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Tuesday, 10 August 2004
Page: 26007


Senator FORSHAW (3:25 PM) —I have just listened intently to Senator Ferguson's attempt to defend the outrageous attacks by members of the government, particularly Mrs De-Anne Kelly and Mr Warren Entsch, on the 43 eminent, distinguished Australians who signed that letter calling for truth in government. Two arguments were advanced by the government's spokespeople, including Senator Ferguson, to try to discredit those eminent Australians.

The first is that they are all retired from their respective positions of diplomats and military chiefs of the Army, Navy, Defence Force and so on, and they had all retired before September 11. The argument is that, because they are retired and are not in active service, they somehow have nothing to contribute. These people are not living on the moon. These are people who have had lengthy, distinguished careers in the military and in foreign affairs as diplomats or as heads of departments. Many of these—dare I say all of them—have continued their interest and involvement in looking at the great issues facing the world today. They did not just stop thinking about what happens around the world when they retired. For the Prime Minister and others to get up and say `Because you worked in those areas before September 11, you have nothing valuable to contribute' is in itself an insult to those people and to all other retired and elderly people in this country. The suggestion that the moment you leave the work force you somehow have no more to offer or your opinion is worthless because you are no longer working in the field was the essence of Senator Brandis's arguments about contemporaneity.

The other falsehood of the argument put by Senator Ferguson is that they were not privy to the intelligence that this government had. Out of the mouth that has just spoken was the flaw in the government's argument, because the biggest failing in terms of September 11 in the US was the failure of intelligence. The greatest military nation on this earth with the greatest, most sophisticated intelligence network in the world still was unable to predict the events of September 11. It was unable to stop them. Here in Australia we have had finding after finding that clearly demonstrates that there were systemic failures of intelligence in this country with respect to Bali. With respect to our involvement in Iraq, just as with the `children overboard' issue, we have seen failures of intelligence and on occasions—maybe not on all occasions but certainly on some—a deliberate distortion of the message and the intelligence and a refusal to accept the intelligence that was coming through. We know in respect of Bali, for instance, that there was intelligence that warned Australians, the department and the minister about potential problems with terrorism.

Senator Ferguson and the Prime Minister talk about the world having changed after September 11. The problem is that the issues of terrorism and the threat from al-Qaeda were in existence before September 11, not just in the Middle East or in America but also in our region. On your government's watch, Senator Ferguson, you failed. You cannot now turn around and attack these distinguished Australians because they happen to have expressed an opinion which is different from this government's.

But, of course, that is the approach of this government. When you do not like the message, you change it or ignore it, just as you did in the children overboard affair. When you do not like the message and you cannot change it, because it is so blatant it stares you in the face, you attack the messenger, just as the member for Dawson, Mrs De-Anne Kelly, had the temerity to attack these people as `doddering daiquiri diplomats'. This is the woman who has threatened to cross the floor several times in defence of her community but chickened out on every occasion. People like Warren Entsch have attacked these distinguished Australians. And who do we finally have in the papers today? We get the real doddering fools like Paddy McGuinness, Piers Akerman and others trying to defend this government and attacking the record of these fine and distinguished Australians. We are led by a Prime Minister who thinks that older people should make a contribution. (Time expired)