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Thursday, 25 February 2010
Page: 1179

Senator FERGUSON (11:18 AM) —I seek leave to make a short statement of no more than five minutes.

Leave granted.

Senator FERGUSON —I rise to speak in support of the remarks made by the Chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, Senator Bishop, on the private member’s bill, the Defence Amendment (Parliamentary Approval of Overseas Service) Bill 2008 [No. 2], and on the report. I repeat what has been said before: there is no more serious decision taken by governments or executives than to send Australian troop overseas or to deploy them overseas in a war-like situation. Unfortunately, over the past 100 years or more governments have made that decision. If someone would like to look at the history, while there might be arguments in a couple of cases, in most cases Australian troops have been deployed with the general support of the Australian people.

In his speech, Senator Ludlum talked about a decision being made by a handful of people. That handful of people he refers to are the executive of the government of Australia. They are people who are informed and base their decisions on some information that is not readily available to other members of parliament—and neither should it be. If we are to have an effective security and intelligence organisation and effective intelligence and security advice given to the government of the day, no matter who that government might be, it is not information that is publicly available. What you are asking is for the parliament to be able to make a decision as to whether or not this country should send troops away to war without being in possession of all of the facts. We know it is impossible to get all of the facts.

I have served on intelligence and security committees and on foreign affairs, defence and trade committees for a number of years, as have Senator Bishop, my friend Senator Trood and others. Governments are in the position where they make the decision and they bear the responsibilities of those decisions. If the public does not agree with the decision that has been made by an executive or a government, then the democratic will of the people can be shown at any future election, and we have seen that happen. Winston Churchill, regarded as a hero in Great Britain, was turfed out before the Second World War had even finished by the people of that country. So executives and the executive arm of government do not make these decisions lightly. They make these decisions in what they hope are full possession of the facts. They listen to other points of view.

For us to change a system that throughout history has served Australia very well is not something that many of us would want to do. There will always be those who are opposed to war under any circumstances. They would do everything and use every means possible to prevent Australian troops going into battle overseas or fighting in causes outside of Australia’s shores. In fact, sometimes, as has been proved in the past, the best way to preserve our own security from within Australia is to make sure that we attack the cause of the problems if they happen to be outside of Australia, and we have done that in the defence of our country now for a number of years.

I totally support the remarks made by Senator Bishop and the report of the committee in the recommendations or the statements that they make in their report. I hope that decisions such as this, regardless of who will be in government in the future, are left to those who have the most information at their fingertips—the intelligence information and all matters pertaining to Australia’s security. I welcome the report and welcome the comments that were made before by Senator Bishop.