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Thursday, 13 September 2007
Page: 82

Senator NETTLE (2:47 PM) —My question is to Senator Ellison, the Minister representing the Attorney-General and the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. Minister, why has ASIO delayed its security assessment of the Arabic newspaper editor Abdel Bari Atwan and, as a result, prevented him from visiting Australia for the Brisbane Writers Festival? Given the importance of his contribution to the security debate on the causes of terrorism, is the government not embarrassed about this delay, or is the government trying to avoid any pre-election criticism of its national security policy and the war in Iraq?

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Human Services) —I understand there have been media reports that Dr Abdel Bari Atwan has been refused a visa, but that is not the case. For any application for a visa to enter Australia, there are security requirements, including character checks and national security clearances. All people who seek to enter Australia must meet these requirements, and Dr Atwan is no different. These processes can take some time, obviously, if checks have to be made—that is something that you do not do in a day or two; it can take some time—and Dr Atwan’s application is currently being assessed on that basis.

Senator NETTLE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I understand that Dr Atwan made his visa application many weeks ago, at the same time as other speakers who are coming to the Brisbane Writers Festival and who have all had their applications approved. I also understand that he has never been refused entry to any country, including the United States, where he has visited three times recently. Isn’t this just another case of fear driven political interference like in the case of Dr Haneef?

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Human Services) —It would be inappropriate for me to go into the detail of Dr Atwan’s application, but the fact that other countries have allowed him into their country is not a factor that would makes us reach a decision in a similar manner. We determine applications for a visa to enter Australia on the basis of Australian law, Australian checks and the advice given by agencies such as ASIO. We do it on that basis, quite properly. We do not follow another country and say that, because they do something, we will do the same. I can assure the Senate that this is an application which is being considered properly. There are processes being gone through, and those processes naturally take time.