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Wednesday, 9 May 2007
Page: 109

Senator PARRY (5:20 PM) —On behalf of Senator Ferguson and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, I present the report of the committee Review of the re-listing of Tanzim Qa’idat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn (the al-Zarqawi network) as a terrorist organisation and seek leave to move a motion in relation to the report.

Leave granted.

Senator PARRY —I move:

That the Senate take note of the report

I seek leave to incorporate a tabling statement in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The statement  read as follows—

I present the report of the Intelligence and Security Committee on the Review of the re-listing of the Tanzim Qa’idat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn (TQJBR).  This organisation, led by Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi until his death in 2006, was also known as the al-Zarqawi network.  Now it is called Al Qa’ida in Iraq or by the acronym TQJBR.

The Committee first considered the listing of this organisation in 2005.

The inquiry was advertised in the Australian newspaper on 14 February 2007 and information regarding the inquiry was then placed on the Committee’s website.  No submissions were received from the public.  A private hearing was held in Canberra on 23 March 2007 attended by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, the Attorney-General’s Department and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. 

Procedural concerns about the listing of organisations remain. Broadly, these concerns are that the consultation process with state and territory governments is not yet adequate, the method of informing the community is insufficient and the quality of information underpinning the proposals to list or re-list an organisation is lacking in the coherence and rigour necessary for a process upon which severe penalties rely.  The Committee will address these concerns more fully in its report on the use of the proscription power to be tabled later this year. 

On the substance of the case against TQJBR, the Committee concluded, on the basis of the Statement of Reasons and other open source information, that TQJBR was an organisation that used extreme violence in pursuit of its objectives, that it intimidated not only the Coalition forces in Iraq but also members of the elected government and Iraqi civilians.  To that extent it met the requirement of the Criminal Code Act 1995 that it might be proscribed as a terrorist organisation.  Therefore, the Committee has not recommended the disallowance of this regulation.

Nevertheless, the Committee would have appreciated more up to date information about the TQJBR and a more rigorous analysis of the way in which it operated in Iraq.  It is rare for the Committee to be informed about the implications of a listing, that is, how the listing assists in the fight against terrorism, how it works in conjunction with, or in addition to, the separate obligations Australia has under the Charter of the UN Act.  The statements of reasons do not comprehensively address ASIO’s own stated criteria for a listing, being silent on at least half of them.

On this occasion, the Committee sought a contribution to its deliberations from the Office of National Assessments.  The Committee was looking for broad strategic analysis and background information on TQJBR and its operations in Iraq, information of the type that is provided by the Office to Senate Estimates or by the Director in public speeches.  This request was refused on the grounds that ONA plays no role in the listing process and was prohibited under the Intelligence Services Act from sharing with the Committee the contents of its assessments.

The Committee believes that this is an unnecessarily narrow view of the statute and does not distinguish between a formal review of the contents of assessments, such as was conducted into the intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, and the agency’s contribution of its knowledge and judgement to the  Committee in carrying out its statutory functions.  The Committee at no time had an intention of reviewing individual assessments or even the general judgements of ONA for their accuracy, independence or competence.

In the light of this narrow interpretation, the Committee will itself review section 29 of the Intelligence Services Act for its compatibility with its other statutory functions.  This section of the Act was introduced in 2005 when ONA came under the Committee’s scrutiny and, as it is stands, it would appear to preclude another inquiry such as the inquiry on Iraq.  This is potentially a very limiting factor in the Committee’s proper oversight.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the members of the Committee who continue to undertake their duties in a bipartisan fashion and who recognise the need to put the national interest and effective Parliamentary scrutiny of highly sensitive matters before any partisan political interests.  The work of the Committee continually presents the members with the challenge of reconciling the demands of national security with Parliamentary and public scrutiny.

I recommend the report to the Senate.

Question agreed to.