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Tuesday, 3 June 2003
Page: 15809

Mr BEAZLEY (7:10 PM) —I must say that I found the contribution made by the speaker who preceded me, the member for Melbourne Ports, both interesting and informative. He made a very useful analysis of why it is that Hezbollah is legitimately identified as a major terrorist threat to the international community and this country, and why it is an entirely reasonable thing to now be listing it, irrespective of whether that has been done by the United Nations. I will say a little about that later on.

We are supporting the Criminal Code Amendment (Hizballah) Bill 2003 but we do not support the broader legislation that has been put forward by the government—legislation the government was comfortable to do without in the very recent past. In arguing the case regarding the legislation, we have issues of credibility to discuss. The significance of that is in the way in which the government approaches the entire community to mobilise it to deal with a threat that is very real in this country.

I think that Australians should not kid themselves that they are not now in global focus in the struggle against international terrorism. For example, while our contribution in Iraq and Afghanistan got scarce public mention in the United States and the Middle East during the conflicts, it got enough. Well before the war we began to see our role drawn attention to in the mosques and media of radical Islamists in South-East Asia, South Asia and the Middle East. Previously, as evidenced by bin Laden's comments immediately after September 11, we were highlighted for our role in East Timor. We have been on the terrorist map at least since then. Our role in East Timor was portrayed then as an affront to the efforts of extremist advocates of a South-East Asian caliphate, such as those largely associated with Jemaah Islamiah. More recently, we have been seen by the same individuals and organisations—now including Hezbollah—on a broader front.

Twenty months after September 11 and seven months after Bali, I believe this country is still searching for an effective, proportionate and comprehensive response to the challenge of terrorism. It remains one of the decisive policy challenges for Australian governments. I think the first step in meeting that challenge is to explain the nature of the threat in a cogent and sustained way to the Australian people. It is not easy. The issues are complex, the data is fragmentary and there are few hard facts. Supposition and inference come into play, the subject is easily distorted by alarmism, and public perceptions easily swing between complacency and paranoia.

We should start by getting clear how serious the threat of terrorism is. What do we know? We know that there is a global network of individuals and groups motivated by an extreme resentment of the West, which masquerades as a fervent commitment to the noble faith of Islam—its ostensible objective an Islamic caliphate encompassing all existing and previous Islamic lands. We know that this network believes that its aims are advanced by indiscriminate mass terrorism and operations designed solely to cause maximum casualties.

We know that an organisation lies at the centre of it—al-Qaeda—but that it is not all controlling and all seeing. Al-Qaeda's strength lies in its doctrinal flexibility. It can encompass support for and build bridges between groups and movements that are in bitter dispute or have little global or even regional reach or understanding in their focus. It is an umbrella for a whole variety of Islamist fundamentalist terrorist organisations and operations, but its unique capacity is to unite those groups across the main divides of Islam.

Most of those organisations more directly affiliated with al-Qaeda have as their basis a following that is associated with the Sunni orientation in Islam, but the orientation of Hezbollah is fundamentally directed towards the Shiah tendency within Islam. Al-Qaeda's genius is a capacity to cross both and collaborate with both. I believe that we will be confronting evidence of that collaboration as time goes by. That is just one of the many things that make the legislation in regard to Hezbollah particularly timely at this point.

Because of its disparate nature, quite effective disruption at its core will not necessarily diminish the effectiveness of its decentralised elements. We know that this network extends to South-East Asia. We know that local affiliates have planned, and sometimes succeeded in, terrorist attacks against targets identified as Western. And we know that the network has identified Australian targets specifically and has attempted to develop the capacity to undertake terrorist attacks in Australia. Probably for the first time in our history, Australia is now a direct target of an effective terrorist threat.

There is much we do not know, and it is important to explain that to the Australian people as well. We do not know how badly al-Qaeda has been degraded by activities in Afghanistan and by the magnificent cooperation across the globe in the struggle against terror since September 11. But we can assume that, whilst there may have been a degrading of al-Qaeda capacities at the centre, the organisation has not been degraded so extensively that it is incapable of giving support to operations in a broad range of countries and that, even in degrading it at its centre in Afghanistan and other parts of the Middle East, we merely see a determination on its part to go to areas where it sees the environment as less readily susceptible to effective police, armed force and intelligence action. Unfortunately, the regions that could be so readily defined in that way include areas to the north of this country.

We do not know the extent to which Jemaah Islamiah has been degraded by excellent recent cooperation between us and Indonesian authorities and between other governments in South-East Asia and Indonesian authorities. From a number of events that have occurred recently, they still evidently have some capacity to launch bombing activities, and there is reliable reporting of a capacity to meet and plan activities. At least those who are followers of Jemaah Islamiah have organised themselves into a structure that incorporates very directly within their organisational zones a zone that incorporates Australia. Mantiqi 4 is the zone that incorporates Australia.

Hezbollah is an organisation which is itself something of an umbrella. It has been evolving effectively since 1983—with, it must be said, a level of state sponsorship. It has been evolving in a way that has incorporated other organisations within its ranks, much as al-Qaeda has. The most potent of the organisations that it has incorporated within its ranks is Islamic Jihad. Those two organisations—the umbrella and those operating within it—have, in the Middle East and around the globe, been responsible for at least 50 to 60 identified terrorist attacks. Some of them were referred to by the previous speaker, the member for Melbourne Ports.

It is sometimes argued that Hezbollah's fixation is Israel and that they are part of a national liberation struggle, not a part of an international terrorist conspiracy. That is nonsense. Certainly, they have been extremely hostile to Israel, and they are one of the factors making it very difficult for the Israelis to sit down and have a sensible discussion with the Palestinian interlocutors that they now have in place and that are so critical for the peace of the area—a peace which is now so important to us given the overall character of the global struggle with terrorism.

Certainly there is Hezbollah pressure on Israel: there are terrorist attacks by Hezbollah against Israel, there are military assaults and there are kidnappings associated with it. But there have also been attacks by Hezbollah and its affiliates on Western interests in places as disparate as Scandinavia, Latin America and the Middle East outside the immediate environment of Israel. We have undoubtedly come to their attention in recent times, as I had an opportunity to discuss with a number of people when I visited the area recently.

The government will find the Labor Party prepared to stand shoulder to shoulder with it in the struggle against terrorism. The government will not find the Labor Party there for a political exercise. The second of these pieces of legislation second-guesses the terrorist legislation passed by this parliament only about 12 months ago. It must be recollected that, when the Prime Minister signed off on that legislation and presented it to the Australian community in an address to the Press Club here in Canberra, he was pleased with his legislation. He was pleased with the elements within it that incorporated a capacity to proscribe organisations—and effectively to proscribe organisations automatically—once they were identified by the United Nations. He said he would settle for that.

As we engage in what is going to be a long-term struggle against international terrorism, it is terribly important that our leaders should at all times have credibility—that when they speak to the Australian community, they do not speak on the basis that they have anything on their agenda other than dealing with the problem that threatens Australian lives and the lives of others. Revisiting the issue as quickly as the Prime Minister has in this instance raises a question. The Prime Minister has a mechanism that he can clearly see we are prepared to participate in: where the United Nations does not identify a terrorist organisation as a terrorist organisation, we are perfectly prepared, very swiftly and expeditiously, to deal with the matter on a case-by-case basis. A question mark is there as to the motivation of the government in seeking to revisit this position.

We can see the issues of credibility quite critically displayed for us now in the aftermath of the Iraq war and the argument now taking place—to a degree in this country but ferociously in the United States and the United Kingdom—over whether or not intelligence was mishandled in a political way by the leadership of those countries. I do not know whether it was or was not. Whether or not there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq will be demonstrated one way or another as all the sites are studied over the next six to 12 months. Personally, I believe that weapons of mass destruction—or at least the precursors to them and the means of constructing them—will be found. Some already have been found in regard to the mobile biological laboratories that have been identified.

Interestingly, that is not actually the argument that is taking place in the United States and the United Kingdom at this stage. Those in Congress who now want to conduct an investigation are not in fact arguing about whether or not at some point in time weapons of mass destruction or materials associated with them and with deploying them will be found. There is probably scarcely a member of Congress who does not believe that they will be found. They are concerned about whether intelligence was gilded—whether it was overwritten in the cause of arguing the political point and mobilising international support behind the efforts of the coalition in the conflict in Iraq. It is very important that that information should not be gilded. When an Australian Prime Minister, a British Prime Minister, an American President or a Malaysian Prime Minister stands in public and says that there is a clear and present danger, and the danger is identified as such, the community must be able to believe that what they have been told has not been gilded but is based on a balanced study of the basic intelligence materials handed to the leadership and analysed by specialists on the way through. I know how critical that is.

We have a good understanding of the region around us from our own resources, and we have a good understanding of the situation in Australia from our own resources. We have a good intelligence community in this country, and it is getting more capable. For a substantial amount of the information on which we rely to make judgments on the region around us and for virtually all of the information on which we rely for an understanding of threatening events emerging from the Middle East—be it the spread of weapons of mass destruction or the operation of international terrorists—I know that we rely on United States intelligence and intelligence from others in the intelligence community that collaborate with us. We are totally dependent on that intelligence when we move significantly away from the Australian region.

With the interrelationships now within the broad international community of terrorist organisations and the cross trade of capacities in weapons of mass destruction across the globe, we have to understand that without the picture presented by our allies our own picture must invariably be incomplete—in these circumstances, dangerously incomplete. When the Australian Prime Minister or the US President stands and says: `On the basis of intelligence advice to me, these things may occur, these things will occur and these activities must be undertaken to prevent those threats emerging in a life-threatening way,' we need to know that the intelligence materials have been handled by the officers, the analysts and then ultimately by the political officers in a way that reflects absolute integrity. It is no good crying wolf in this situation. If you cry wolf, and the rest of the international community believes you have, it is a strike to the betterment of the international situation of the very people we oppose—al-Qaeda and its allies; Hezbollah and their allies. It is utterly important that we operate with integrity.

I think Australia has two central tasks. The first is to understand that the region in which we can make the greatest contribution is our immediate region. This is the area within which we live and from which our security is drawn. The essence of the change in Australian foreign policy in the Hawke-Keating era was that we sought for the first time in our history not security from the region but security within the region. We lost sight of this when the Howard government came to office. The Howard government wanted to make a point about what they regarded as excessive focus by the Keating and Hawke governments on the region around us. Indeed, sadly we neglected our relationships with South-East Asia—very much to our detriment we neglected them. It has hampered our capacity to exercise leadership now when it is critical for us to do so.

There are countries in South-East Asia that we have managed to put offside for reasons of neglect over the last few years. The current situation is so urgent that they are still prepared to collaborate with us, and the excellent cooperation we are getting from the Indonesians in investigating the affair in Bali is ample evidence of that. It just shows you that countries in the region are so alarmed with this problem that they will set aside grievances they have had with Australia to unite with us in dealing with the threat. This issue is not over. We have to get closer. We have to have an Australian Prime Minister who lives in the region, who is familiar with the region and who is there in the affection of our regional leadership to ensure that that sort of collaboration and that sort of trust is there, so essential in moving beyond the bare bones of an exchange between intelligence and police communities. It is now a matter of Australian national security.

The second task is how we deal with things here. The government has made recent adjustments in the Prime Minister's office. It is not enough simply to make those adjustments in the Prime Minister's department—adjustments that I hear on reasonable authority are related more to defence issues—in trying to manage what has become an unmanageable situation in the government's defence planning. We have got to be able to deal with this in a more comprehensive way. It is my belief that to do that we should simplify the bureaucracy with a department that subsumes those various elements of the bureaucracy—the foreign affairs and defence elements aside—that are there to deal with a terrorist response in this country. I think it is important that that department be now established. Other countries find it essential. The British have it automatically with the Home Office; the Americans have now created it. Why are we so smart and they so dumb? We need to do this ourselves. We need to have our response properly coordinated. I believe there is a deal for the government to think of on this, and I hope they do it over the next few months. (Time expired)