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Monday, 2 June 2003
Page: 15559


Mr CREAN (Leader of the Opposition) (12:41 PM) —I present the Criminal Code Amendment (Hezbollah External Terrorist Threat Organisation) Bill 2003. This private member's bill does what the government failed to do: act quickly and decisively against the Hezbollah External Security Organisation. Last week I proposed through a private member's bill that parliament take immediate action against the growing threat to Australia from the Hezbollah External Security Organisation. In an unprecedented manner, this government has been forced to introduce the same legislation before this debate has even occurred. This may be the most successful private member's bill in this country's history. There have only been 15 successful private members' bills and only seven have originated in this House. Today we add to that, and we do it in record time.

Although the government will not admit it, the threat to Australia is a direct result of the increased global terrorist activity following the war in Iraq. Yet the Prime Minister continues with the absurd fantasy that the war in Iraq has made Australians safer. Even as they erect barriers around Parliament House and armour plate the Prime Minister's personal vehicle, they want us to believe we are safer. Australians know otherwise, and they want to know as well that their security is being looked after. That is what Labor is committed to doing.

The Hezbollah External Security Organisation is a terrorist group. It is based in Lebanon and it has a global network. It has a record of terror and murder. We all know that this terrorist organisation has threatened Australians, because the Attorney-General publicly stated so last week. Therefore, we are determined to ensure that the terrorist wing of Hezbollah is blacklisted. But at the same time we see no desire, and we have no desire, to ban legitimate political and social organisations in the process.

Australians want their governments to act decisively against threats to our security and they want a strong, bipartisan approach to national security issues. The Prime Minister first wrote to me on this matter on 2 April this year. I was briefed by intelligence agencies on 3 April and I replied in writing to the Prime Minister on 8 April. In my response I specifically said:

In the event the government fails to secure a listing for Hizballah through the UN Security Council ... Labor would support a specific amendment to the Criminal Code to name the Hizballah External Terrorist Organisation as a terrorist organisation within the Principal Act.

Despite my offering this legislative solution almost two months ago, the Prime Minister did not write back to me on this crucial issue until 12 May and in his response he flatly rejected Labor's proposed changes. That is why I acted at the first available opportunity.

The government was not prepared to accept our approach until it was forced to do so by the weight of evidence and public opinion, and I genuinely welcome that change of heart by the government. But let us be clear on this: the legislation that it said last week was unconstitutional is now presented by the government as a solution to the very problem. It waited eight weeks to bring forward legislation that it said was so urgent. The government's backdown on this matter is a humiliating but welcome defeat for wedge politics in this country—wedge politics that we have seen far too much of by this government.

Labor stand prepared to work with governments to protect our citizens. Labor are prepared to initiate to ensure that our citizens feel safer. The truth is: this government is being forced into this position simply because of Labor's determination to act and to act quickly. We provided the solution; the government simply wanted to play politics. This is another example of the government leading and exposing its wedge politics. I commend the bill to the House.

Bill read a first time.


The SPEAKER —In accordance with standing order 104A, the second reading will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.