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Response by the leader of the opposition to the prime minister's statement on the final reports of the royal commission on Australia's security and intelligence agencies



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ANDREW PEACOCK L®(g](o]®[r fth® © p piS S D i’DODH

RESPONSE BY THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION TO THE PRIME MINISTER’S STATEMENT ON THE FINAL REPORTS OF THE ROYAL COMMISSION ON AUSTRALIA’S SECURITY AND INTELLIGENCE AGENCIE

I would like to thank the Prime Minister for providing me with access to the various volumes, both public and private, of Mr Justice Hope's Royal Commission into Australia's security and intelligence agencies.

I will, of course, only be commenting on those aspects of the report made public. ,

In any healthy democracy, a fine balance has to be struck between the requirements of national security on the one hand and with those of personal liberty on the other.

Australia has been fortunate to have had Mr Justice Hope preside over the second Royal Commission into Australia's security and intelligence services. _ -

He has always brought to his task a perceptive realism about the issues - at stake and maintained a standard of excellence in the performance of Royal Commissions.

What is unusual is that he brings a continuity to this process of review which is highly beneficial.

. For Mr Justice Hope was the Royal Commissioner into Australian intelligence and security, established in 1974.

On that occasion he investigated the activities of Australia's intelligence agencies in considerable depth.

The present Commission, established in May 1983, has enabled him to look into those same security and intelligence agencies and examine progress and developments since his last report.

He has also been able to examine the working of the Office of National Assessment which grew out of his last report.

It is regrettable that in Australia the security forces have not received a good press. ■ ' .

Recent events such as the Coombe/Ivanov affair, the Sheraton Hotel fiasco, and reports about wire tapping, have left the public with an impression which does not do justice to our security organisations.

Inquiries: 0 6 2 - 7 2 6 9 9 4

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As Mr Justice Hope has pointed out in his report, morale, particularly in AS10 and ASIS, has suffered as a consequence of adverse publicity.

The Royal Commissioner has done us a great service in spelling out in clear terms the current strengths and weaknesses of Australia's security organisations.

From reading all the reports there is one underlying thread which runs through them and that is that these organisations are dedicated both to preserving Australia's security and to preserving its way of life and fundamental freedoms.

Mr Justice Hope's previous Royal Commission was critical of some aspects of the past performance of ASIO and made recommendations seeking to update ASIO's function to help it respond to the realities of the 1970s.

The Coalition is pleased to note that ASIO has responded well to this challenge. . ■

Importantly, the Royal Commissioner has found that one of the greatest changes was in ASIO's degree of concern for compliance with the requirements of the law and propriety.

The Royal Commissioner points out that this change has come about through increased legislative and Government direction.

We will be giving close examination to the proposed amendments to the ASIO Act to ensure that the changes to various definitions and the increase in Ministerial control, do not move us too far in the other direction, and hinder the effective operation of ASIO.

Mr Justice Hope also made a number of recommendations on the collection and handling of intelligence.

These appear generally sensible.

It is ironical to now see Mr Justice Hope's statement that ASIO's concern with propriety may have resulted in undue caution. .

The most contentious aspect is the question of external accountability.

The Prime Minister, in his statement today, has confirmed his Party's paranoia over the role of security services in this country and its inability to face the reality of the world we live in - where security services are vital.

The Coalition position is clear.

We support the Royal Commissioner's recommendations that ASIO lift its public image, and that the ASIO Act be amended to require the ASIO Annual Report to be drafted in such a way as to allow the Attorney-General to table an edited version in

Parliament.

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The Coalition sees some merit in the appointment of an , Inspector-General and an office of Inspector-General to be established by legislation.

And it takes on board the Royal Commissioner's comments that such an office should be empowered to inquire into ASIO's compliance with the law, the propriety of its actions in general term's, and its appropriateness and effectiveness of its general procedures.

Finally the Coalition supports the proposed changes to the Security Appeals Tribunal - but that is where we stop.

We categorically reject, any notion that there should be a Parliamentary Committee to scrutinise ASIO's activities.

Such an idea is a thoroughly bad one and we oppose it.

Like the Royal Commissioner, who spends a considerable amount of time demolishing the idea, we believe it is neither 'necessary' nor 1 appropriate'.

It is a bad idea because we are now likely to have a full-time Inspector-General. We will -continue to have the Security Appeals Tribunal and the Attorney-General's own role. We will most probably continue to have the occasional judicial

audit such as the one undertaken by Mr Justice Hope. An audit which incidentally happens to show how unnecessary such a Parliamentary Committee is. - '

Because of its paranoia, this Government seems determined to supervise ASlO out of an operational efficiency.

It is also a bad idea because any analogy with congressional oversight of the intelligence community of the United States is a completely false one.

In Australia, Ministers are Members of Parliament and are still responsible to Parliament. -/ In the United States the Legislature and the Executive are seperate. .

Moreover, Congress does not function on party lines and members to committees are not elected by the Party.

Again, in the Congress the committees have a good record in protecting classified information.

The Congress also maintains effective powers to censor, suspend or expel any member responsible for unorthodox disclosure of confidential information.

In Australia, not only are there no real restraints, but the record is dismal.

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Indeed, we have a Cabinet Minister who leaked information relating to national security and indeed an administration where the use of judicious leaks has become a way of governing.

The Canadian Parliament, through its Special Committee of the Senate, took a very sensible attitude to the idea of a „ Parliamentary Committee pverseeing intelligence.

"Parliamentary committees are notoriously subject to vagaries of time, changes in membership and overwork. There is also the problem of maintaining security of information. This has reference in part to the possibility of partisan motivation

in some members, but it also refers to the general question of whether that type of committee can maintain the requisite confidentiality by reason of the nature of its proceedings".

Mr Justice Hope also recommends that consideration be given to the allocation to the Special Minister of State responsibility for protective security policy and coordination.

Leaving aside the irony of giving the current Special Minister of State responsibility for security and the prevention of leaks, the Coalition approaches this suggestion with an open mind.

As a result of Mr Justice Hope's previous submission on security, a number of reforms were implemented.

The Royal Commissioner now proposes on three grounds the transfer of these functions from ASIO to Special Minister of State. ■ ■ . . .

Whilst the Coalition accepts the soundness of the three reasons propounded by the Royal Commissioner for this change, it remains to be convinced that the Australian Federal Police and Special Minister of State have the capacity to assume this vital role.

Australia does have secrets which the Australian Government is obliged to protect.

Left Wing paranoia in the Labor Party about security is no justification for any abdication of this responsibility by the Government.

The Coalition also notes Mr Justice Hope's comments on the collection of foreign intelligence in Australia and his recommendation that certain amendments be made to the ASIO Act.

This would enable ASIO in certain circumstances to conduct intelligence gatherings in Australia relating to the capabilities, intentions or activities of foreign groups of powers.

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The Coalition while not opposing in principle an extension of ASIO powers in this way, would be deeply concerned if, as a result of changes, there was any diminution of Australia's ability to conduct foreign intelligence gatherings within Australia.

The Coalition is in general agreement on the Royal Commissioner's remarks on incidental intelligence.

Mr Speaker,

In turning to ASIS it is, of course, not my intention to comment on the confidential aspects of the Royal Commissioner's report. This limits me drastically in what I can say.

I am pleased to note Mr Justice Hope's comments that ASIS has been "organising and reorganising over the last decade to achieve its goals - its success in doing so has not been dramatic but it has been good. It has proved that it is a valuable part of Australia's intelligence service."

I also welcome the fact that it has recovered from the difficulties of the Sheraton incident and the firmer steps that have been taken to ensure that no such incident will happen again.

Equally, in the operation of DSD I am unable to comment on matters of real substance.

Once again, however, I note the Royal Commissioner's remarks that DSD has maintained their impressive performance.

Whilst on DSD, I cannot help noting how fitting it is that every now and again the drivel and nonsense perpetrated by the Left in this country, are justly destroyed.

This happened with the release of the Petrov papers.

It has happened again here.

In this case, it was a former Labor Member for Fraser, Mr Fry, with his assertion that the intelligence community knew that the five "Australian journalists "killed in East Timor were going to be treated as combatants, and they knew that the

Indonesians were about to invade the area where the journalists were, and they did not do a damn thing to protect them."

As the Royal Commissioner states, he investigated DSD activities. They had no knowledge of where the journalists were, nor that they were going to be treated as combatants.

Moreover, Mr Justice Hope states there was no evidence of improper behaviour on DSD's part.

It is these sorts of attacks which do such harm to morale in security organisations, and place pressure on the Government principle of neither confirming nor denying matters of security.

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I welcome the Royal Commissioner's recommendations that the principle be adhered to, and hope that this Government will not repeat its mistake during the .Coombe/Ivanov affair and depart again from the principle.

Whilst on ASIS and DSD, may I say that I agree with the Royal Commissioner's remarks on the need to strengthen certain aspects of their intelligence gathering operations.

I also lend my support to Mr Justice Hope's suggestion that the Inspector-General should be able to, if requested by the Minister for Foreign Affairs in the case of ASIS and the Minister for Defence in the case of DSD, investigate the

appropriateness of particular internal procedures. We would not support any proposal to enable the Inspector-General to act on his or her own initiative in this regard.

The role of an independent watch-dog assisting the relevant Minister in looking after the public interest may well be a useful addition to the mechanisms for the accountability of our intelligence services.

I also see merit in his recommendation concerning the Inspector-General and ONA and JIO.

The Prime Minister, in his statement, rejected Mr Justice Hope's proposal to introduce legislative amendments to remove ASIO's operational records from the requirement to hand records over to the Archives after thirty years and from the

application of the thirty year rule in regard to public access.

The Government's argument that there are sufficient safeguards in the Archives Act do little to mitigate the concern expressed by Mr Justice Hope.

The Government has appeared to put historical and public . curiousity ahead of a need to safeguard the large volume of sensitive documents held by ASIO, many of which have been provided in confidence by overseas sources. ’

There is genuine concern in the intelligence community, and supported by the Royal Commissioner, that the thirty year period is too "short. .

The Government should take heed.

Finally, I turn to Mr Justice Hope's examination of ONA and JIO. ONA was established largely as a result of his first Royal Commission into security.

I note Mr Justice Hope's remarks that ONA has been able to establish its independence and authority and has done so by the quality of the work it produces.

The difficulties of placing a new intelligence organisation into an already fairly crowded area seem to have been largely overcome.

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The bureaucratic problem of coordination and cooperation pointed to by Mr Justice Hope, while not unexpected, hopefully can be resolved.

I conclude by saying that the security forces in this country have been under constant threat from the Left Wing of the Labor Party and various other lunatic fringes in the community.

I would hope that all ordinary Australians and maybe even some of the rat-bags over the other side will take in this statement of Mr Justice Hope's, and I quote,

- "the product of Australia's intelligence services is a,great value to the nation. No doubt there will always be room for improvement and no doubt their need for resources will always have to be measured against the proper claims of other national

interests. I am satisfied, however, that Australia's investment in its intelligence services is well justified, and that Governments should continue to ensure that they are able to fulfil the important . roles they play in, helping to advise and protect

Australia's national interest."

On behalf of all Members on this side of the House, i' can fully endorse that paragraph.

I reiterate the Opposition's appreciation to Mr ' „ Justice Hope and his staff who assisted him.

22 May 1985