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Thursday, 9 February 2012
Page: 679


Mr FRYDENBERG (Kooyong) (11:34): I rise to support the Nuclear Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill 2011, which will give effect to our obligations under the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. This will create new criminal offences for (1) possessing or making radioactive material, nuclear explosive devices or a device to emit material with radiological properties which may cause death, serious bodily injury or substantial damage to property or the environment; (2) using or damaging a convention prescribed device or nuclear facility or threatening to do so; (3) threatening to use radioactive material; (4) demanding another person create radioactive material, a convention prescribed device or a nuclear facility; and (5) demanding another person allow a third person to access or control radioactive material, a convention prescribed device or a nuclear facility.

Importantly, offences under this bill include serious penalties, up to 20 years imprisonment. Members of our Australian Defence Force will not be liable for prosecution under this convention, when acting in connection with the defence and security of Australia, nor does this convention cover actions of the armed forces during armed conflict.

Like my colleague and friend who spoke before me, the member for Hughes, I subscribe to the view that nuclear terrorism is our greatest security threat. One of the foremost authorities on this topic is Professor Graham Allison, a former US Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration. He is now Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government, where I was a student and where I got to know Professor Allison well.

Professor Allison sees the nuclear threat as being entirely possible and points to the findings of a bipartisan United States Congressional Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Proliferation and Terrorism, which found:

… it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013 …

Professor Allison and this bipartisan congressional commission are not the only ones to point to the seriousness of this threat. President Obama has said that nuclear terrorism is the single most important national security threat that we face and, in his first speech as President to the United Nation's Security Council, he said:

Just one nuclear weapon exploded in a city—be it New York or Moscow, Tokyo or Beijing, London or Paris—could kill hundreds of thousands of people.

And it would badly destabilize our security, our economies, and our very way of life.

Former United States CIA Director, George Tenet, said, 'The main threat is a nuclear one. I am convinced that this is where Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda and his operatives desperately want to go.' Former US Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, said that, 'It's the thought of a terrorist ending up with weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear' that keeps him up at night. Indeed, we were given a glimpse into the causes for this deep concern expressed by the leaders of the United States's military and security establishment through the WikiLeaks revelations, which referred to some of the files of those captured in Guantanamo. The United Kingdom's Telegraph newspaper, in its reporting of these WikiLeaks reports, said:

A senior Al-Qaeda commander claimed that the terrorist group has hidden a nuclear bomb in Europe which will be detonated if Bin-Laden is ever caught or assassinated. The US authorities uncovered numerous attempts by Al-Qaeda to obtain nuclear materials and fear that terrorists have already bought uranium. Sheikh Mohammed told interrogators that Al-Qaeda would unleash a "nuclear hellstorm".

It went on to say:

Terrorists also plotted major chemical and biological attacks against this country.

Professor Graham Allison believes that, despite the reality and pervasiveness of this threat, Americans are 'paralyzed by a combination of denial and fatalism'—that if it has not happened, it will not, or, if it does happen, we can do nothing to stop it. The truth is: we can. We can do something to mitigate this threat, to stop such an atrocity ever happening. We can strengthen our intelligence agencies, as the Howard government did—and I was proud to be involved in that process, supporting ASIO and the Australian Federal Police, when I was in the office of Prime Minister John Howard. We can strengthen our legislative processes, which is part of the bill before us. We can attract the best people. We can share information with our friends and our allies in order to get the best result. There is a way forward.

But there is a reality that we all have to face, and that is: in Australia the terrorist threat is ever so real. In a very important speech to the Sydney Institute, David Irvine, who is the head of ASIO, revealed exactly the depths of today's threat. He pointed out that over 100 Australians have been killed in terrorist attacks overseas since 9-11, and he said that he did not share the view that the terrorist threat is either over exaggerated or that it just happens in another country. In fact, David Irvine, who is one of our finest diplomats—he had been our ambassador in China and heavily involved in security issues—has said that, in Australia, 23 individuals in recent years have been handed very heavy penalties for terrorist attacks, and he said in his speech:

It is worth reading the sentencing statements of the Australian judges to get an idea of the seriousness with which they viewed the offences—and the likely consequences had they been successful.

David Irvine went on to say:

ASIO continues to conduct several hundred counter-terrorism investigations and inquiries ranging from Australians in contact with terrorists off-shore, including al-Qa’ida, to possible threats to Australian interests or Australian lives from extremist activity, either on or off-shore.

He went on to say:

Within the Australian environment, we are seeing a worrying trend of “home grown terrorism”. This is not an abstract or an offshore threat; it is real and it is amongst us—

worryingly, too—

we are continuing to see a number of Australians seeking to travel overseas for participation in—or facilitation of—terrorism-related activities. My concern is that such people may target innocent people overseas, assist those who would do harm to our nation, or might return to Australia with a greater knowledge, training and intent to carry out an act of terrorism back home.

These are very profound, disturbing and important words. We can do something to stop the terrorist threat. We can do something to stop the nuclear threat. The first thing we can do is stop countries with existing nuclear capacity, like Pakistan and North Korea, proliferating their technology and their capacity to other countries. The second thing we can do is stop countries that currently do not have a nuclear device, like Iran, Syria and Burma, from ever getting one. The third is that we can tackle terrorism with a robust security framework and our deep alliances with our neighbours and friends, and the fourth is that we can introduce tough legislation that actually makes it an offence to do the types of activities that I have outlined today.

The Nuclear Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 is an important part of our arsenal. It is an important part of Australia's defence. I support it unequivocally, and so do my many colleagues on the coalition side.