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Tuesday, 28 May 2013
Page: 4116

Mr SIMPKINS (Cowan) (12:10): If you have read some of the headlines today, you would think that the timing of what I want to speak about is somehow linked to revelations about hacking, but that is not what I want to focus on. I want to speak about and pay tribute to ASIO. Looking around the world in recent times—and I am not just talking about last week but over many years—we have seen great internal threats to Western nations, threats which have come from radical followers of Islam who interpret the religion to give them some justification for attacks on civilians—terrorism by any other name. As is the nature of terrorism, they are acts designed to create fear, acts designed to elicit a media response, which is always quite successful, and nevertheless acts designed to push a philosophy which is inconsistent with Western values and Western thinking.

Looking particularly at the recent event in Boston, people who had come from Chechnya were responsible for the attacks which took lives at the Boston marathon. They were people who had sought a better life in the United States but then, having taken all the advantages offered by the West, they chose to find such fault with those systems and attacked innocent, undefended civilians, taking lives for a political cause in the name of religion. Similarly, in Stockholm an immigrant population is resisting the rule of law. In Paris, the attack on the soldier in the metropolitan area was by a member of an immigrant population which has chosen not to be part of the mainstream or to benefit from the opportunities provided to them, but instead to find fault and try to change the nature of the country which had so willingly and generously provided them support and protection.

What happened a week ago in London shocked us all. We heard the matter of fact manner in which one of those murderers, having run down the innocent soldier Lee Rigby, then set upon him in the worst, cruellest and most violent way. He justified his actions in such a broad English second-generation accent. He justified the killing, the ambush and the murder of that young soldier on the basis of aggrievement by what happens in, as he described, 'our lands'. He defined himself as no longer a citizen of Britain and owed his allegiance to a higher authority in his mind—that being his interpretation of his religion. Again, he was aggrieved by perceived injustices in a foreign land.

It is the case that western democracies face the threat of those who have been offered sanctuary and a better life and benefited from that law-and-order safe environment and been afforded an education by the taxpayers of those western democracies. Those people come to find so much fault with that society—the society that has given them succour—that they then choose to attack it. It is a philosophy that we struggle with and one that I find difficult to comprehend.

Here in Australia the reality is that we too face exactly these problems. The arrests that have taken place in the last few years—such as the planned attack on Holsworthy army barracks—these are exactly the same threats that other countries face. High-profile cases seem to be focused in Melbourne and Sydney, but I can tell the parliament—in tribute to ASIO—that I was approached last year by a person who had been a Christian, converted to Islam and came out of Islam to find Christianity again. This man witnessed and heard the conversations of young Islamic men in a mosque in Perth discussing the political benefits and value of attacking infrastructure in Perth. Having heard this, I contacted ASIO. I was very pleased to have seen that man who had come to me several weeks or so later at a public event—I did not wish to follow up with ASIO to make sure they did their job—and he told me he was up to his third interview with ASIO.

I am very grateful that this country is so well protected by such a dedicated group of professionals as ASIO. While they are completely different organisations, ASIS and the Office of National Assessments are other organisations in which we should have great faith. The only trouble is that there has been a very severe increase in workload, coupled with an unfortunate series of cutbacks in their budgets, and this has added pressure on organisations like ASIO. When a professional and a highly competent organisation such as ASIO is faced with a mountainous workload, we cannot have faith that the best interests of the country are being served—no matter how good they are.

As we know, since the 2008 changes to the border protection policies brought in by the Rudd government and furthered by the Gillard government, there have been some 40,000 illegal arrivals by boat who have come from places where there has been fighting, who may possibly be terrorists or used to fighting and who may have causes that are unlikely to be in the best interests of this countr When we are faced with that sort of incoming group of people, the need for ASIO to do a security assessment on them obviously is paramount. But if you are faced with a reduction in your budget, not enough staff to do the job, and pressure from some media and some irresponsible fringe parties such as the Greens, then there is always a risk that people will slide through. When you look at some of the people that have been arrested in this country for terrorism related charges then there is obviously a history of people having slipped through. That is a terrible situation.

The incident that I referred to before, which I reported to ASIO—again I pay tribute to the quick and very effective manner in which ASIO responded to that—was a counterterrorism security matter. I understand that there has been an 11 per cent rise in counterterrorism security assessments that have been required. When that is coupled with, in recent years, 34,000 in visa assessments, there is a big strain for ASIO to do their job. They do not have enough staff to do that job.

When we look at exactly what has happened around the world, we must know that the threat is as real here as it is in other places. There might be different numbers per capita of immigrant populations in various places around the world, but the reality is that we, too, have that sort of threat here. I have heard from one of my constituents of that threat. There is no doubt that we are facing a problem in the future and a problem right now.

At the start of 2011, in a speech I made—this fact was well reported at the time—it was said that in the four months leading up to February 2011 there were some 22 Australian citizens that had effectively disappeared in the Middle East trying to enter terrorism training camps in Yemen. I am sure those 22 Australians were all from immigrant backgrounds—first or second generation.

An honourable member: Are you sure?

Mr SIMPKINS: I am certain of it, mate. You can draw a comparison between that and one of the murderers in London, Michael Adebolajo, who was arrested in Kenya. He was part of the al-Shabaab movement, which is an al-Qaeda linked terrorist organisation. That suspect—one of the murderers in London—pretty much falls into the same sort of category as some of those 22 Australians that have entered training camps in Yemen.

What we see is that there is a very real threat to the security of this country posed by Australians—or people who are now Australian citizens—and in that context we should be very careful about undermining or rendering less effective the great job that ASIO can do. When we have ASIO and other security organisations within this country—organisations that serve the interests of our nation—hamstrung by a reduction in their budget and further challenged by a massive increase in their workload due to the policies of government, then that threat becomes worse and worse.

The job of any government—the job of those of us who serve the nation in this place—is to make sure that our country and our people are safe, first and foremost. We are not lords of the manor here. We are not VIPs. We are merely the chief servants of our electorates and of our nation. We should keep in mind always to not increase the dangers or limit our ability to keep safe our population. What needs to change in the future is that we make sure that ASIO, that great organisation, is properly resourced for the benefit of all Australians.