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
Thursday, 25 June 2009
Page: 7172

Mr RUDDOCK (10:46 AM) —I thank the member for Brisbane for his personal comments about me. He does deal with these issues very professionally and appropriately as befits his experience as a parliamentarian of long standing. In support of his remarks about the role of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, if members were to look at some of the reported comments of a former member of the committee, former senator Robert Ray, outlining the important need for checks and balances in relation to very sensitive laws that deal with our counterterrorism efforts, the importance of the committee in that overarching set of arrangements, which do include very significant checks and balances, was emphasised.

I turn my remarks to our committee secretariat, whom I thank on behalf of the chairman and members of the committee. We have been well served by very experienced and professional committee staff. That is reflected in the way in which these particular reports are prepared.

In this case we are dealing with the report, Review of the re-listing of Hizballah’s External Security Organisation as a terrorist organisation. It was initially listed as a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code in 2003 following its listing by the United Nations Security Council. Hezbollah’s ESO came up for review under the current prescription regime again in 2005 and in 2007. So this was the third review. If you go through the report under the legal criteria and guidelines under which these matters are considered, there follows an extensive discussion of the External Security Organisation of Hezbollah and the Attorney-General’s statement of reasons. It is a secretive organisation. Little is known about it. It is covert in the way in which it operates and it is successful in restricting information about its organisation, structure and membership. In that context, while it has a record of regular terrorist attacks against many Israeli and US targets up until the early 1990s and it has established an insurgent capability in Iraq engaging in assassinations, kidnappings and bombings with units set up with the encouragement and resources of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, about whom we hear a great deal at this time, and given the clandestine nature of the group and that the ESO’s activities do not have a high profile nor does it claim responsibility for its terrorist attacks, there is no indication that the intent of the ESO has changed or its capability diminished.

On the basis of the evidence the committee heard questioning aspects of the committee’s role, which it has heard before from community legal services and from an academic who writes in these matters who was suggesting other forms of review—they do not bring into question the substantive issue as to whether the ESO should be a proscribed organisation—it turned its mind to their observations and the committee commented on those a week or two ago when it tabled another report they had also submitted to in relation to that matter.

In this case the important issue really relates to the views raised by the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council. It goes to the question of whether proscription has been sufficiently extended to the operations of Hezbollah in limiting it to the ESO. The report does turn its attention to where the ESO fits within the broader Hezbollah organisation. It is an organisation that does receive very considerable funding support, some of it raised in Australia. The amounts of money it receives are very large. The way in which those funds that are for its charitable and beneficial programs might well be siphoned off for the activities of the ESO ought not be a matter that we ignore. Of course, Hezbollah’s recent engagement in the Lebanese elections was also part of the discussion in the committee report and I draw the attention of members to that. This is an organisation as part of Hezbollah where, although direct links and threats to Australia cannot be shown, as the report itself says:

Whilst the statement of reasons contains no information on this matter, it can be inferred that, through ESO’s links with Shia elements involved in the insurgency in Iraq, Australian citizens, including ADF personnel and Australian interests may be threatened.

I would read the committee’s recommendations slightly differently to the chair. It is only a question of emphasis. The committee came to the view, following the discussion that was raised by the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council that it was:

… not persuaded, at this time—

not persuaded, at this time—

 to make the recommendation proposed by the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council.

I put that emphasis because I think there is an issue which has been raised and it is a proper issue to have been raised. We have made a decision at this time that we are not persuaded that we should recommend to the Attorney that consideration be given to extending the proscription. But I think the emphasis, if it is put in the way in which I did, suggests that if there is further evidence that people believe could be usefully advanced on this question they should bring it to the attention of the government. I thank the chair for his work, his efforts and his leadership. The committee does work well and this is a very sensitive area and I am delighted to have the opportunity of sharing with my colleagues this responsibility.