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Tuesday, 14 October 2003
Page: 21319

Mr RUDDOCK (Attorney-General) (4:03 PM) —Mr Speaker, I thank you very much for the opportunity to respond to this matter, because I think it is one in which you can see that the Labor Party is very much about side issues and is not prepared to deal with the issues of substance. I was particularly interested in what approach might be taken on this matter and I listened very carefully to the introduction. It was quite clear that the reason this matter is being pursued now is that, on Lateline last Thursday night, Tony Jones asked a question and, again last night, Tony Jones asked a question. It seems to me that the opposition is very much taking its cue from the ABC, and Tony Jones in particular, as to when a matter might be pursued.

Mr Zahra —Tony Jones is next on the list!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—The member for McMillan seems to have a very short memory.

Mr Zahra —There's nothing wrong with my memory.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Standing order 304A will be used again if you are not careful.

Mr RUDDOCK —The comments were addressed in terms of what the opposition thinks is the substantial issue—that is, truth and trust. Essentially three matters were raised. The first was in relation to what I think is very much an issue of the economic security of Australians—the importance of industrial relations reform to provide for all Australians a more secure income over the future. If you look at the substantive issue in the last election which the member was referring to, it was economic security.

The second matter that he raised was in relation to children overboard. He forgets that some children were overboard and there were accurate reports to government about those matters. There were also other matters where the government did not receive timely and accurate information, but for which we are being pursued now on the basis that people were misled at the time. I was the person who first put that information in the public arena. It was on the basis of reports that I had received from Defence, and the situation involving me in relation to that matter has in no way been contradicted. But here is the opposition believing that they were robbed of the last election, and they believe that it was because people were in some way misled. Nothing is further from the truth. The issue that was in people's minds was the issue of border security, and people were not going to be diverted from a very simple question about who was going to provide more effective border security.

Now we come to the issue of the war against terror, and particularly the issues in relation to Iraq. The honourable member would have us believe that this is an issue of truth and trust. I have to say that I think it is a bigger issue. It is about national security in the broader sense and about who is prepared to deal with national security. On the issue that we are dealing with directly today, I think there was one memorable quote from the member for Griffith. He said, `In this country we take matters in relation to national security seriously.' By implication he was suggesting that the government does not. The point that I think ought to be seen very clearly is that, when it comes to leaking matters in relation to national security, the Labor Party is quite prepared to do that. It did so back in May 1999 when the member for Kingsford-Smith, Mr Brereton, released reports of the Defence Intelligence Organisation.

Mr Price —That is an outrage!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Chifley will have an opportunity to correct the record.

Mr RUDDOCK —He did so by referring to them on 29 May 1999. He quoted directly from defence intelligence reports dated 4 March 1999. Again, on 23 November, he quoted from those same reports. And I am told that, at an ALP dinner on 18 September 1999, he waved documents around and said, `It's worth bringing along the leaked defence intelligence current information brief.' If the opposition believe that they take those matters of national security seriously, they would not bring along documents of that sort and parade them in that way. I think that evidences their credibility in relation to this matter. I think the more important issue that we ought to be addressing in this debate is: who is prepared to act comprehensively in relation to terrorism when it faces this nation?

Since 11 September 2001, Australia has taken further steps to upgrade its national security and counterintelligence capabilities. It has done so by a wide range of measures, including the Criminal Code Amendment (Espionage and Related Matters) Act 2002, where we strengthened our espionage laws by increasing the maximum penalties, in particular for that offence. In the Criminal Code Amendment (Offences Against Australians) Act 2002, we made it an offence to murder, commit manslaughter and intentionally or recklessly cause serious harm to an Australian outside of Australia. In the Security Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Act 2002, we created a new offence of terrorism and a range of related offences. We modernised Australia's treason offence and created a regime for making regulations, listing organisations that have terrorist links. Let me say that that regime is, as yet, incomplete and, if I have time, I will come back to that matter. So far, some 14 organisations have been listed as terrorist groups under Australian law. It is an offence to join such an organisation or to receive from or provide to that organisation training, funds or other resources.

We dealt with the suppression of the financing of terrorism through an enactment so that the movement of funds for terrorist purposes and the exchange of information about financial transaction reports with foreign countries could be addressed. The Criminal Code Amendment (Suppression of Terrorist Bombings) Act 2002 created offences relating to the use of explosive devices in terrorist activities. The communications interception legislation allows the use of intercepted material by law enforcement agencies investigating a range of criminal offences, including terrorism. We also enacted border security legislation, which deals with border surveillance and the movement of people and goods. We amended the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation legislation, which enhances the power of ASIO to obtain a warrant to detain and question a person who may have information that is important to the gathering of intelligence about terrorist activity. Regulations are now in place and the issuing and prescribed authorities for that legislation have been designated.

The Criminal Code Amendment (Terrorism) Act 2003 was enacted after the states and territories referred to the Commonwealth the power to legislate on matters concerning terrorism. The act removes any uncertainty about the constitutional status of counter-terrorism legislation. Finally, there is the Criminal Code Amendment (Hizballah) Act 2003, which includes Hizballah external security organisations and the definition of terrorist organisations. I might say that this legislation would have been totally unnecessary if the opposition had agreed to regulations enabling the government, in a sensible way, to proscribe terrorist organisations.

The opposition go out and speak to audiences in different ways. There are people who are arguing that as the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union have banned Hamas—a self-confessed terrorist organisation which has killed over 500 people and injured over 3,000—we ought to be. I notice that, at this very time, the opposition are asking us about this indirectly. But it has not been listed by the Security Council. The only way we can now ban Hamas is by a further special amending bill, with all the time that would take and with all the difficulty that would occasion. Other organisations might well have been proscribed in the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union and we may have no simple and easily accessible way of dealing with the proscription of those organisations. The opposition refuse to countenance such measures whereby the listing could occur by way of regulations initiated by the Attorney, with the possibility of parliamentary disallowance remaining in place.

In fact, I have had recent advice from the shadow Attorney indicating that his view is still that he would only allow for a matter of this sort to be dealt with if the proscription were undertaken by a court. A court would require that any analysis and reporting of international situations of terrorism, threats to security and the capacity of the country to respond to those matters—and matters that relate to the state of danger, threat and safety to the security of Australia—were canvassed essentially in an open court. In weighing the evidence, the court would have to take into account the opportunity for, and capacity of, a respondent organisation to contradict and make submissions with respect to that application.

What I thought was amazing in relation to the approach that the opposition wanted to take on that matter is that they would provide to the very terrorist organisation the security information that we would have about them in an open court in order that they might be able to rebut that information. I find that an extraordinary approach to intelligence information. They did surmise that it might present a problem. They said that you could have in camera hearings, but that does not mean that the information—if you look at clause 9 of their proposed amendments—that might be withheld from the public would not be withheld from the terrorist organisation that you wanted to proscribe. What it shows is that, in these matters when you are dealing with terrorism, the sense of proportion that ought to be there is clearly lacking and that in relation to identifying and listing terrorist organisations, we have arrangements which are clearly less than optimal.

If I thought that was the only issue where the opposition has failed, I might be forgiving in relation to these matters, but I notice in a debate that occurred on 10 September that the former Attorney-General adverted to issues arising as a result of restrictions in the Australian Constitution where Australia lacks the power to implement comprehensive money laundering offences. He said:

This gap in constitutional power is recognised by the states and territories. If it is not addressed, there is a risk of Commonwealth prosecutions failing on technical grounds—

in relation to issues of money laundering and national security. He made the very simple point that the states—it is primarily the states and not the territories, all of which are Labor governments—can remove any doubt in this area by expressly referring power to the Commonwealth. And yet when the former Attorney-General requested that the states refer the relevant powers to the Commonwealth, as agreed at an earlier summit with the Prime Minister, the states indicated that they would not. Of course this is a very obvious disappointing setback to the national security cause in preventing money laundering and the criminal activity that underpins it. If the opposition were genuinely committed to national security, it would be making representations on these matters and putting them forcibly to its colleagues in the national interest.

When I come to these particular matters, I think the Australian public are very concerned about the three security issues: they are concerned about economic security, as they were in the last election; they are concerned about border security, as they demonstrated in the last election; and, most importantly, they are concerned about national security. The fact is that there is a government that is on the record, that has the runs on the board and that has been able to demonstrate that it has a sense of purpose and direction in relation to dealing with these issues, while we have an opposition that is concerned to look back and is wanting to be judged on the basis that in some way it was robbed in relation to election outcomes—and that is essentially what this is about.

We have been very anxious in the present climate to address national counterterrorism. We have done so by endeavouring to institute comprehensive Commonwealth-state cooperation in relation to those matters. As I have mentioned, in one area that has not been altogether possible. We have put in place a national counterterrorism plan, which was launched on 11 June this year, in which the three levels of national counterterrorism alert were expounded. We have put in place training and exercise programs where we have expanded the counterterrorism training funded by the Commonwealth to ensure that those issues that can be cross-jurisdictionally addressed have been so addressed.

We have purchased chemical, biological and radiological equipment for state and territory police to provide a degree of national capability. In the area of transport security—aviation and port and maritime areas—we have been upgrading all of our activities. We have had some major structural changes to ensure that appropriate priority is placed on these matters. Organisations like the PSCC Watch Office have been activated on a continuous basis of 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The government are serious about national security. This is not a matter that you can address in the way the opposition has, by arguing that it takes these matters seriously when it treats security information in the way it has.