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Thursday, 5 December 2002
Page: 7291


Senator LUDWIG (3:22 PM) —I wish to take note of the answer to a question asked today by Senator Bolkus to Senator Ellison, the Minister for Justice and Customs. This debate has broadened into an area where it should not go. To put it bluntly, what we are talking about here is summed up in the title of an article in the Sun Herald— that is, a `TV campaign on how to spot a terrorist'. The subheading of that article reads `Howard plans urgent safety information ads'. We heard from Senator Ellison that he does recall posters in the UK, but we are not talking about that specifically; if we were, he perhaps would have told us today. He did not say today that we would have posters in railway stations or posters in trains or posters on buses, or posters on omnibuses, for that matter. We did not hear Senator Ellison talk about that. In fact, we did not hear from Senator Ellison much of an answer to the question that was asked.

I remind the Senate that the information we were seeking was information about the so-called public information or national security campaign with which the government is reportedly planning to educate the Australian public. It is appropriate that the question was asked. It is appropriate for Senator Ellison to provide the information in question time—that is the place where he can say: `This is what we intend to do. This is the information we intend to provide, and this is how we are going to provide it.' But we did not hear that. We did not hear much of that at all. We heard some anecdotal information earlier in response to a question, but we did not hear how much the campaign would cost and who would run the campaign.

It is even more curious if you look at the issue of who would run the campaign and how it would be run. You would imagine that if it was going to be the A-G's Department then at least Senator Ellison would have some more intimate or detailed knowledge about it. You would expect A-G's, with Senator Ellison involved, to be the client department. You would expect the Attorney-General and Senator Ellison to have a public information campaign at their fingertips. Given that this is about national security in relation to domestic security issues, you would expect that that would be the client department that would look at this issue.

Instead, Senator Ellison did not shed sufficient light on this to demonstrate, in my view, that he knew about it. That leaves us with a concern, because the normal mechanism is that you would expect that the Government Communications Unit would receive information from the client department and a request about how this information was then going to be put out and that it would be tendered and then put out. I would imagine that A-G's, in that instance, would be the client department. But that seems not to be the case. When you ask the question and Senator Ellison does not confirm it, it leaves unanswered the question of who the client department is. That becomes the question. Who is the client department? Senator Ellison has not said who the client department is. There was clearly an opportunity for him to answer that.

So we are left with supposition. Is the Prime Minister's office the client department that has asked for the information from the communications unit? Is the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet going to run this? Is it through Max Moore-Wilton? That is the real question. If that is the case, is there a process of politicisation of this issue? You would not expect that to be the client department at all. They have not indicated how much it is going to cost, so are we then looking at not only Prime Minister and Cabinet being the client department and making a request but also seeing Mr John Howard featured in these advertisements? Are we going to see Australian taxpayers' money spent on publicising Mr John Howard rather than bringing the real issue about national security or domestic security to the forefront to ensure that the public is at least informed? Are we going to see the politicisation of this? (Time expired)

Question agreed to.