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Wednesday, 26 February 2014
Page: 959


Mr MORRISON (CookMinister for Immigration and Border Protection) (15:23): I am pleased that you restated the motion, Madam Speaker, because the motion is, as you say, moved by the member for Denison, not a government member, and it is seconded by the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The motion is quite specific, and I believe the member for Denison has sought to be very specific in putting forward this motion so there is no confusion about any broader claim being made. I acknowledge that the member for Denison and I may have some differences on matters of policy which General Campbell is responsible for implementing, but the member for Denison has been specific in crafting this motion. The motion is that the opposition defence spokesperson, not the opposition as a whole, be admonished for something quite specific: calling into question the integrity of Lieutenant General Angus Campbell. That is the motion we are debating.

Let us go to the conduct of Senator Conroy yesterday that the member for Denison is referring to. In Senate estimates he said this, very specifically, in questioning General Campbell:

You—

specifically General Campbell—

are engaged in a political cover-up.

That is what Senator Conroy said yesterday, and it is an outrageous sledge against someone of General Campbell's standing. I am pleased that the Leader of the Opposition is at least prepared to acknowledge that some of what has been said about Lieutenant General Campbell is true. I acknowledge all of it as true, as I am sure every member of this House would want to do and I am certain that every member on this side of the House does.

It is a very specific motion. I am disappointed that the Leader of the Opposition has said that the opposition will not be supporting the motion. In so doing, he has confirmed and affirmed the behaviour of Senator Conroy in the Senate. The Leader of the Opposition in his response to this motion today has demonstrated how small a man he is when the challenge is put to him. The good-faith motion put forward by the member for Denison is to bring this House together and to ensure that the outrageous conduct of a member of the other place is brought under scrutiny. An opportunity has once again been given to the Leader of the Opposition to try and set this right. That is something the member for Chifley did last night, I acknowledge, but his leader is not prepared to do in this place today. That is a very small act from the Leader of the Opposition, who has proved in this place his smallness when dealing with a matter of such significance.

I remind the House that General Campbell was appointed to this role by the Chief of the Defence Force, General Hurley. General Campbell was appointed to this role to take command of the Joint Agency Task Force responsible for implementing Operation Sovereign Borders, which the foreign minister reminded the House was a policy detailed, articulated and advocated at the last election by those now on this side of the House and received the overwhelming mandate of the Australian people. Any good serving officer in the Navy, Army or Air Force—and I go beyond our defence forces and talk about the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service which is also involved in this initiative and the Australian Federal Police, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, the Department of Foreign Affairs, our intelligence services and agencies—all these men and women are engaged in the implementation of this policy. General Campbell was selected because of his experience, because of his credibility, because of his integrity, because of his sincerity and because of his ability. I have had the privilege of observing these things on a daily basis. He is one of the finest, if not the finest, men I have ever met and certainly I have ever worked with.

The fact is he was subjected to that sledge by Senator Conroy last night. In a rare sign General Campbell went to the point of admitting offence. If a general of his standing says he has taken offence then Senator Conroy should not just have withdrawn. Everyone in this place knows that a withdrawal is not an apology. Senator Conroy should have apologised but he has not apologised. For that act, the member for Denison is right. The opposition defence spokesperson should be admonished by this House. He should have been admonished by the Leader of the Opposition. That should have happened last night; it should not have been dragged on.

Let us look at the comments from General Hurley this morning when he appeared before Senator Conroy, as unrepentant as anyone could possibly be. He said:

I was surprised by the accusations made against Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell. I was pleased these accusations were withdrawn but, unfortunately, once said, the shadow will linger.

Mr Abbott: The shadow lingers.

Mr MORRISON: The shadow lingers.

Lieutenant-General Campbell—

he says—

has a reputation in Canberra, and more widely in Australia and overseas, of integrity,—

Mr Snowdon interjecting

The SPEAKER: The member for Lingiari will desist!

Mr MORRISON: I note the interjections opposite. I will continue:

… intellect and studied impartiality. He is widely respected across Australia's political divide.

The shadow is lingering and this House, on the good motion of the member for Denison, has the opportunity right now to dispel that shadow, and the Leader of the Opposition is not up to the task. He is not up to the task and that is extremely disappointing.

Last night the member for Chifley talked about, 'I am not going to dance around it. What he said was wrong. It shouldn't have been said, not to a serving officer that way.' That is the transcript of what the member for Chifley said, but what we are seeing—

Mr Bowen interjecting

The SPEAKER: The member for McMahon will desist!

Mr Brendan O'Connor interjecting

The SPEAKER: The member for Gorton is warned!

Mr MORRISON: I note the interjections opposite. What we are seeing from the Leader of the Opposition is a dance. He is dancing around it. He will not face up to the behaviour of his own shadow minister for defence. As the Assistant Minister for Defence said earlier, he opened his account as the shadow minister for defence with a sledge against one of our strongest and most able and most distinguished serving officers in our military.

Other matters have been raised in this debate by the Leader of the Opposition. I want to correct the record for their benefit, because they seem to not understand how Operation Sovereign Borders operates and how it works. It brings together 15 agencies which the commander of the Joint Agency Task Force operates on a daily basis. They have a single-minded task, and that is to stop the boats—and they are stopping the boats. Those policies are working. General Campbell's leadership is proving to be a key ingredient in that success. It only makes me wonder: why didn't the previous government ask someone like General Campbell to go and fix their mess? That is what this government did. This government put someone in who had the ability to take the policies of this government and implement them and get the results the Australian people were crying out for, because after almost 1,200 deaths it demanded the sort of action and the sort of leadership for the policies and their implementation that General Campbell is putting in place.

I note particularly that the opposition takes issue with the policy regarding information and the handling of sensitive information in relation to Operation Sovereign Borders. I said before the last election that we would leave that matter of how information on matters of operations was to be addressed in the public domain to the commander of the JATF, and that is exactly what we did. Every time those opposite have criticised the way information is being handled in terms of maritime operations they are actually criticising the measures put in place by the commander of the JATF, because that is the body and that is the commander who has advised me on those policies.

I am not surprised that the Leader of the Opposition has not risen to the member for Denison's challenge here today, because he wishes to continue the attacks and undermining of this government and its policies and now that attack has shamefully gone at the hands of Senator Conroy to attacking one of the most distinguished men ever to pull on a uniform for this country.

Mr Shorten interjecting

Mr MORRISON: The Leader of the Opposition asks me to sit down. I will not be sitting down, Leader of the Opposition; I will be standing up for General Campbell, and you should be ashamed of yourself.