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Tuesday, 3 June 2003
Page: 15796

Mr KING (6:09 PM) —The bills before the House, the Criminal Code Amendment (Terrorist Organisations) Bill 2002 and the Criminal Code Amendment (Hizballah) Bill 2003, raise two important questions. The first is the question of whether an ad hoc proscription of Hezbollah, the notorious terrorist organisation based in Lebanon, should be made by the Hizballah bill. The second is the more general question of principle, namely, whether or not the link as required under current legislation to organisations proscribed only by the UN should be retained. It is important at the outset to consider carefully the nature of the harm that is being addressed by these two important pieces of legislation which have been brought urgently before this parliament in the circumstances of the debate outlined by the Attorney-General.

Terrorism may be described as the indiscriminate spread of fear against both innocents and opponents alike on behalf of a political or an ideological cause. It is a particular problem of the modern world. It is perhaps felt most by ordinary people and indeed more felt than any other cause inside and outside our borders. The problem is not just a local one; it is an international one. That became obvious as a result of what happened on September 11. It affected the safety of Americans and the security of people not only in that country—which we all thought was impossible to be affected in the way that occurred in that dramatic disaster—but also internationally. It affected business as well as personal security considerations. Witness the very disastrous impact upon international air travel. But it had negative impacts at home as well; calamitous in some places. Seventeen people from my electorate were killed in the Bali bombings on 12 October 2001 in a way which was really quite disastrous for our local communities. Since that time the community in which I live has been coming to terms with the impact that terrorism has had upon not only the families but also the community's link to those families. I have seen first-hand how harmful this approach to pursuing the so-called political and ideological ideals that terrorists have identified can be.

It should be recognised by all, including those opposite, that the harm that is to be addressed by this legislation is of the most potent and dramatic kind, harm that is identified by ordinary people as something which is absolutely abhorrent to them. Australians as peace-loving people want, expect and have a right to live in a secure, stable world—not just in this country but outside it—and we should do our very best to ensure that can happen.

Before I address the detail of these bills, let me just advance further some of the propositions I have just mentioned. The other day I had the great pleasure of meeting Rohan Gunaratna, the international terrorist expert who gave an important speech to the Menzies Research Centre in this parliament. He detailed in that address, given to some of the most prominent defence and security experts in this country, some of the foibles and errors of approach that are taken by those in this debate who oppose the sorts of powers that are contained in the principal piece of legislation, the Criminal Code Amendment (Terrorist Organisations) Bill 2003. To the suggestion that Australia should or could avoid this problem by rolling itself up into a little ball and avoiding the observations and the attentions of terrorists by not saying or doing anything and therefore hoping to go unnoticed, he was quite contemptuous. He pointed out that even before the September 11 calamity al-Qaeda, and Osama bin Laden in particular, had made adverse comments about Australia's involvement in East Timor and had identified Australia as a potential target for terrorist attack by al-Qaeda. That illustrates that Australia and ordinary Australians should never consider themselves to be in a position whereby we should do nothing and try to avoid being noticed.

The other point Rohan Gunaratna made was that terrorism is an international problem, not a local problem. Australians cannot hope to address the issues of security by addressing only domestic security issues—of course we must, as we have done recently in the budget. There is an extra $450-odd million in the current budget, on top of the substantial moneys voted in by this parliament following the September 11 and the October 12 Bali bombing disasters. We must also address international terrorism issues. That is what we did when we joined the campaign against terror—the coalition against terror in Afghanistan and then the coalition of the willing in Iraq.

Australia has shown a highly commendable commitment to not only eradicating terrorism and protecting our people from terrorism at home but also addressing the international problems associated with terrorism. That is why, by way of background, it is terribly important that the general question of principle being faced by this parliament in relation to the terrorist organisations bill is addressed in its proper context. We cannot have adhockery, as the opponents of the terrorist organisations bill would have; we must take a more general approach. It is in that context that I make these remarks.

Let me deal firstly with the Hizballah bill to illustrate how important it is. At page 146 of his book Inside Al Qaeda: the global network of terror, Mr Gunaratna said about Hezbollah:

Another previously undisclosed fact about Al Qaeda concerns the ties it forged with both Iran and Lebanon as well as with Hezbollah, the feared and resourceful resistance movement of Lebanese Shias supported by these two states and Syria. In addition to uniting the two most powerful Egyptian terrorist groups, Osama's other achievement was to forge a working relationship between Shia and Sunni terrorist groups in keeping with his goal-oriented rather than rule-oriented doctrine. By virtue of this strategic partnership, he united the Middle East's two most dangerous terrorist groups, Al Qaeda and Hezbollah; the latter had long been regarded as the region's most technically advanced outfit, one that Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the GIA sought to emulate.

This suggested that Iran was maintaining a strong relationship with al-Qaeda. The suggestion by some, and in particular by those who oppose the listing and proscription of al-Qaeda in the United Nations, that there is no link between al-Qaeda and Hezbollah is simply false. If they wish to debate Mr Gunaratna, one of the most important, significant and acknowledged experts on this topic alive today, they should set out a case—and they have failed to do so.

But we here in Australia are not going to wait for the United Nations to determine whether or not Hezbollah is really an international terrorist group or is really linked to al-Qaeda, as stated by some who have inside knowledge and, indeed, superior knowledge about these matters. We are acting, and it is therefore important to determine the basis on which we are acting. As an action against Hezbollah, clearly the ad hoc bill, the Hizballah bill, should be passed. It is gratifying to hear that our opponents support this part of the legislative package.

Let me now turn to the question of general principle. The member for Barton said that there are two reasons why the second bill, the Criminal Code Amendment (Hizballah) Bill 2003, should be opposed on general grounds: firstly, because it does not contain proper procedures; and, secondly, because there is a query about its constitutionality. Let me briefly address both of these issues. I suggest that the opposition is fudging the debate on this question and avoiding the real question of principle—whether or not the link between the UN proscription procedure and the Australian antiterrorist organisations legislation should be severed in the way that this bill proposes and that I support.

It was suggested by the member for Barton that the fact that the Attorney-General is a decent and competent man was not good enough. It was not good enough to rely upon the fact that the proactive proscription under the terrorist organisations bill should be conducted by someone who had the respect of this parliament, the respect of the opposition and the respect of his own legal profession. It is suggested that there have to be safeguards because one day someone who does not have the same standards of competency and decency as the Attorney-General might hold the office. That is a mere doctrine of despair. When it is analysed, the Labor Party will be seen to be trying to invent an excuse to oppose this bill because they have locked themselves into the debate in the past by way of principle to appease the left wing of their party. The underlying principle is simply that the decision is reposed in the Attorney-General of the day who takes advice from the department, hedged around by the protections which underlie a competent bureaucratic service—which we do have. In addition, there are other procedures and safeguards which ensure that a decision will not be taken of an irrational or despotic kind.

The Attorney-General himself is not unrestrained; he has to justify his position to the party room, as you, as a very senior parliamentarian, would know, Mr Deputy Speaker Hawker. The Attorney-General also has to prove to his leader, our Prime Minister and later prime ministers, that the decision taken is one that can be supported by the government of the day. He must be supported by his colleagues in the parliament; he must escape a motion of censure, if such a motion were put forward because it was suggested that he had taken an incompetent, wrong, despotic or other wrong decision; and, ultimately, he must face the people—not only in his own electorate but through his own government at the next general election.

Are these not sufficient safeguards? Is this not the way that we in a democratic country like ours protect our people—to offer the people themselves the protection through leadership, which is what this bill does, and then ask the people to support that in a general election? Of course it is. That is the way that representative democracy works. For the opposition to suggest that somehow or other these safeguards are not sufficient is really hocus-pocus. But there are, indeed, safeguards and procedures built into this bill. It does require that the Attorney-General, in exercising his authority to proscribe an organisation, be subject to scrutiny by the courts. There is an opportunity to take a decision made by the Attorney to the courts of the day. It is acknowledged that the usual procedures and conditions of judicial review—whether or not the Attorney took into account an irrelevant consideration or failed to take into account a relevant consideration or even failed to act in a way that no reasonable Attorney-General could—are principles which apply to his decision.

What the member for Barton really wants to see in this bill is the courts given the power which the bill reposes in the Attorney-General. What the member for Barton is suggesting is that the very decision as to whether or not an organisation is unlawful should repose in the courts and the courts alone, notwithstanding that this parliament speaks through this legislation, giving that power and that right on a matter of national security—subject to the protections which I have indicated—to the government of the day. It is just rubbish that the courts of this country should alone be the repository of the proscription of a terrorist organisation. Doesn't the member for Barton have confidence in the Attorney-General? He said he did; he said he was a man of decency and acknowledged he was competent. Therefore, his approach to this whole legislation suggests that he is trying to find an opportunistic argument to oppose what is an expedient and appropriate measure hedged around by proper protections through our representative and democratic system of government.

It was then suggested by the member for Barton that the bill might be unconstitutional, having regard to the Communist Party case and having regard to the decision in The Queen v. Hughes in 2000. He noted that, as the High Court said in Hughes, more drastic consequences must be hedged around by more vigilant examination of the process. But can one imagine a more vigilant examination of the Attorney-General's decision than the opportunity of the courts, after he has made the decision to proscribe an organisation, to determine whether or not he has taken into account any relevant consideration? Of course one cannot. These are the traditional and accepted common law procedures for determining whether or not an administrative decision has been taken lawfully. That being the case, it ought not to be and cannot be suggested that this is a constitutionally flawed bill—that the proscription procedure reposed in the Attorney-General is one akin to that reposed in the Governor-General in the Communist Party case.

The opposition really are nitpicking. They are taking proceduralist points, because they do not want to face up to the fact that they were in error last year when they opposed the general legislation about terrorist organisations which was part of the government's package. Of course, what the government was forced to do at that time in order to get this important legislation through the parliament was to accept the link to the UN proscription of organisations. Let us just consider this: the opposition say that proscription is a bad thing and that it must be hedged around by procedures, but do they make that criticism of the United Nations? No, they do not. What they are really saying is that, even though it is acceptable for the UN to proscribe international terrorist organisations, it is not acceptable for the Australian government—acting in the best interests of the national security of this country as it sees it and as it was elected to do—to so act.

It is quite hypocritical of the opposition to express itself as it has done in that way. The two reasons advanced by the member for Barton are, upon examination, exposed as being hollow and, ultimately, expose the opposition to the criticism that they are trying to make the government's antiterrorist legislation unworkable. There does need to be a proper link between the proscription of a terrorist organisation and terrorism, but that is provided for in this legislation, and it is done so in a way that is hedged around by safeguards and procedures in the manner that I described.

There have been claims that this is a bid to give sweeping new powers to the Attorney. In fact, the Attorney already has the power to list terrorist organisations that meet strict legislative criteria. These decisions are disallowable by parliament and are also subject to judicial review. Under our bill, there would be no difference to the scrutiny of the Attorney-General's decision. The only difference will be the removal of the reliance on the UN Security Council. So Australia will then be able to make its own decisions about our national security.

The government's proposal, I put to the House and my colleagues, is sound and effective. It is one which identifies terrorist organisations that pose a threat to Australians and Australian interests independent of the UN, with a final check in the form of the federal Parliament of Australia and the possibility of judicial review. I urge the Senate to give it the utmost and careful consideration. In their deliberations they must put the national security interests of this country first and recognise that this country has voted in a government that is identifying national security and measures against terrorism as a way which will expediently address the fundamental and critical issues brought before the House by these bills. I commend them to the House.