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Tuesday, 4 November 2003
Page: 21924

Mr McCLELLAND (3:35 PM) —I thank my colleagues who have perhaps taken themselves away from other events to attend this matter of public importance debate. It is an important debate. Australians are all familiar with the concept of shark nets. Indeed, any local authority that refused to acknowledge that a shark net within its control had a gaping hole in it and, indeed, failed to repair that hole would quite frankly be sacked for irresponsibility in terms of the consequences of allowing a predator in to threaten Australian families.

That is precisely the case when it comes to the security net surrounding this nation because of those potential predators—those potential killers, quite frankly—who would come onto our shores to cause injury and death to Australian citizens. But the government has failed to even acknowledge that there was a gap in our net. We are entitled to know why that gap occurred, and the government has a responsibility to tell the Australian people what is being done to repair that net. The government has failed.

There is no doubt Willie Brigitte came through a gaping hole in our security net. The shark, Willie Brigitte himself, may have been removed from the pool, but we do not yet know how many other sharks he has as offspring in terms of the potential harm that those offspring can cause to Australian families. It is most certainly the case, as sure as night follows day, that the activities of Willie Brigitte in this country have given rise to other issues of concern that have been reported widely in the media as to the existence of those offspring and the evil activities that these sorts of people become involved in. But worse still, that hole remains and, until it is acknowledged, there is the potential for other predators to come through it.

If you look at what happened with Willie Brigitte, there is no reason why it could not happen again. He came into Australia after breezing into the Australian Embassy in Paris—under his own passport and his own identity—and obtaining a tourist visa to visit Australia. This is despite the fact that he had been under surveillance by French authorities for some two years and indeed had been implicated in the assassination of an anti-Taliban official in Afghanistan. But more significant, given the current heightened security environment that we sensibly must be in as Australia hosts the Rugby World Cup, is the fact that he was being investigated over potential links to a plan to set a bomb at the 1998 soccer World Cup. We are entitled to know how, at a time of heightened security relating to the Rugby World Cup in Australia, this fellow came through the net.

We have no doubt that we are entitled to ask, on behalf of the Australian people: should the information about Brigitte's background have been available to Australian authorities? Of course it should have been. It should have been available then and it should be available now and in the future. But the Attorney-General has not recognised the fact that such information should be available. He said—and he will articulate this in his argument, no doubt—that the entitlement to receive such information would have depended on Australia's preparedness to enter into reciprocal arrangements to share information relating to Australian citizens. This, he said, raised civil liberties concerns. We are looking at a man responsible for opposing moves to remove children from detention centres raising civil liberties concerns in respect of a character such as Willie Brigitte! If we have any such characters in Australia who have been implicated in and are under scrutiny for training with al-Qaeda in camps in Afghanistan, being implicated in assassinations and plotting to bomb major sporting events, I would submit it is a positive duty for the Australian government to ensure that other countries are notified of the potential dangers of such predators to the populations of those countries.

Of course there are questions of degree as to what sort of information you put up and if you put it up in respect of individuals. But when you have information of that category and someone being investigated over such significant events, there is no question about the fact and there is no other logical answer but that that information should be available. Yesterday the Minister for Foreign Affairs, in an answer which was not too bad—I will give him credit for that—outlined the response of the United Nations in terms of proscribing organisations and how terrorism had to be defeated by international effort. If you accept the logic of that, and I think we all accept the logic of that, how do you go to the point of advocating proscribing organisations when you do not set in train a process of tracking the movements of those persons who are members of terrorist organisations or indeed are strongly implicated in terrorist acts? There clearly must be a system of tracking such individuals. The government indeed has a clear responsibility to ensure that occurs.

The government, however, has literally ignored the gaping hole still remaining and is failing to fix it. There has been no satisfactory inquiry as to just how these events occurred. I remind the House that the Saturday Sydney Morning Herald reported comments from Gilles Leclair, the controller-general of France's main counter-terrorism unit, that he had conceded there may have been a communication breakdown between French and Australian authorities. I invite the Attorney-General to tell us whether he or anyone on his behalf has been in touch with Mr Leclair to find out Mr Leclair's concerns about that communication breakdown. Mr Leclair also said that he was `90 per cent sure' that Willie Brigitte was in Australia not for a marriage and a honeymoon but with the intention of becoming involved in a terrorist activity.

What would be the consequence of him coming through the hole? Last night Dennis Richardson, the head of ASIO, gave evidence before a Senate estimates inquiry that, if it had not been for subsequent information received from the French, Willie Brigitte would still be in the community, planning and scheming to commit the atrocities that we fear he was planning to commit. What are the consequences? He has been removed—the shark has been removed—but I tell you what: there are a lot of resources being expended by our security services, our Federal Police and the New South Wales Police trying to find out just how many offspring are still swimming around in the pool courtesy of Willie Brigitte coming here in May, some five months ago. And for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to get up here today and say, in response to Willie Brigitte being removed, `It is a pretty good outcome, mon ami,' just belittles the significance and the seriousness of the situation we face and the tremendous resources that are now being expended to mop up after this exercise.

I submit that it will be a long time indeed before the Attorney-General can stand up here and honestly assure the Australian people that the security consequences of Willie Brigitte coming through a gaping hole in our security net have been rectified. You have to remember that, while our security forces and police services are engaged in this mopping-up activity, they are not engaged as fully as they could be in activities that further strengthen our security nets, intelligence contacts and general systems to protect the Australian people. For the Minister for Foreign Affairs to get up and say, `It's a pretty good outcome, mon ami,' is outrageous.

What has the government's response been to this gaping hole being revealed in our security net? It has not been to find out how the hole was created and what needs to be done to fill the hole and patch the gap; it has introduced its traditional response—the deflector. That deflector goes all the way across to the Senate. It says, `The opposition-controlled Senate is responsible for all these evils that have confronted the Australian people.' What rubbish! On the Sunday program the minister said that the ASIO powers had been gutted by these evil characters, these obstructive characters over in the Senate, which is controlled by the opposition. As we pointed out yesterday, the power that triggers the warrant under section 34C(3) of the ASIO legislation was in the primary legislation introduced by the government.

As has been reported in the media today, the government has put forward several concerns in respect of some practical consequences of the application of the legislation but not in respect of the legislation itself or, indeed, the outcome of that legislation in the Senate process. For instance, a concern was voiced by the minister yesterday that the legislation does not permit or enable the security services to prevent a person who is under a questioning warrant—as opposed to a detention warrant—from leaving the country. That was never contemplated in the original legislation or in any amendments put forward by either the government or the opposition. If the government comes to us with a sensible proposal and says, `This is a problem. Rather than detain someone, it would be easier to have a mechanism for confiscating their passport issued by a foreign country,' we are prepared to sit down and sensibly look at such a proposal. Equally, points have been raised in the media today about concerns with the length of the questioning process if an interpreter is required. Again, if an appropriate standard is put to us that this occur, we are prepared to talk sensibly with the government. Concerns have also been floated by various sectors about whether there is a risk of information being leaked from these questioning processes. We do not believe that that is necessary, but if the government has concerns we are prepared to talk to it.

None of these propositions were even canvassed in the original legislation or in the amendments during the legislative process. Instead of coming to us respectfully with these concerns—as I believe the other minister at the table, the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, would have done—before going to the media and talking about them, we have seen the wedge taken out and bashed and done so quite misleadingly.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Braddon has already being warned and is in a perilous position in the parliament.

Mr McCLELLAND —It is an attempt to lock the opposition into a position. On the face of it, it is a political manoeuvre in circumstances where what is required in the national interest is a dissecting and rational analysis of the issues and a consideration of the remedies to resolve practical difficulties. It is really quite outrageous that those tactics were adopted in respect of matters that are fundamental to the security of Australian citizens.

We have also seen the government drumming it up in respect of proscription. In fairness to the Attorney-General, he acknowledged today that some five months ago the opposition put forward in a constructive way proposals for a judicial method of proscription. We have also indicated by way of a letter that will be sent today by the Leader of the Opposition to the Prime Minister that, with the appropriate confinement of proscription to the military wing of Hamas, as has been advised by our security services, and the Lashkar-e-Taiba organisation, we can expeditiously support the legislation foreshadowed by the government. Indeed, if it follows the Hezbollah model, I note that it will probably take effect from today. The minister's claims of outrageous delay are rectified by those things. What we are saying is that security is too important for politics. If errors have been revealed, if gaps have been disclosed, we should look at the reasons why they were created and rectify them. If there are reasons to repair legislation, we should do that in a rational, non-political way. (Time expired)