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Thursday, 5 December 2002
Page: 7287


Senator MACKAY (3:02 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Justice and Customs (Senator Ellison) to questions without notice asked by Senators Mackay and Bolkus today relating to national security.

The opposition were somewhat bemused by the advice of the Minister for Justice and Customs to the people of Australia in relation to the current terrorist threat. I suppose one could call it avuncular advice; but the main point made in the minister's answers is that it seems that the minister's own portfolio area and the Attorney-General's Department as a whole have not been directly involved in the formulation of what has been foreshadowed as the Prime Minister's public information campaign on antiterrorism measures. The critical thing about this is that the process that would normally be followed is that the client agency themselves—Attorney-General's, for example, in relation to the guns campaign—would submit a proposal for a public information campaign to the Government Communications Unit and then they would put it together. What is clearly happening in this case—and this is what is of concern to the opposition—is that the client agencies are having no responsibility whatsoever.

The opposition's concern is that this information campaign will not turn out to be a genuine information campaign. That is our concern, and I think that the minister, despite his avuncular advice to the people of Australia generally, has in fact let the cat out of the bag. The minister should know something more about an information campaign than complete bewilderment—but he is saying: `I do not know anything about it. This should be directed to Senator Hill in relation to the Prime Minister.' Why is this campaign, completely against normal process, being run out of PM&C?

The opposition regard this matter very seriously. I do not think anybody would contest that. We have offered a bipartisan approach to this. I am advised that the Leader of the Opposition wrote to the Prime Minister on 24 November asking to be consulted on this public information campaign and that he has not received a reply so far. We are advised— and I would like some response from the government on this—that this campaign is fairly far advanced. Senator Bolkus's questions were quite specific. He asked: `What is the nature of the campaign? When will it be conducted? How much is the campaign going to cost?' and so on. As I indicated previously, the minister was unable to respond at all; in fact he looked quite bewildered. This is the minister, and this is the portfolio, directly responsible for antiterrorism, so I think that could at best be described as passing strange.

Despite the campaign being fairly far advanced, the opposition would like to know how much is being spent on it. At this point in our history we do not want just a PR stunt by the Prime Minister. We want people to have genuine information. We would prefer, and I think every Australian would prefer, that the money going into what is shaping up to be a PR stunt for the Prime Minister and the government be put into something concrete such as machines to X-ray luggage on domestic flights—I think most Australians were quite amazed to find out that does not actually happen. This is clearly a far more pressing matter than getting pamphlets out or using mass media or, particularly—with no disrespect to Senator Ellison—promulgating avuncular advice such as to ask, `Excuse me, are you doing anything untoward?' I think people deserve a bit more than that.

This is obviously a very serious issue. We want to know how much money is involved and we want to know the nature of the campaign. Mr Simon Crean wrote to the government on 24 November asking for consultation. We have heard nothing. Clearly this campaign is very far advanced, and we want to know whether this is going to be a PR stunt for the Prime Minister coordinated entirely within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet—whether this money could be better spent on X-raying luggage at domestic airports, for example.