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Thursday, 25 June 2009
Page: 7170

Mr BEVIS (10:38 AM) —On behalf of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security I present the committee’s report entitled Review of the Re-listing of Hizballah’s External Security Organisation (ESO) as a terrorist organisation.

Ordered that the report be made a parliamentary paper.

Mr BEVIS —by leave—This particular inquiry, as others, was advertised and we received submissions from three organisations other than the normal agencies that provide reports to the committee. In its submission to the inquiry, the Federation of Community Legal Centres of Victoria put forward a detailed criticism of the proscription regime and stated that in the case of Hezbollah’s ESO it is unclear whether the statutory criteria had been made out.

The committee also received a submission from Dr Patrick Emerton of Monash University. That submission also put forward a criticism of the proscription regime and some brief comments in respect of Hezbollah. The third submission was from the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council that stated that, whilst it supported the relisting of Hezbollah’s ESO, it drew no distinction between the ESO and Hezbollah as a whole and requested that the committee recommend to the Attorney-General that the entire Hezbollah organisation should be listed as a terrorist organisation rather than only its External Security Organisation.

The committee is not persuaded at this time to make that recommendation proposed by the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council. The committee heard evidence that Hezbollah’s ESO continues to engage in, and offer support for, terrorist acts, and I will take this opportunity to provide some brief comment about the group’s organisation and activities. The ESO constitutes a distinct terrorist wing within Hezbollah’s structure. ASIO informed the committee that since Hezbollah has become a legitimate political party within Lebanese politics—and indeed they contested the most recent elections—the ESO has had to operate more independently.

Following the 2006 military confrontation with Israel, it has been reported to the committee that ESO engagement in terrorist activities has been sustained, with a significant rocket and anti-aircraft capability which can reach deep into Israel. There is no reason to believe that the ESO has relinquished this capability. The committee therefore supports the listing and will not be recommending to the parliament that the regulation be disallowed.

I would like to take this opportunity to make some broader comments about the role of the committee. I think that the parliament is particularly well served by the work of the Intelligence and Security Committee. By necessity, the committee conducts most of its business in closed session and, unlike most other committees, it does not seek or obtain media coverage of its activities. That is as it should be and that is as it must be. But I think that it is important when reports of this kind are presented to the parliament to remind members of the parliament and through it, the public of Australia, that the processes by which organisations are listed have a number of fail-safe counterbalancing checks. One of those is that an all-party committee—this committee—reviews listings that are made on its own determination. In doing that behind closed doors it is able to access advice of the relevant security agencies and, indeed, invites and receives views and comments from anybody in Australia who wishes to place those views before us.

The process of course is, of necessity, truncated because of the period available for disallowance and the rules of this place. Sometimes when a listing occurs at the commencement of a sitting period that can require us to conduct fairly speedy reviews. But even in those circumstances the committee gives detailed consideration to the evidence that it receives and does inquire of the agencies to satisfy itself that the information available supports the listing.

In this parliament I have been a shadow minister with responsibilities in these areas and a long time ago in government, in Defence, though not directly in respect of these matters but nonetheless in the security environment. The committee over the years has been well served by a range of people whose experiences in other roles have been important, and of course in the current circumstances to have a former Attorney-General as deputy chair of the committee is a very valuable asset for the committee as well.

Whilst the deliberations are in private and the evidence is basically taken in private with very few exceptions, the committee does—as I am doing now—always table a report with its findings. That is an essential part of the accountability that we have to this parliament. But I think it also informs the public debate. We did in our most recent report prior to this, make recommendations about changes in the formatting of statement of reasons and the giving of evidence to the committee. The relevant agencies are in the process of giving effect to those matters that were the subject of the committee’s most recent report.

All of these things are important additions to the process. I take this opportunity to thank all of the members of the committee—on both sides of the chamber—who I think perform their task with a great degree of professionalism and the sort of serious application to issues that the public would expect in the review of these important matters under consideration. The listing of an organisation as a terrorist organisation does impose restrictions on people who may wish to be involved in that organisation. They are not the sorts of restrictions we usually impose on folk in a democratic society such as ours. They should not be imposed lightly. The processes are in place to ensure that when they are imposed it is done so for all of the right reasons, for the security of the Australian population and our territorial interest. I am very pleased and proud to have the opportunity to chair this committee. I commend the report to the House.