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Attorney-General discusses anti-terrorism legislation; and national security hotline.



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ATTORNEY-GENERAL THE HON PHILIP RUDDOCK MP

TRANSCRIPT

Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600  Telephone (02) 6277 7300  Fax (02) 6273 4102 www.law.gov.au/ag

INTERVIEW

ADELAIDE RADIO 5AA

LEON BYNER MORNING PROGRAMME

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 7, 2005

Subjects: Passage of counter-terrorism legislation; national security hotline

PRESENTER:

The new terror laws passed through the Federal Parliament last night, what does this mean? If you believe the minor parties, we have lost some of our basic freedoms, our individual rights, but have we? Let's talk to Philip Ruddock - well, do you subscribe to the view of the minor parties that as a result of this legislation that we have lost some of our liberties, some of our rights, some of the things that we've taken for granted all these years, is that true?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL:

Let me just try and put the matters into perspective. People talk about liberties... they assume that some liberties are absolute yet you know because you're a broadcaster, that freedom of speech is not absolute, you can't trash somebody's reputation without consequences under defamation law. When you want to deal with people who might be urging use of force or violence to change our fundamental institutions or to cause one group of people to attack others surely the law has to be able to deal with those issues. Are your rights limited when we say that you can't urge others to use force or violence?

Well, some might say they are. They think people ought to be able to go out there and urge others to use force or violence to achieve a political end - I don't think it's acceptable. If that means we're limiting people's rights, then so be it. But I don't think people ought to be able to urge the use of force or violence to achieve political objectives, to change government policies, we've specifically said that.

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Anybody who goes out and urges change in policy, isn't urging use of force or violence, doesn't have a problem. But when you come to other issues, describe it this way— we are in a new environment. The law - as it's been traditionally interpreted by friends in the legal profession - is that in the criminal law wait ‘til somebody commits an offence, find the evidence then charge somebody, if you can prove beyond reasonable doubt that they committed the offence you get a conviction. At the moment we have a very considerable threat, at medium level, of a possible terrorist attack here in Australia.

PRESENTER:

But this is non specific though, isn't it?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL:

Yes, it is non specific, although I don't know that that necessarily means that we should be less concerned. In the United Kingdom before the bombings on the London underground, they enacted laws to enable them to detain people for up to 14 days to ensure that if they were investigating a terrorist act they could protect evidence, stop people engaging in further possible acts of terrorism - they found measures of that sort absolutely essential. They've used control orders on some 13 occasions where people who have trained with terrorist organisations who are of concern, for them to be subjected to certain limitations. I don't think these sorts of measures are unusual- they're certainly unusual but I don't think they're unnecessary in the context of the situation in which we find ourselves.

PRESENTER:

So what you're really saying is that the average person has nothing to fear at all from any of these changes to the law?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL:

The average person hasn't trained with a terrorist organisation, isn't engaged in preparing terrorist acts, isn't urging the use of force or violence to change political institutions; the average person is not going to be impacted at all.

PRESENTER:

Where do we stand with sedition?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL:

The problem is that there's the term sedition - and people go to a dictionary, they look it up and they say 'gee, this is an offence under the law'. It doesn't need the term ‘sedition’ - the law is dealing with specific conduct which is headed ‘sedition’ but it could be headed anything. It could be headed ‘urging use of force or violence’ - the

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offences, and there are five, relate to those who urge the use of force or violence to undermine democratic institutions, to interfere with elections, to attack our troops.

PRESENTER: When you say interfere with elections, what do you mean by that?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL:

If somebody was going to go out and start bombing polling booths, interfere with the conduct of elections so that you can't get a proper election result. Understand first, all of these offences involve the urging of a person or urging by a person of others to use force or violence.

PRESENTER:

If what you're saying is right then what is it about the Greens and the Democrats that they so vehemently objected?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL:

I have to say that there were some argument in the beginning where people found the definition, that is already in the Act, that was being moved out of the criminal code into the counter terrorism [provisions] which deals with proscription of terrorist** organisations, a definition of what is ‘seditious intent’. It doesn't in any way create an offence under the law, it simply enables the issue... if an organisation is undertaking something with seditious intent, seditious intent is defined... that leads to proscription - it has nothing to do with the offences of sedition but those who hadn't read it properly and didn't want to read it properly were reading something else into the proposed law that just wasn't there. The Democrats have picked this up, they haven't changed their mind, they misrepresent the measures and continue to misrepresent the measures, that's part of what I've got to put up with.

PRESENTER:

On the business of security, is the terrorist hotline providing the Government with useful information? How many calls are you getting on average at the moment?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL:

Something of the order of 3000 a week I think.

PRESENTER:

3000 calls a week to the terrorist hotline?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL:

Yeah. I am told after the so-called raids in Sydney and Melbourne the proportion of calls to the hotline that provided information went up to 70 per cent - normally about 50 per cent of people are seeking reassurance in asking questions, so those

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providing information went up to over 70 per cent. What we have found is that people are providing information which, when you put it together with other bits and pieces of information, helps very significantly with some of the inquiries.

PRESENTER:

You would argue then that the Australian population know the kinds of things to observe and look for, that they find unusual?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL:

What I would argue is that people see something that is unusual, out of character, they don't know what the implications are, give it to us - in some cases we have found that that information has been very, very helpful in inquiries that we're undertaking. One of the areas in which it became clear that information had been received was in relation to the unusual purchasing, so we claim, of products that were part of, again, what we claim, the [same] ingredients of the London bombs. Somebody saw those purchases, rang the hotline, that information was provided to the appropriate agencies linked with some other information that we were receiving... very important in establishing what was going on in Sydney.

PRESENTER:

Minister, thanks for joining us today...

ENDS

** [correction: unlawful association]