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Tuesday, 14 October 2003
Page: 21324


Mr HUNT (4:28 PM) —In a week in which we remember the tragedy of a year ago, in which we see the apprehension of one of the most powerful terrorist figures in the Philippines and in which we see further and continued activity in Iraq, we are reminded that there are real, serious and weighty questions of national security which confront not just Australia and this region but the international community itself. So this debate comes in the context of questions about genuine commitment to national security. It also comes in the context of questions about relative commitment to national security within Australia.

There are two great questions facing the opposition, the Labor Party, in this chamber today. Firstly, there is the question: are they strong or are they weak on serious questions of national security? Secondly, on the question of the handling of information in relation to national security, is there an extraordinary hypocrisy with what they wish to present to this House? I put the case to the House very simply that Labor are both weak on national security and fundamentally hypocritical in the way in which they treat national security information.

Firstly, I will address the question of substantive national security. In the last year we have had the extraordinary situation where the Leader of the Opposition of Australia, the alternative Prime Minister, when asked before the National Press Club of Australia whether he wanted Australia's troops to win in an international conflict against Saddam Hussein—the leader of a tyrannous regime responsible for an act of war against Iran and for atrocities against over 300,000 of his own citizens—could not define whether or not he wanted Australian troops to prevail. This is somebody who seeks to take control of and responsibility for the national security of Australia.

Secondly, in relation to the substantive points about national security, the Labor Party opposed and then supported ASIO legislation; in the end they came to the government's view. But there was no defining principle, no core commitment. Thirdly, and perhaps most tellingly, on 10 September 2003—which was the date of the first such debate on this topic, coincidentally—the Premier of New South Wales, Bob Carr, on radio 2GB said that the ALP had to:

... prove its capacity to offer fiscally sound policies that guarantee low interest rates and its capacity to protect the country's security.

So the leading Labor premier in the country raised questions about the bona fides and credentials of the nation's alternative government, the Labor Party, on national security. That is why there is a substantive question.

Also, and perhaps critically, we have an extraordinary case of hypocrisy in relation to this country's national security information and how it is dealt with. The member for Griffith has raised and run a question around the issue of whether or not the government in some way mistreated information; yet the document he refers to is very interesting, because he seems to know an awful lot about it. In particular, on 10 September, in a statement to this parliament, he talked about `how you treat a top-secret, AUSTEO, code language document'. From the research that I have done, there is no reference to the fact that this was an AUSTEO code language document in the Laurie Oakes article of 12 March. There is no reference to the fact that this was an AUSTEO top-secret code word document in the Herald Sun article of 23 June. There is no reference to the fact that this was an AUSTEO code word top-secret document in Senator Macdonald's questioning in the Senate. In none of those situations, in none of the public statements and in none of the information on the public record was there any reference to the classification and close detail that the member for Griffith was able to provide this House.

So how did the member for Griffith know this information, which was not on the public record, which was not the subject of public debate and which had not been raised in this House? The question is: did the member for Griffith receive any information? Did he receive the document? Was he briefed on it? Did the member for Griffith in some way obtain information which was improperly obtained? Is he in fact guilty of exactly that which he is attempting to blame upon others? I read for the benefit of the House section 79(6) of the Crimes Act 1914, which says:

If a person receives any ... document, article or information, knowing, or having reasonable ground to believe, at the time when he receives it, that it is communicated to him in contravention of subsection (3)—

which refers to proscribed information—

he shall be guilty of an offence unless he proves that the communication was contrary to his desire.

I am not arguing that the member for Griffith has committed a great offence, but it is fascinating that he is aware of information which is not in the public domain, which has not been raised in this House and which has not been raised in the Bulletin, the Herald Sun or the Senate. Will he categorically deny that he, any member of the opposition or any member of his staff received either a document or information which contained national security information? If he does not, there is the fascinating parallel that he is subject to exactly the same provisions that he would seek to invoke for others.

The member for Griffith would regret making his statement of 10 September 2003 and he would regret making reference to the word `AUSTEO', because he made a mistake: he let on that he was aware of more than he was supposed to know. We have seen from the member for Griffith knowledge of the content, knowledge of the classification and knowledge of the distribution of the document in question. I repeat for the House: we have seen knowledge of the content, knowledge of the classification and knowledge of the distribution of material which had not been on the public record until he himself brought it into this House. Nevertheless, is there something fundamentally wrong here? Much of the information was canvassed in the Laurie Oakes argument which came out on 12 March. The member for Griffith referred to much of it in his press release of 13 March 2003. All this discussion occurred after the conflict which was the subject of the document had been dealt with. All of it occurred at a time when that information was moot.

So do I think that the member for Griffith should in some way be prosecuted? No. Do I think that he is guilty of a sin? I do; I believe that he is absolutely guilty of gross hypocrisy. Because all the information was in the public domain already, because all the information had been bypassed—material that he has dealt with inappropriately, improperly and without authorisation—he is not guilty of breaching the Crimes Act. But he skates awfully close. It is not my job to defend him, but I will note that he has misused information and, when given the chance to deny it today in a personal explanation, he utterly failed. He responded with a personal explanation but there was a stony, absolute, categorical silence on the key point relating to his own conduct and the question of the information he has received.

The member for Griffith's sin is undoubtedly hypocrisy, and it is one which has been compounded by other members of the opposition. Incidentally, the member for Batman made a false claim at the same time, on 11 September, about a break-in at government offices in February. That claim was not withdrawn. In a press release on 17 September 2003 the Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson, noted that there had never been such a break-in nor a breach of national security as was claimed by the member for Batman. Similarly, the Deputy Prime Minister noted that key information not on the public record had been made available to the member for Batman. In summary, what we have here is a very clear indication that there are significant questions about Labor's capacity to deal with the substance of national security and that they are weak on national security. In order to cover those questions, the Leader of the Opposition could not say whether he wanted his country's troops to win in Iraq. Labor have embarked upon a campaign to hide the fact that they are in possession of improperly obtained information. (Time expired)


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—The discussion has concluded.