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Attorney-General discusses the decision to join the International Criminal Court and changes to the anti-terrorism legislation.

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Thursday 20 June 2002


Attorney-General discusses the decision to join the International Criminal Court and changes to the anti-terrorism legislation


LINDA MOTTRAM: The div isive debate in the Federal coalition about the International Criminal Court has apparently ended, with Federal Cabinet last night deciding, again, that Australia should join the court. That’s despite threats from at least one Coalition backbencher to cross the floor in protest when the legislation is dealt with.  


It’s a bid to put an end to weeks of internal rowing over whether Australia should be on board with the first permanent war crimes and genocide court. Whether it does, remains to be seen. 


The government meanwhile has reached a deal of sorts on another matter it’s been working on for weeks. It plans to bring its anti-terrorism legislation into the Parliament today after winning agreement from Labor on some key elements of its package. 


To discuss the issues, the Attorney-General Daryl Williams spoke to Louise Yaxley in Canberra. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: Well Daryl Williams, you’ve been a strong supporter of Australia joining the ICC, you must be pleased that cabinet has agreed for a third time that Australia should sign up. 


DARYL WILLIAMS: Well it’s true I’ve been a strong supporter of the proposal for the International Criminal Court.  


We have had extensive consultations within the coalition as to whether the statute should be ratified. On Tuesday, Prime Minister indicated that at the end of the quite extensive debate in the party room that the matter would be considered again by the cabinet and the decision of cabinet would be brought back to the party room. That process is still underway. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: But cabinet, as we understand it, approved that last night. Can you take us through the arguments in general in favour of the ICC and why Australia should be a member? 


DARYL WILLIAMS: Well the case for the International Criminal Court is a case against more crimes and more criminals.  


There has historically been some ad-hoc tribunals established, for example after the Second World War, in relation to the former Yugoslavia, in relation to Rwanda, to deal with war criminals. They have dealt with them on the basis of what’s occurred in the past. There has been no standing institution to deal with those sort of criminal acts as they occur. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: Is there a threat, as some argue, to Australia’s sovereignty? 


DARYL WILLIAMS: I have argued extensively over several years that I don’t believe there is. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: Onto the terrorism bills, you’ve made some significant changes to the legislation. For example taking the United Nation's definition of a terrorist or a terrorist act and Labor’s made some concessions agreeing to the Attorney-General being able to ban organisations listed by the UN’s Security Council.  


The sticking point is you want the power to ban other organisations. Can you outline for us what sort of groups, you believe the Australian Attorney-General should be able to ban? 


DARYL WILLIAMS: Well, let me say in general first, that there is general agreement that we need appropriate tools, the government needs appropriate tools to deal with the threat of terrorism and to protect the community from possible terrorist acts.  


The debate, both within the coalition and in discussions between the government and the opposition, has been as to the appropriateness of the tools. With the Labor Party we have made agreement on such issues.  


There remains the issue of whether the government, and in particular the Attorney-General, should have the power by regulation to list an organisation as a terrorist organisation.  


We believe that that power is useful and necessary because not every terrorist organisation that might be relevant to Australia will come to the attention of the United Nations Security Council. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: What sort of organisation are you thinking of? 


DARYL WILLIAMS: Well it’s possible that an organisation might operate regionally and not come to the attention of the Security Council and in particular the permanent members. Australia has separate interests to other countries. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: So will you stand or fall on that point? What happens to this legislation if Labor wouldn’t agree to giving you that power? 


DARYL WILLIAMS: Well the Government doesn’t have the numbers in the Senate. We have proposed some amendments including retention of that provision. We know that the Labor Party is opposed to it, the matter will be settled in the Senate by debate. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: When do you think Australia will have new anti-terrorism laws passed into legislation? 


DARYL WILLIAMS: Well I understand the debate will come on in the Senate some time today. It may or may not be completed. I think the likelihood is that it won’t be completed and therefore it would be stood over to next week.  


But I expect that in the course of next week, the Senate will pass a Bill that will represent strong legislation against terrorism and that will then go back to the House and I expect that the House will approve the legislation in the course of the next week. 


LINDA MOTTRAM: Attorney-General, Daryl Williams speaking in Canberra to Louise Yaxley.