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The Haneef inquiry is a stunt, a witch-hunt: Sunday Mail column.



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Sun, 16th March 2008 THE HANEEF INQUIRY IS A STUNT, A WITCH-HUNT - PYNE - SUNDAY MAIL COLUMN

The Hon Christopher Pyne MP Shadow Minister for Justice & Border Protection Shadow Minister Assisting the Shadow Minister for Immigration & Citizenship

Of all of the Government's responsibilities, none are more important than protecting and securing our country and its people. Each Government Minister has some role in this.

It still seems like early days for the Rudd Labor Government, but national security briefings would have been provided to most Ministers before Christmas - before they had even set up the furniture in their new offices.

Our national security agencies are not infallible, but they work hard in our best interests. They protect our borders and gain no public acclaim when they pre-empt and foil terrorist acts.

Nobody would disagree preventing an act of terrorism which could result in mass casualties is better than catching the perpetrators after the act has been committed.

This isn't a game. In the era of September 11 and the Bali Bombings there isn't a lot of room for granting the benefit of the doubt. If security agencies acted with anything other than an abundance of caution, people might die.

This week the Rudd Labor Government announced a judicial inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the detention of Dr Mohamed Haneef.

The Opposition has signalled that we would support an appropriate investigation into this matter.

I believe that there is nothing more crucial than security agencies' ability to provide the very best intelligence and take appropriate action in the national interest. An investigation into the handling of this matter is important to ensure public confidence in our security agencies. Further, where any mistakes might have been made, an investigation would enable corrective action to be taken to prevent repetition in the future.

However, there are a number of clear and unequivocal reasons why the Rudd Labor Government's judicial inquiry is the wrong sort of investigation conducted by the wrong agency at the wrong time.

Firstly, and most crucially, the Australian Federal Police currently have an ongoing investigation into the matter. Any inquiry into the outcomes of an ongoing investigation is entirely premature.

Secondly, the judicial inquiry has been set up as a political stunt - a witch hunt even. It was announced by what professional political advisers would call a ''controlled leak''. This is how it was done - on Wednesday night a Minister or one of his advisers called a couple of key journalists with the hot scoop, on Thursday the front page of

major newspapers around the country scream loud and proud that the former Minister is going to be questioned by a judicial inquiry, on Thursday afternoon, the Government formally announced it for the television news on Thursday night.

This is a political hatchet job by Labor in an effort to traduce the former Government and impugn one of its Ministers. Far from restoring faith in the security agencies, Mr Rudd is after some more fodder for his limp lettuce Question Time attacks. This inquiry is no way to deal with national security or civil liberties - it is base politics pure and simple.

Thirdly, our security agencies can only operate effectively when their operatives and intelligence gathering procedures are treated sensitively. Their ability to operate effectively is placed in serious jeopardy by what could result in a public disclosure of operations and methods used to protect our national security.

The investigation should properly be conducted by the appropriate agency, The Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity.

With powers similar to a Royal Commission the ACLEI could conduct an investigation into the matter with high security sensitivity with procedural safeguards in place expressly for this purpose. This is the sort of work the ACLEI is designed to do. Instead, the first announcement of this inquiry was made by Labor in the heat of the election campaign. Now the Rudd Government is demonstrating its intent to use the judicial inquiry to attack the former Government even if national security might be breached in the process.

Kevin Rudd's desperation to score political points might well expose our flank to terrorists if the highly sensitive investigative and intelligence gathering methods of the AFP and other intelligence agencies are made public. Who knows what other current investigations might be compromised?

The Opposition opposes this judicial inquiry into the Haneef case - in the event that such an investigation is warranted, it should be conducted when the current investigation is no longer ongoing and be done by the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity.

And most importantly of all, the Government would be best advised to keep grubby politics far away from Australia's national security.