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Wednesday, 11 December 2002
Page: 7684


Senator NETTLE (10:33 AM) —The minister has said that any parliamentarian who was planning a terrorist act would be caught by this legislation. That is right: any parliamentarian who was planning to undertake a terrorist act could be caught under our existing legislation for conspiring to be involved in a criminal activity, as was the case with the gentleman from Western Australia who was taken in for conspiracy. That is an example of the way in which the current criminal justice system can be used to address these concerns that the government is trying to have addressed in this new legislation, which goes far further than anything that we have seen previously.

But what the minister missed when answering Senator Brown's question about parliamentarians is that this legislation is not designed to detain and interrogate a parliamentarian who may be involved in planning a terrorist act. This legislation is designed to detain and interrogate somebody not suspected of being involved in a terrorist act. This legislation is designed to interrogate somebody who it is suspected may have information leading to instances about a terrorist act—that is, the family or the flatmate of somebody who knows someone who went off to a meeting at which perhaps the planning of a terrorist act was discussed. That is who this legislation is designed to entrap in an interrogation, and in a questioning and detention regime. To clarify for the minister: it is not about a parliamentarian planning a terrorist act, who of course could be caught under current conspiracy laws; it is about throwing that net far wider to include anyone who may know or may be suspected of having information about somebody else or some potential terrorist act being planned in the future.

When we were discussing just one of the groups of people that will be caught by this legislation—the journalists—the minister refuted the arguments put forward by the Fairfax press about the impact that it will have on their profession. He said that News Limited has a different view. Perhaps it would be worth drawing the minister's attention to an article in today's Herald Sun, which I believe is part of the Murdoch press and News Limited. The headline of that article reads, `Media under threat'. That article goes on to expand on the ways in which journalists will be caught by this proposed legislation that the government is putting forward. It has arguments from the Australian Press Council, who are concerned for journalists as a whole, regardless of which media institution they are a part of. It points out the comments from the Australian Press Council, who say that the situation created by terrorism does not justify us giving up our historic freedoms.

This is a point of view that has been put forward by other people. Perhaps the minister would like to pass on to the Prime Minister that the Prime Minister's own hero, Sir Robert Menzies, said in 1939:

... the greatest tragedy that could overcome a country would be for it to fight a successful war in defence of liberty and lose its own liberty in the process.

That is exactly the path we are seeing the Australian government go down at the moment. In the context of fighting a so-called war on terrorism, and in the context of it so often being that lone voice in the US cheer squad for military intervention into Iraq, this government is trying to justify further curtailing the rights of Australian citizens and the democratic freedoms that people have been involved in and proud of defending for so long. Here we have comments from the Prime Minister's own hero to say that it would be the greatest tragedy if we were to lose our freedoms and liberties in trying to be part of a fight for freedom and liberty. That is exactly what we are seeing this government do right now with this legislation.