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Tuesday, 3 June 2003
Page: 15788

Mr DUTTON (5:31 PM) —I have sat in this chamber this afternoon and listened to the contributions on the Criminal Code Amendment (Hizballah) Bill 2003 and the Criminal Code Amendment (Terrorist Organisations) Bill 2003, not just from the current Leader of the Opposition but also from the member for Banks. I have only been in this place a short time, but you hear some fairly outrageous comments from the member for Banks, and this afternoon was no exception. His contribution this afternoon was a sanctimonious, hypocritical and pathetic contribution to this debate and it should be shown for what it is. The member for Banks has been one of the driving forces behind the Labor Party's complete isolation from any reality compared to the way in which normal Australians think. The left of the Labor Party are leading Simon Crean and those that follow him to a complete political abyss, because at the moment they are completely and utterly out of touch with the thinking of the Australian people. When we had the attacks of September 11, 2001 and the tragedies that followed last year on October 12 in Bali, this world changed for the worse. As has been said on many occasions, the world that we live in today is a different place. It is high time that the Australian Labor Party came to that realisation.

This bill and the pathetic attempt by the Leader of the Opposition in proposing his own four-line bill—I think it was four lines initially—shows just how much the Labor Party have got this issue wrong. What we need to realise in this debate, and I think what all Australians realise, is that Australians are not immune to the effects of terrorism. I said only a few moments ago that Australians experienced the horrific trials of Bali and the loss of 88 Australians amongst those innocent people who were killed in those dreadful circumstances. The bill that we are here to debate today is about protecting Australians in this new and uncertain world.

This government takes very seriously its responsibility to ensure the safety and security of the Australian community against terrorism. As part of our comprehensive approach to the new security environment, this government has developed a package of strong counter-terrorism legislation, the bulk of which was passed by the parliament in July last year. Included in the counter-terrorism package were amendments to the Criminal Code—amendments which allowed the listing of terrorist organisations subject to certain strict conditions. These conditions include one amendment insisted upon by the opposition, which requires terrorist organisations to be identified as such by the United Nations Security Council. This requirement, that Australia wait for the United Nations Security Council to agree with our own assessment of what constitutes a threat to Australians and Australian interests, is unworkable in the long term.

The government argued at the time that this potentially creates problems where Australia identifies threats that do not interest members of the United Nations Security Council. We also pointed out that the United Nations lists are limited to organisations with links to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, while terrorist organisations we might seek to list may be far broader. Experience has proved us correct. The government has moved quickly to list terrorist organisations under the current listing provisions. However, as a result of the amendments insisted upon by the opposition, we have been prevented from listing other organisations of equal if not greater security concern. Australia is now in the absurd position that we cannot act independently of the United Nations to list a terrorist organisation posing a threat to Australia and Australian interests. We know of no other country whose power to list terrorist organisations is linked to the United Nations. Other countries can decide which terrorist organisations pose a threat to their citizens and their interests and act accordingly.

I will now address some of the misleading statements made by the Leader of the Opposition and, indeed, the member for Banks in their earlier contributions. Mr Crean suggested that the government was misleading when it said that Labor's bill was constitutionally unsound. He said that we then turned around and introduced the same bill. On inspection of the first piece of legislation that he aimed to introduce, we know that nothing could be more wrong. The draft legislation with which the Labor Party was proposing to list Hezbollah was one short paragraph, and it bore absolutely no resemblance to the government bill.

What can we take from this? Based on the government's legal advice, the four lines proposed by the Leader of the Opposition were constitutionally unsound. The Leader of the Opposition knows all of this. It was why the government was forced to draft its own legislation listing Hezbollah. We will not take a chance that future terrorist prosecutions will fall over because of potential challenges in the High Court. This was what Mr Crean was referring to when he proposed his private member's bill last week.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Hawker)—Order! I am reluctant to interrupt the honourable member, but I ask that he refer to other members by either their seat or their title.

Mr DUTTON —I am referring to the current Leader of the Opposition, Mr Deputy Speaker. This is not the bill he introduced yesterday. The current Leader of the Opposition is now right in saying that there is not much difference between our bills. That is because he has abandoned his original proposal. He knows that the government was right when we said that his proposal was constitutionally unsound. The current Leader of the Opposition abandoned his faulty bill and introduced a facsimile of ours. But he did not have the decency to tell the Australian community that that was what he did. When the member for Banks came into this chamber to make his contribution, he was a party to the same fraud. The initial bill, as proposed by the current Leader of the Opposition, is represented on this piece of paper—four lines of a bill that was proposed by the current Leader of the Opposition. He has this afternoon committed a fraud on the Australian people.

I think it is appropriate, because the Criminal Code Amendment (Terrorist Organisations) Bill 2003 and the Criminal Code Amendment (Hizballah) Bill 2003 are being dealt with in cognate, to address some of the background in relation to Hezbollah. Hezbollah's external terrorist organisation is an example of the kind of organisation that this government views as a threat to our citizens. In his contribution before—and a naive contribution it was—the member for Banks talked about separating the fundraising arm from the terrorism arm from the arm that provides funding to all sorts of other fronts for the organisation. Does he not realise, as the Australian people do, that Hezbollah—as with many other terrorist organisations right around the world, including al-Qaeda—has fundraising networks that provide all sorts of legitimate fronts, on the face of them, that raise funds to supply, organise and prop up these terrorists? If he is so naive that he can come into this chamber and suggest anything other than that, he really is more out of touch with the Australian people than we first realised.

ASIO advises us that Hezbollah is involved in terrorist activities and, importantly, has the capability to act globally. Hezbollah has been designated a foreign terrorist organisation by the United States and, rightly, has been proscribed by the United Kingdom and Canada. However, it has not been formally identified as a terrorist organisation by the United Nations Security Council, because there is currently no evidence that Hezbollah is linked with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Hence our problem today. But why would we want to put ourselves in a position where we have to wait—and potentially risk the safety of our citizens—for that link to be established or for the United Nations to take action? Up until September 11 Hezbollah was responsible for the deaths of more Americans than any other organisation, including the deaths of 241 marines in Lebanon in 1983.

CIA experts have gone on record saying that Hezbollah has developed into what is probably the most sophisticated terror group in the world. They credit the group with perfecting suicide bombings, aeroplane hijackings and the technique of setting off simultaneous terrorist attacks. Hezbollah was believed to be behind the bombing of the US embassy in Beirut in April 1983 that killed 63 people. Hezbollah is also accused of kidnapping and torturing a senior CIA operative to death and of assassinating a US Marine Colonel who was serving in Lebanon with the United Nations.

Hezbollah kills dozens of Israelis every year. US investigators believe that an offshoot known as Saudi Hezbollah was behind the June 1996 bombing of a military housing complex that killed 19 people. After September 11 Hezbollah announced that it was proud to be on the US terrorist list and to be considered an enemy of the United States. Why should we have the ability to list this organisation? That is very clear from the argument we have just presented. It is an organisation that prides itself on perfecting suicide bombings, aeroplane hijackings and methods of performing simultaneous terrorist attacks.

What is the solution? The situation with Hezbollah raises two issues. Firstly, there is the issue of reducing Australia's reliance on the United Nations Security Council to list an organisation as a terrorist organisation. Secondly, we need to address the issue of Hezbollah's listing in Australia. The government is attempting to deal with these issues in this bill by taking a responsible, two-pronged approach with the interests of Australian citizens at the forefront of our minds. As a longer-term solution, if this bill is passed it will remove Australia's reliance on the United Nations Security Council listing before we can act to list terrorist organisations. In the short term, and in the face of Labor opposition to the longer-term solution, we are addressing the immediate issue of Hezbollah with a bill that gives the government the power to list Hezbollah in regulations if it meets specific criteria.

We should look again at the Labor position because it has been asked: why are Labor opposing this government's responsible, long-term position on listing terrorist organisations? Labor's consistent position seems to be to play for political points and to oppose the government's counter-terrorism efforts. Why else would they not support our longer-term solution to the problem they created by insisting that Australia not have the ability to act independently of the United Nations Security Council? Why else would they have recently opposed a bill that could have provided the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation with the ability to better investigate potential terrorist threats? The answer is that, on the evidence of the argument before this House at the moment, Labor are not interested in national security.

The Prime Minister wrote to the Leader of the Opposition, as he did to the state and territory premiers and chief ministers, two months ago, seeking their support for this process. The current opposition leader has made it clear that Labor would not support any amendment giving Australia the ability to list terrorist organisations independent of the UN Security Council. Instead, the opposition introduced a bill that mirrors the government's Hizballah specific bill to cover up the fact that its mistake has created this situation.

When you look closely at the opposition's bill, you will notice that the only difference between the two bills is the way the opposition spells the word `Hezbollah'. Leaving that aside, it is clearly an ad hoc measure on the opposition's part which fails to address the broader, longer-term issues at stake here today. The opposition has clearly missed the fact that such an ad hoc measure would mean that we would need to repeat this legislative process every time we receive new information from ASIO about a terrorist organisation. Of course, by creating its own bill, the opposition is acknowledging that the inability to list the terrorist wing of Hezbollah is a problem and that the UN listing process, which precludes the listing of Hezbollah, is flawed.

Again, we are seeing the opposition put politics first by refusing to fix the problem they created in the listing legislation. This shows that they are interested not in national security but only in political point scoring. The opposition did not need to introduce their bill. They could have chosen to simply support the government's bill, which does exactly the same thing and provides a workable long-term solution.

There have been some misleading claims about the government's position in relation to this matter. There have been claims that this bill is a bill to provide sweeping new powers to the Attorney-General. That is an issue that we need to address. The Attorney-General already has the power to list terrorist organisations that meet strict legislative criteria. The decisions are disallowable by the parliament and are also subject to judicial review—two points that the member for Banks very conveniently left out of his misleading speech.

Under our bill, there will be no difference in the scrutiny of the Attorney-General's decision. The only decision will be the removal of the reliance on the external body of the United Nations Security Council. Australia will be able to make its own decisions about our national security. That is a very important point. It allows our government, our country, to make decisions about our future and about the safety of our country.

The public will not be fooled by the opposition's purely political suggestion that their position is about preventing the Attorney-General from being the sole arbiter of what constitutes a terrorist organisation in Australia. Those who seriously considered the listing legislation during last year's debate will be aware that, under the government's proposal, it is in fact parliament that has the final say. Regulations listing terrorist organisations are disallowable by the parliament. And the decision of the Attorney-General to list must be made in accordance with clear legislative criteria and is judicially reviewable.

In conclusion, I want to say that this is a serious matter of national security. The government will not allow the opposition's obstructionist stance to paralyse us and prevent us doing what must be done to ensure the safety and security of Australia and Australia's interests. This government's proposal is a sound, reasonable and responsible system for identifying and listing terrorist organisations that pose a threat to Australians and Australian interests. It is independent of the United Nations and it has a final check in the form of the federal parliament of Australia and the possibility of judicial review.

This is not a time for the Labor Party to play games with the safety and security of the Australian community. The Labor Party need to stop their obsession with internal party politics and leadership games. They need to refocus their attention on the security of Australian society. This government, if nothing else, has been about providing for a stronger, safer and more secure society for all Australians. Today I call upon the Labor Party to stop playing games, to stop being led in this debate by out-of-touch members such as the member for Banks, to get serious about national security, to support the government's bills and to own up to their responsibilities that all Australians demand.