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Monday, 2 June 1986
Page: 4373

Mr N.A. Brown(5.43) —Nikolai Gogol's play The Inspector General, written in 1836, has been regarded by many commentators as being a comedy. I imagine when the Soviet Embassy officials in this city obtained a copy of the legislation that we are debating today they probably felt that they were reading in this legislation an English translation of that play, because it is hard to regard the proposals contained in this legislation as serious ones. They are, for the most part, utterly ludicrous. They are absurd and will impose upon the security services of this country such severe restrictions that we might as well abolish them here and now and be done with it because they will be neutralised-if I may use a word fashionable in some quarters-as a result of the restrictions imposed upon their activities by the pieces of legislation we are presently debating. For my part, I must confess that I approach the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Bill, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Amendment Bill and Intelligence and Security (Consequential Amendments) Bill with something of a bias, because I would not trust the Australian Labor Party as far as I could kick it so far as its having anything to do with with the security services of this country is concerned.

There is no doubt that the Bills are politically motivated with the intention of neutralising the security services of this country and making them as ineffective as possible. If the Bills pass, they will be, to some extent, successful in this intention. The principal defect of the Bills is in their very existence. I ask myself why the Bills are being brought before this Parliament at all. Why is it that this legislation is here at all? Is it because the Hope Royal Commission on Australia's Security and Intelligence Agencies, after its investigations, demonstrated that there was an overriding need for legislation of this sort? Is it because, after investigating the intelligence services of this country, Mr Justice Hope came to the conclusion that they were excessive in their zeal, illegal, or behaving improperly to the extent that they needed continuous supervision of the sort proposed in this legislation? Of course not! If one looks at the Hope Commission report one sees that the security services of this country were given a clean bill of health and, indeed, were praised by Mr Justice Hope. Let us look briefly at what he said about the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation:

Perhaps one of the greatest changes that I have found in ASIO is in the degree of its concern for compliance with the requirements of the law and of propriety.

He continued:

ASIO has been concerned to ensure that its operations and actions are within its charter, The Australian Security Intelligence Organization Act 1979 (ASIO Act), since the Act came into force, whether in relation to the collection or communication of intelligence or to advice to the Ministers and Commonwealth authorities. It has been-

and it is wise that we remember what the judge said-

substantially successful in achieving that goal.

There was very little, if anything, in ASIO's activities that Mr Justice Hope found to criticise. He went on to speak about the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, another organisation, and referred, of course, to the famous Sheraton Hotel incident, which he said was an aberration. He went on to say that firm and clear steps had been taken-that is to say, they had already been taken by the time he was reporting-to ensure that no such incident will happen again. He went on to deal with the Defence Signals Directorate and said that neither in the former report into security, nor in that inquiry, had he found evidence supporting any of allegations that had been raised against that organisation. He went on to say in respect of ASIS that its effectiveness and efficiency appeared to have been growing `over the decade'. He then went on to say the following in respect of the Office of National Assessments:

Although it is a relatively small body, ONA has been able to establish its independence and authority, and it has done this by the quality of the work which it produces.

He continued, in relation to the Joint Intelligence Organisation:

JIO has adjusted well to the changes it had to make, and it handles a vast amount of intelligence and issues assessments and reports, many of which are of a high standard. Its product is well regarded by those who receive it.

He concluded by saying with respect to the intelligence services in their entirety that he was satisfied that Australia's investment in its intelligence services was well justified. What we say about that is that, first, there is no need for this legislation; and secondly, if there is a need for some supervision over and above the bodies we are concerned with, that can well be done by judicial audit of the sort that we have become accustomed to in Australia. It is worth while having that sort of investigation, examination and audit, as the Hope Royal Commission showed. However, it is not worth while and it is utterly destructive of the efficiency of intelligence and security organisations to tie them up, to restrict them and to subject them to all the review processes and double guessing and raking over decisions they have made which are set out and proposed in the legislation we have before us.

It is for those reasons that we oppose this legislation. The legislation will excessively and wrongly restrict the activities of the organisations and this country will suffer as a result and so will its citizens and their democratic rights. It should not be forgotten that security organisations exist in a democracy such as Australia to protect the democratic foundations of the country from those within the country and outside it who want to destroy those democratic foundations and principles. The more we restrict and restrain an intelligence and security organisation, as this Government is proposing to do, in response to left wing pressure within the Australian Labor Party, the more we hamstring and restrict the effectiveness of an organisation in its surveillance and other security activities which, I repeat, are designed to protect the citizens of this country and to protect their democratic institutions. There are forces at work within this country and overseas that would seek to destroy those democratic foundations and the rights and liberties we have, living in a democratic country. Those forces would continue untrammelled if it had not been for the efficient work and the effective operations of our security organisations.

Let us look at the principal defect of these Bills which, so far as ASIO is concerned, is to restrict it in the performance of its functions. The Bills limit its powers, hedge it around with qualifications and limitations which proceed, as I apprehend it, on the assumption that ASIO's work is in some way or other improper or undesirable or that it must be limited. The legislation also proceeds on the assumption that ASIO cannot be trusted, that its employees cannot be trusted, and therefore that it must be subjected to review and second guessing, and that its employees must also be subjected to second guessing. If any message is contained in this legislation it must be a message from this Government to the employees and officers of ASIO that this Government does not trust them. If it did trust them, why is it necessary to set up this enormous bureaucratic structure to second guess them and to review virtually all their activities?

I regard all the changes proposed in these Bills as undesirable, and they are undesirable for several reasons. In the first place their very laying down of the qualifications to which I have just referred must first of all undermine public confidence in ASIO and public confidence in it is needed if it is to perform its function of combating those forces which seek to undermine our democratic society. Secondly, it must be very obvious that the morale of the organisation and its officers must suffer when it is apparent that the Government has so little confidence in it that it must set up watchdogs. Thirdly, the efficiency of the organisation must suffer when it is made to work with so many restraints and encumbrances and, in effect, with one hand tied behind its back. It will be diverted from its real work by a preoccupation with administration and with preparing the ground for the inevitable challenges and reviews of its activities which the Government is virtually inviting to be made. The effort of ASIO will be directed to preparing the ground for the inevitable reviews, examinations and second guessing.

I put it to the House that either we have confidence in our security organisations or we do not. I for one do have that confidence in them and I believe, and the Opposition believes very firmly, that they should be allowed to get on with the job. If there is a necessity to examine from outside the activities and operations of the organisations, particularly ASIO, let that be done by a judicial audit from time to time-every three years, five years or whenever-but in the meantime let them get on with their job.

The most severe limitations on the functions of ASIO are those set out in clause 8 of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Bill. In our submission, the very notion of having an Inspector-General to second guess an intelligence agency is utterly absurd and it is a severe restriction on its effectiveness. The powers to be given to the Inspector-General will negate a lot of the effectiveness of ASIO and its activities. Honourable members should realise that the Inspector-General, believe it or not, will be given the power to investigate the propriety of ASIO's activities if he receives a complaint. That is utterly laughable. The only test of a security organisation is whether it is effective, not whether it is proper. The idea of having an Inspector-General, or anybody else, looking over the shoulder of ASIO or any other intelligence organisation and asking it from time to time whether what it has done is proper, looking at the propriety of what it has done, is ludicrous. It is utterly ludicrous to give that power to a person such as the Inspector-General or anybody else. It is not just that he will be given power to examine the propriety of ASIO's organisations; he will be given a wider power to examine whether ASIO's procedures are appropriate, and that is equally ludicrous. To cap it all, he will be given power to look into whether any of ASIO's activities are contrary to human rights when those activities are referred to him by the Human Rights Commission. It must be apparent that by now that discredited body would not recognise a human right if it fell over one. The idea of giving any powers of this or any other sort to that utterly discredited body is completely ludicrous.

The Inspector-General will be given the ultimately absurd power to take a direction given by the Attorney-General to ASIO that the collection of intelligence on somebody is justified and then to examine it himself to see whether the collection of intelligence is justified. It is bad enough-we are utterly opposed this this-that the Attorney-General should be giving himself this power direct ASIO to do something and to examine whether intelligence should be collected on some particular person or organisation, but the Government then say: `We will also give to the Inspector-General power to take that direction given by the Attorney-General, hold it up to the light, and before the operation is even commenced, look at whether that direction given by the Attorney-General is justified'. What sort of gobbledegook is that? What will happen in the meantime? Where will the quarry be? Where will the sources be? Will people's lives not be in danger during that sort of delay? There has been no guarantee that the effectiveness of ASIO will not be severely compromised during that period. It is utterly absurd to say that a security organisation should stop in mid-course, having got a direction from the Attorney-General to conduct an investigation into a particular area, and subject itself to scrutiny by some outside body as to whether what it proposes to do is justified. It is ludicrous, it is absurd, and it has no basis or justification in reason or logic or national security. The House should not entertain for one moment restricting or restraining an intelligence organisation in that way.

The restraints on the proper workings of a security agency which are proposed by this piece of legislation are excessive, unjustified, and they can only weaken, if not destroy, the real value of an agency such as ASIO. We then get into the realms of the utterly ridiculous, the dreamland of the proposed Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. It is not enough for the Government to give the Security Appeals Tribunal more powers; it is not enough to neutralise ASIO by defining the matters it can investigate; it is not enough to set up the position of Inspector-General to watch over the shoulder of ASIO and the other intelligence organisations. In addition we will now have a parliamentary committee. We are opposed to that. It would be a severe restriction on the organisation and its proper work. I for one have no guarantee, no satisfaction whatsoever, that there would not be a continuous stream of leaks from the parliamentary committee, as we have seen with the Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority, leaks which could affect people's lives and their security. As a result of this legislation ASIO will be concerned largely with terrorism, and when one is involved in that area one's physical security and indeed one's life is at risk.

Mr Scott —Ha, ha!

Mr N.A. Brown —The honourable member laughs about that, and I suppose one could expect that.

Mr Scott —Pathetic.

Mr N.A. BROWN —It is pathetic. What about the Central Intelligence Agency agents who have been assassinated? The honourable member says that it is pathetic. I suppose that he would. He would probably want to restrict the powers of the organisations even more. He should tell that to the relatives of ASIO agents whose names and addresses have been given in public by people from the honourable member's Party-the mad, crazy, Libyan left wing of his Party-whose interests are not those of this country and whose real allegiances lie in other quarters. The honourable member should tell that to them.

Mr Milton —Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order. The honourable member said that members on this side of the House, in the Left, do not have the interests of Australia at heart. I ask that that remark be withdrawn.

Mr McGauran —You haven't. You are traitors.

Mr N.A. Brown —I will not withdraw it. I did not refer to honourable members on that side of the House. I said: `Members of his Party'. If the honourable member wishes me to refer to him, I will, and then he can ask for the remark to be withdrawn.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Ruddock) —Order! I ruled the other day that words of general application would, if they were offensive to a member, be withdrawn. In this instance the reference was to members of the Party in general and not to members of the parliamentary Party.

Mr Milton —Mr Deputy Speaker, the honourable member added to his comment and increased his crime by saying that if I wanted him to include me, he would. I ask that all these remarks be withdrawn.

Mr N.A. Brown —I withdraw the remark with respect to the honourable member. I do not withdraw it with respect to members of his Party.

Mr Duncan —Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order. In the middle of this altercation the honourable member for Gippsland clearly interjected: `That's all you are, traitors'-indicating this side of the Parliament. I take great exception to that and ask that the comment be withdrawn.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I did not hear such words but I ask the honourable member for Gippsland whether such words were uttered and, if so, will he withdraw?

Mr McGauran —I withdraw.

Mr N.A. Brown —There are people whose conduct with respect to this debate on security services and whose behaviour in saying what they have give one very grave doubt about whether they are loyal to this country. That must certainly be true. So far as the proposed parliamentary committee is concerned, it will utterly, excessively, unfairly and improperly restrict the activities of ASIO and has nothing to commend it. The Parliamentary Committee on the National Crime Authority has been a failure as will be this committee. If this committee is formed, it will do great damage to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.

The final point I wish to make is that there is a campaign, particularly from the left wing of the Australian Labor Party, of denigration of our security services and those who work in them-the organisations and their activities. This has gone to extremes. It did so in the case of ASIS. Mr Justice Hope said that the operation at the Sheraton Hotel was an aberration. Probably it was an aberration, but it seems to me that Mr John Ryan, the Acting Director-General, was unfairly and improperly dealt with. He was dropped by this Government and crucified, and his whole career of public service was ignored because of one incident. He was dealt with extremely unfairly and improperly and received no support, nor was any recognition given to his distinguished contribution to the public life of this country. That is simply one more example of the denigration of our security organisations coming continually from the Labor Party. It is time that people realised that this is going on. Those opposite denigrate these organisations. They have no concept whatsoever of the important role the organisations play in preserving democratic society. It is time those opposite woke up to themselves.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.