has brought us into the focus of extremist groups even more than we were prior to our commitment.

We had John Howard late last month indicating that he did not think that we were any more of a terrorist target as a result of our commitment to the coalition of the willing. He has failed, as have all the ministers who were asked questions today, to respond to the statement made in late February by Clive Williams, the Australian National University's Director of Terrorism Studies, that we would be now fourth on the world's terror attack list as a result, in part, of our involvement in the war in Iraq. Mr Williams stated:

Australia's involvement in a war in Iraq will inevitably increase our profile, and I'm pretty sure that bin Laden will quite quickly seize on the fact that we are one of the three countries that are combatants ... That will probably make us number four on the hit list—the US will be first, Israel will be second, the UK will be third.

No-one in the government has responded to Mr Williams's assessment of the situation and they continue to deny, as they did today, that there has been any increase in the threat assessment levels to Australians both at home and overseas—but I will come to the travel advisory issue shortly. The government's line did crack a little bit last week when Mr Abbott himself in parliament said:

We would be foolish not to admit that the risks of going to war in Iraq are frightening. We cannot rule out heavy casualties among allied troops

... ... ...

Then there is the increased risk of terrorist attack here in Australia ...

Even the government's own cabinet minister has indicated that there is an increased risk of terrorist attack here in Australia partly as a result of our commitment of troops to the war in Iraq. The government continues to deny this, despite the fact that we have had one cabinet minister on the public record saying it.

These mixed messages and the government's inconsistent position have been continued in the context of travel advisories. Britain and the United States on 20 March issued global security alerts informing their citizens abroad of the risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks. At that time, The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Downer, said that in his judgment such an upgrading was unnecessary. However, today there was a question of Senator Hill, the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, informing him that a new global travel advisory had been issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade last Friday evening at about quarter to eight and asking him on what basis that renewed travel advisory had been issued, what had been the new intelligence information which suggested that that had been required and whether that had some implications for the domestic situation. If there is an increased terrorist risk to Australians travelling abroad, surely that may well mean there is an increased risk of terrorist attack here in Australia. Today in question time the minister simply said, `People's travel plans are up to them and, generally, no, the government does not accept that we are at any increased risk of terrorist attack by virtue of being one of only three countries participating in the war against Iraq.' Finally, we also had Minister Ellison in today's question time denying that there was any leak of national security briefings provided to opposition leader Simon Crean. If you read the transcript of the ABC interview, you will see that it is quite clear that there was a leak. The ABC was told that the head of Australia's domestic spy agency had briefed Mr Crean. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.