Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 3 June 2003
Page: 15774


Mr CREAN (Leader of the Opposition) (4:27 PM) —The Labor Party supports the Criminal Code Amendment (Hizballah) Bill 2003 but we do not support the bill that is attached to it, the Criminal Code Amendment (Terrorist Organisations) Bill 2003 and I will give the reasons for that as I progress. This is another part of the fight against terrorism—a fight, which is making progress, against global terrorism—but we must be ever vigilant in taking this fight up. The arrest and trial of the alleged Bali bombers in Indonesia and the detention of the al-Qaeda operatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere have significantly weakened the capacity of global terrorist organisations to peddle their hate and their destruction.

Since the terrible events of 11 September 2001, Labor have offered practical, effective and timely solutions to the national security problems that confront Australia from the threat of terrorism. We have been on the front foot, pushing the government to make sound legislative changes to ensure that we have good laws—effective laws but balanced laws. We have strongly supported Australian efforts in the war against terrorism in Afghanistan. We have proposed constructive changes to our antiterrorism laws to get the balance right between security and civil liberties—changes, I might say, which were accepted by the government 12 months ago.

We have also proposed changes to the ASIO bills, but the government have walked away from those changes. We remember the debacle in this chamber on the eve of Christmas, at the end of last year, when the government could have had agreement from our side to strengthen those ASIO bills. They walked away from it. We, of course, have written to the government subsequent to that, proposing that the dialogue continue. We have had no response.

Whilst the fight is never over and whilst we have to maintain vigilance in relation to it, the truth is that Labor have demonstrated their bona fides and did so in relation to the Hezbollah listing. Groups such as the Hezbollah External Security Organisation do represent a clear and present danger to the values and freedoms that we all hold dear. That is why Labor will support the specific legislation to ban the terrorist wing of Hezbollah, and that is why we have proposed it. Why would we not support this bill? It is the bill that I proposed last Monday in this chamber and which I introduced yesterday in this chamber. It is our bill, our proposal. The bill before us mirrors the private member's bill that I first proposed on Monday of last week and, as I have said, introduced into this House yesterday.

But, having said that, I also say that we will not support fundamental changes to our antiterrorism laws that would give sweeping powers to the Attorney-General alone to ban any organisation he deems to be terrorist. Executive proscription is not the way to deal with this issue. Such changes would alter the construction of the laws passed by the parliament in 2002 that the Prime Minister himself, in an address to the National Press Club last September, said had got the balance right. Why is he now seeking to upset that balance? As a result, while Labor will support the Hizballah bill, we will not support the Criminal Code Amendment (Terrorist Organisations) Bill 2003 in its current form. Terrorism is a threat to our freedoms but we will not defeat terrorism by giving away our freedoms.

Last week Labor said that parliament needed to take decisive action against the growing threat to Australia from the international terrorist group, the Hezbollah External Terrorist Organisation. It is a threat that has grown rapidly in recent months. Although this government will not admit it, the threat to Australia is a direct result of the increased global terrorist activity following the war in Iraq. In recent weeks, we have seen coordinated suicide attacks in Saudi Arabia and Morocco by al-Qaeda related groups. Tragically, one Australian was killed in Riyadh and another was injured. This has brought home to us the fact that Australians can be the targets of terrorists anywhere in the world. Yet the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence continue with the absurd fantasy that the war in Iraq has made Australia safer. We know that this is nonsense. Even as the government erects barriers around Parliament House and orders a new armour-plated vehicle for the Prime Minister, even as it upgrades security on defence establishments around the country and upgrades security around embassies in our country, it continues to claim that we are a safer place.

A Sunday newspaper reported that the Prime Minister has now changed his daily walking schedule as a result of security concerns. How can he look Australians in the eye and say that our involvement in the war in Iraq has not changed the level of security threat to Australia? He cannot, but he refuses to admit the truth. But all Australians know otherwise. Australians are concerned about terrorism and they want to know that their security is being properly attended to. That is what Labor is committed to doing.

The Hezbollah External Security Organisation is a radical Islamic terrorist group based in Lebanon but with a global network. It was responsible for the truck bombing in the early 1980s in Beirut that killed 241 US Marines. More recently, the terrorist wing of Hezbollah was implicated in the attempted shipment of Iranian-manufactured arms to Israel on the Karine A. Thankfully, this shipment of weapons could never be used for its terrorist purposes: it was intercepted by the Israeli navy. Hezbollah is also an organisation that has cooperated in the past with al-Qaeda and with other terrorist organisations, including those in our own region of South-East Asia. Therefore, we are determined to ensure that the terrorist wing of Hezbollah is blacklisted, but we have no desire to ban legitimate political and social organisations and that is why we have been careful to identify only the terrorist wing of Hezbollah in the proposed legislation.

Australians want a strong bipartisan approach to national security issues. On this issue of the listing of Hezbollah, the Prime Minister wrote to me about it for the first time on 2 April this year. In that correspondence and in the proposal to give the Attorney-General wide, sweeping powers, he offered to provide me with a security intelligence briefing on Hezbollah, which I accepted, and it was undertaken the next day. On the basis of the information that I obtained, I decided that immediate action was both necessary and appropriate. Following consultation with my colleagues, I wrote back to the Prime Minister on 8 April and offered Labor's support for an immediate change to the Criminal Code so that the terrorist wing of Hezbollah could be listed. In my letter to the Prime Minister, I made the following offer: in the event that the government fails to secure a listing for Hezbollah through the United Nations Security Council process, Labor would support a specific amendment to the Criminal Code to name the Hezbollah External Terrorist Organisation as a terrorist organisation within the principal act. That was almost two months ago.

Let us understand the circumstances. The Prime Minister wrote to me on 2 April and I had the briefing—the same briefing that he would have received. I knew what he knew, and he knew that I knew that he knew and that that is why we had to act. That is the truth of it. I of course cannot disclose what was in that briefing, but I did know that it meant on my judgment and, according to the Prime Minister, on his judgment that action needed to be taken. The difference was that I was serious about taking action and doing something constructive and using the parliament to do it. The Prime Minister, of course, wanted to play wedge politics. The trouble is that he could not play it for too long because he knew that the consequences of not acting on that briefing could expose him and his government in the event that something happened.

In my response on 8 April I was proposing the real alternative, but was the Prime Minister prepared to positively respond to my proposal? The Prime Minister contacted me as early as 2 April and offered me the briefing, which I took up immediately, and I responded to him in rapid time. Do you think he wanted to respond positively? I said that I responded to him on 8 April. Do you know when he finally got back to me? It was on 12 May. How serious is a government that weeps crocodile tears and says that we are under threat? How serious can we take a Prime Minister who says that we have a major threat and that he wants the Labor Party to agree to address it but does not act for another five weeks?

Instead of putting party politics aside, which is what he should have done, and working with Labor to achieve a quick and effective outcome, the Prime Minister ignored my suggestion. Interestingly, on the very day that I wrote to him—8 April—do you know what he was doing? He was writing to the state premiers to try and go past my solution and get them to agree with his—his solution being not to focus on Hezbollah, not to prepare a specific act of parliament to list Hezbollah, but to use Hezbollah as the excuse to get back into the parliament what he could not get passed last year. That is the wedge politics that the Prime Minister was playing, and he was playing it with the security of Australia being threatened. Interestingly, with the Prime Minister having written to the state premiers and them having discussed this issue with me, surprise, surprise, they thought my solution was better than the Prime Minister's, and that is what they backed. All of the states and territories recognised the problem, as did I, but they preferred Labor's solution to the problem, not the Prime Minister's.

The Prime Minister, as I said, waited for more than a month—five weeks in fact—before writing back to me on 12 May. There was no offer to talk about it—simply a written response saying that he flatly rejected Labor's proposed legislative changes. In his letter the Prime Minister said that the requirement to amend legislation would unnecessarily delay listing action. The Attorney-General went to the media and said that the proposal we were putting forward would be unconstitutional. How seriously can you take these people? The Prime Minister wanted to list it as soon as possible. Here we are in the parliament today, ready to pass it. What the Attorney-General was saying was unconstitutional last week and the week before he is now putting up as his own bill. The government was not prepared then to accept Labor's legislative approach until, in fact, it was forced to do so by the weight of evidence and public pressure.

I moved, at the earliest possible opportunity in this parliament, to have a private member's bill introduced to give effect to my solution, and today that private member's bill will be passed in the House of Representatives, effective from the date of its introduction. There have been only 15 private members' bills carried in this parliament, and only seven of those have been initiated in this chamber. Today we add to that and, I might add, we add to it the next private member's bill passed in record time. I think that highlights that we were right all along on this. We had the solution, we offered it constructively, we offered it in the spirit of bipartisanship, and we offered it because we knew that the security of the Australian people should never be compromised. But not the Prime Minister; he was prepared to play wedge politics with this issue.

I welcome the fact that the government has changed its mind. Let us be clear that the legislation it said last week was unconstitutional is today presented by the government as a solution to the problem—legislation it said was so urgent that it waited a full eight weeks to bring it forward to the parliament. How can we be expected to treat this Prime Minister seriously when he says he wants to be tough on terrorism but then spends weeks delaying the listing of the Hizballah bill because he is more interested in playing his political games?

The government's backdown on this matter is humiliating, but it is welcome, and it is a welcome defeat for wedge politics in this country. They have been forced to accept Labor's proposal because it is the right thing to do. By legislating in this way, it sends a much stronger signal by the parliament to crack down on terrorist groups than a simple determination of the Attorney-General acting alone. It is the parliament itself speaking for all of the Australian people, not the Attorney-General acting at the whim of the Prime Minister whenever he wants to play his political games.

The Prime Minister's political wedge has, as I said, failed again. In particular his attempts to divide state and federal Labor over this issue have also backfired. I said before that the state and territory leaders have come out in strong support of my proposal. Just look at what Mike Rann, Premier of South Australia, had to say last week: `Simon Crean has proposed a quick, simple and strong response to the Prime Minister's request.' It is a view that has been echoed around the other state capitals. The states are determined to work together to fight terrorism, but they will not accept the political games. This government has to learn to act in everybody's interests and to act collectively. This requires cooperation at all levels, including in this chamber.

In the Labor Party state and territory governments, as well as the federal Labor Party, we say that we will never tolerate terrorism in any form. But we should also be very clear about the implications of this legislation. The banning of Hezbollah and other terrorist organisations is important because it sends a signal to anyone associated with that organisation that their activities are illegal and will not be tolerated. Listing terrorist organisations assists with the first hurdle of a prosecution, whereby the prosecutors must prove that an organisation is a `terrorist organisation'. It does nothing to stop Australia's federal and state security and law enforcement agencies from acting against terrorism. If there is any evidence of terrorist activity in Australia from Hezbollah or any other organisation, the government and its security forces have all the powers that they need to investigate and prosecute those terrorists. Banning organisations—whether you do it through the United Nations or through a specific legislative amendment—does nothing to alter the fact that under our existing antiterror laws terrorism is a crime. The penalties for terrorists and terrorist organisations in Australia are severe and they are immediate—they should be. It underpins what Labor have said that we want to do all along: we want Australia to be tough on terrorists but only terrorists. The message today is clear: if there are terrorists in Australia planning to or willing to hurt Australians, they will be punished to the full extent of the law—and it is a law which also has a global reach. There will be no escape clauses for those who seek to use terrorist violence against innocent men and women.

The government has introduced a second bill. The second bill reopens the proscription debate: the wide, sweeping powers—as the government would have it—being given to the Attorney-General to proscribe organisations as he sees fit. This attempt by the government to reopen the executive proscription debate now, less than 12 months after the parliament determined it, when it went through both houses of parliament, must be seen for the cynical political exercise that it is.


Mr Ciobo —Your amendment won't work, that's why.


Mr CREAN —There is at least one backbencher from the Liberal Party sitting in this chamber. His party was in open revolt against this proscription regime 12 months ago and yet his government is trying to come back in by this second bill to put it up. You know it. You go and tell the electors of your constituency that you, the member for Moncrieff, are supporting a position by which the Attorney-General can proscribe any organisation he sees fit. Where are the civil liberties of organisations associated with that? Why shouldn't parliament be the one that determines it? Why should you be giving the power just to the Attorney-General? Get out and explain that in Moncrieff, if you are prepared to attend real branch meetings in that place.

The government says that the UN listing process is not good enough. But it has already listed, I remind the member, 13 terrorist organisations through this mechanism. The government says it needs more time and an efficient process for listing terrorist organisations. Let us just have a look at its track record on the question to see how tardy or incompetent—take your pick—it has been. The power to list an organisation through the UN process was given to the Attorney-General on 22 July last year, almost 12 months ago. He then took three months to list al-Qaeda. Just think of this. Here was the Prime Minister in this parliament last week telling us the government knew about the threat from al-Qaeda even before September 11. When it had the power to list it, it took three months to do it.

Again, I ask you: how serious is this government in really doing the constructive work, the hard work, the real work of protecting Australian citizens, rather than just playing politics with the issue and scaring people? You have got to do more than scare people. You have got to do more than put people in fear in this country, Prime Minister. You have got to attend to their needs. You have got to show them that you have a solution. I would prefer that he played on people's hope, not their fear, but that is asking too much of this Prime Minister. He plays fear at every point. If he is going to play fear, he has got to come up with constructive solutions, and he has been found wanting.

That listing of al-Qaeda, three months after it was given the power, only came to the parliament when the Attorney-General was asked by us why al-Qaeda had not been listed as a terrorist organisation in Australia. The government then went to the Security Council to list Jemaah Islamiah as a terrorist organisation as a matter of urgency. So its hand was forced on that too. As everyone knows, that is the organisation responsible for the Bali bombings that tragically killed 88 innocent Australians. Jemaah Islamiah has been responsible for other terrorist violence in South-East Asia and remains a very serious threat to Australia today. But do you know how long it took it to list Jemaah Islamiah? Six months. It took three months for al-Qaeda and six months for Jemaah Islamiah. So you can see the pattern of this government: strike fear into the Australians and tell them that they have a problem, but do not address it. Labor are prepared to address it—and that is why this bill is before the parliament today.

This bill is the sensible way to go. The first bill is consistent with the clear and valid principles that we have talked about before, and accordingly we will support it. But, while we will always offer bipartisan support for good national security measures, we will not offer bipartisan support to cover up the government's incompetence. Just look at this Attorney-General: pathetic. He will not stand up to the Prime Minister's wedge games of politics. The Attorney-General will not stand up to him and say, `We have a constructive solution being proposed here, Prime Minister; we should pick it up.' The government's inability to act quickly has been at the background to all of this, but it has been forced by Labor's introducing the private member's bill. But it has become part of the pattern of incompetence that we know of from the Attorney-General. I said before that it still has not responded to our proposals for more constructive dialogue in relation to the ASIO bills, and that was offered immediately after it folded the tents at Christmas time last year.

But, with the passage of the Criminal Code Amendment (Hizballah) Bill, Australia will now have, in effect, a two-tiered proscription regime in place to ban terrorist organisations. The first tier will be the existing listing process through the UN—the mechanism agreed by the government and supported by us—and the government agreed it got the balance right. So far, 13 terrorist organisations have been listed. The second tier is the addition of a specific legislative amendment to the Criminal Code to list organisations that cannot be captured by the existing UN Security Council process. As with the Hizballah bill, this provides a useful additional mechanism for listing organisations, and Labor's preparedness to backdate the legislation to 29 May shows that, through bipartisan cooperation, we can ensure that we have full legislative protection, even when the parliament is not sitting. The two-tiered process is appropriate, and it is effective. It complements the existing court based process that is now available.

There may be other steps that could be contemplated to add additional safeguards to the listing process outlined above, and we remain open to discussing these with the government. But we will not agree to their carte blanche approach in giving the Attorney-General the sweeping powers that John Howard always wanted but would only ever act on if it suited his political purposes, not for the protection and the security of the Australian people.

Labor cannot and will not let threats to Australia and Australia's interests go unchallenged. We must do everything in our power to stop terrorists in their tracks, and proscribing terrorist organisations is but one arrow in the quiver of our antiterrorism responses. But, in addition to that, we also want strong law enforcement and intelligence agencies that are able to work quickly and effectively to deal with terrorist threats. We have seen the effectiveness of the Australian Federal Police involvement in bringing to justice the Bali bombing perpetrators and bringing them to the trial which is going on today.

It is for these sorts of reasons that Labor have proposed some constructive initiatives to further take this fight against terrorism forward. We have proposed a new office of national security. We have proposed that a national security adviser oversee all intelligence gathering and analysis. We need better national coordination of counter-terrorism efforts through a dedicated department of homeland affairs, and we need greater regional cooperation at a heads of government level to bring real political determination to stamp out the breeding grounds of terrorist groups. By all means have the workshops around the region, but we are not going to grapple with this as a nation and a region unless the heads of government get involved—and why the Prime Minister will not initiate it is beyond me.

These are constructive initiatives. As I have said before, the private member's bill which Labor introduced, and which we are effectively passing today in this chamber, is but part of a series of suggestions that we have put forward. Our approach to this issue has always been based on a fundamental principle. We are determined to develop sound, effective national security measures to protect Australians, and we are determined to defend those democratic rights and freedoms that we are all fighting for and have fought for. It highlights a fundamental difference between the Labor Party and the coalition. Labor are taking national security issues seriously, and we are looking for practical solutions. John Howard just wants to play wedge politics. The evidence is clear for all Australians to see.

I commend the Hezbollah bill, I reject the second proposal and I urge the government to adopt the constructive initiatives that Labor has put forward: the department of homeland security, the national security adviser and the regional summit to coordinate our efforts to stamp out terrorism. Australia cannot solve this alone; but, with determination and leadership at the proper level, we can stamp it out in a regional sense. That is what the government should be doing, and sadly it is not. But it is what a Labor government will do. I commend the first bill to the House and urge the rejection of the second bill.