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Tuesday, 3 June 2003
Page: 15819

Mr WILLIAMS (Attorney-General) (7:53 PM) —I would like to thank honourable members for their contributions to the debate on the Criminal Code Amendment (Terrorist Organisations) Bill 2003 and the Criminal Code Amendment (Hizballah) Bill 2003. Some members—and I include members of the opposition—gave thoughtful, informative or constructive speeches, but that comment does not apply to the speech delivered by the Leader of the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition's speech in the House this afternoon was truly astonishing. The House is not often subjected to such a cynical political performance. The Leader of the Opposition is trying to recreate history. He knows full well that the Hezbollah listing proposal he announced last week was constitutionally uncertain. The opposition know this, because we had to tell them as much. But while they were willing to take this risk, the government was not. The opposition's private member's bill was apparently subsequently amended to mirror the government's legislation that is constitutionally certain and that had already been introduced. Members opposite, as they also know this full well, must be embarrassed at their leader's performance.

Not surprisingly, the bill the Leader of the Opposition introduced yesterday is different from the one the opposition originally intended to introduce, which, as I said, was constitutionally uncertain, to say the least. We are glad that the opposition have finally conceded that their original proposal was unsound, but we are appalled at the blatant political stunt the Leader of the Opposition has sought to inflict on the House by introducing the government's bill as his own. It is a waste of the House's time, it is a waste of members' time and it is political grandstanding at its worst.

The Leader of the Opposition has attempted another recreation of history in his deliberate cherry picking of correspondence that was exchanged between him and the Prime Minister. What the Leader of the Opposition proposed to the Prime Minister was for the government to seek for the United Nations to list Hezbollah. Only if such an action was unsuccessful did he indicate that he would support a specific listing. As the Prime Minister indicated to the Leader of the Opposition, advice from our intelligence agencies is that there is no evidence of a link between al-Qaeda and Hezbollah. As the Leader of the Opposition is aware, this means that there is no capacity for the United Nations to list Hezbollah and, as the Leader of the Opposition is also aware, this means that, as a result of amendments to our listing laws insisted upon by the opposition last year, Australia cannot act to list under our current laws. That is why we are forced to take this action and introduce these bills. Make no mistake: we need these two bills because of the opposition.

The Leader of the Opposition has obviously not been briefed very well. He and others have claimed that the government's bills are a bid to introduce sweeping new powers for the Attorney-General. In fact, the Attorney-General already has the power to list terrorist organisations that meet specific legislative criteria. These decisions are disallowable by the parliament and are also subject to judicial review. The most important safeguards are the criteria that must be met before an organisation can be listed as a terrorist organisation. These criteria are set out in the legislation as a prerequisite to the making of a regulation. I, and future attorneys-general, must be satisfied on reasonable grounds that the relevant organisation is directly or indirectly engaged in preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of a terrorist act—whether or not the terrorist act has occurred or will occur. Of course, the making of regulations is subject to judicial review. To resist a challenge to the validity of a regulation, the government would have to prove in court that it had evidence that provided a proper basis for the making of the regulation.

Further, any regulation made will be disallowable through the ordinary disallowance process. Disallowance only needs the majority in one house, so the regulation is clearly subject to parliamentary rather than government control. The House can disallow it and the Senate can disallow it. The opposition know this, but they choose to perpetrate a myth for their own political expediency. If disallowance does not involve parliamentary oversight, then I do not know what would. Parliamentary scrutiny is a built-in part of this process which will not change. Regulations made under the provisions will also sunset two years after they are made unless the regulations are remade.

The Leader of the Opposition has also said that the government have not responded to opposition attempts to discuss the ASIO bills. This is truly remarkable. As the Leader of the Opposition is fully aware, I have had a number of meetings with Senator Faulkner and the member for Banks on the ASIO bill and we have provided the opposition with draft protocols. To date, we have received no written response in relation to the protocols. Instead, we have received nothing more than indications that they are not serious about negotiating on the ASIO bill and that they will continue to obstruct its passage through the Senate. As I have repeatedly stated, while we are open to considering suggestions that will improve the operation of the ASIO bill, we are not willing to compromise on amendments which would render the bill unworkable. The opposition have not offered a workable solution. Instead, the opposition have indicated that they will continue to insist on unworkable amendments. The amendments that they proposed in the Senate last year would have rendered the bill unworkable. That is why the government rejected them. The government intends to vigorously pursue passage of this bill in the Senate in the upcoming sitting weeks.

For an effective counter-terrorism regime, it is vital that our laws target not only terrorist acts but also the organisations that plan, finance and carry them out. The safety and security of the Australian community and Australian interests is a top priority of the government. It is a responsibility we take very seriously. In the current environment, complacency is not an option. As part of our comprehensive approach to the new security environment, the government developed a package of strong counter-terrorism legislation, the bulk of which was passed by the parliament in July last year. Included in that legislation were amendments to the Criminal Code allowing the listing of terrorist organisations subject to strict conditions, including the requirement that the terrorist organisation be identified as such by the United Nations Security Council.

The 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 before we can act was an amendment insisted upon by the opposition. The government argued at the time that this potentially created problems where Australia identifies threats by terrorist organisations that do not interest members of the United Nations Security Council. UN lists are limited to organisations with links to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Australia is currently in the unsatisfactory position where it cannot act independently of the United Nations to list a terrorist organisation posing a threat to Australia and Australian interests. Other countries can decide for themselves which terrorist organisations pose a threat to their citizens and interests and can act accordingly. In fact, we know of no other country whose power to list terrorist organisations is linked to the United Nations. But, thanks to the opposition, Australia cannot act independently of the United Nations Security Council.

The government's Criminal Code Amendment (Terrorist Organisations) Bill 2003 will amend the listing provisions so that the government can list an organisation as a terrorist organisation for the purpose of our domestic criminal law regardless of whether it has been listed by the United Nations Security Council. That is the only aspect of the current listing provisions that the government is proposing to amend. This will assert Australia's independence to act against threats to our interest, not just those which an external organisation deems worthy of international action. The other, strict safeguards in the listing process—parliamentary scrutiny, judicial review and sunsetting—will rightly remain. If passed, this bill will allow us to move quickly to list those organisations that, notwithstanding the absence of a Security Council decision, are appropriately identified by our security and intelligence organisations as terrorist organisations.

The second bill in the government's package, the Criminal Code Amendment (Hizballah) Bill 2003, will allow the terrorist wing of Hezbollah to be listed in regulations, provided the statutory criteria for listing are met. Of course, this bill would not be necessary if the opposition did not insist on the UN listing requirement when the listing provisions were considered by parliament, and it would not be necessary if the opposition put politics aside to support the first bill in this package, which removes the need for a United Nations listing before Australia can take action.

Clearly, it is too much to ask of the opposition that it put politics aside in the interests of national security. The opposition has indicated that it will not support the government's legislation to remove our reliance on the United Nations. As I have indicated, the opposition has taken the extraordinary action of introducing a bill to deal with Hezbollah that is identical in all respects to the government's bill except in respect of the spelling of the name of the organisation. Rather than cooperating with us and supporting our bills, the opposition has chosen the path of political obstructionism.

The government has introduced two bills that, together, create a legislative framework that deals with the immediate issue of the security threat represented by the terrorist wing of Hezbollah and the longer term issue of how Australia can act independently of the United Nations Security Council in relation to our domestic criminal laws. I call on the opposition to put politics aside and support both the government's bills in the interests of the security of Australia. I commend the bills to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lindsay)—For the information of the member for Calare, we will now put the question for the second reading of the Criminal Code Amendment (Terrorist Organisations) Bill 2003.

Question put.