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Monday, 3 November 2003
Page: 21735

Mr TICEHURST (2:43 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Following United Nations Security Council resolutions 1267 and 1373 on counterterrorism, would the minister inform the House of how many terrorist related organisations or individuals have been listed? Of those listed, how many have had their assets frozen in Australia? What other action is the government taking internationally to combat terrorism?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —First of all, I thank the honourable member for Dobell for his question and compliment him on the excellent job he is doing as the member for Dobell. The government has implemented a range of different measures to combat terrorism, including, importantly, to prevent funds from Australia being used for terrorist groups or terrorist acts. In my capacity as the Minister for Foreign Affairs, I have listed under Australian law some 470 individuals and organisations for their links to terrorist acts. Actually, since there has been some discussion about an organisation which is variously described as Lashkar-e-Taiba—and other possible variants of that name are used from time to time—I point out to the House that it was listed by me on 20 March 2002.

These listings make it a criminal offence for persons to hold assets that are owned or controlled by the organisations or individuals listed within Australia, and that is punishable by up to five years imprisonment. This is part of the obligations that the Australian government has under Security Council resolutions to freeze funds and other financial assets, but of course this is not the same thing that the Attorney-General has been talking about as proscribing organisations, as terrorist groups, for the purposes of the Criminal Code.

This can only be done under existing legislation in Australia if those organisations are listed by the United Nations, and a consensus decision at the United Nations Security Council under Security Council resolution 1267—a consensus decision by what is called the 1267 committee—is needed for a listing to take place. There is a further qualification, which is quite an important qualification, that that listing will not take place unless that organisation is associated with the Taliban or al-Qaeda to the satisfaction of all of the members of the committee. So that explains why Hamas, an organisation which I would have thought was unequivocally a terrorist organisation—and Hezbollah is another example, and we have legislated against it here—has not been proscribed here: because it has not been listed by the United Nations committee. It has not been listed by a United Nations committee because of the failure to get consensus on that.

Exactly the same argument applies in relation to Lashkar-e-Taiba. If you cannot get a consensus in the United Nations, no matter what we think in this parliament or no matter what we think in this country, according to the legislation that the Labor Party has allowed through the Senate we are not able to proscribe that organisation. So organisations can be manifestly terrorist organisations but not be on the UN list. Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has not elicited any questions from the opposition in the 7½ years I have been a minister but is an organisation which focuses on the Kashmir crisis—in other words, it is essentially a Kashmiri-oriented terrorist organisation—is not on the UN list, and that is hardly surprising because of the qualifications that apply to the 1267 committee. So the Australian government, on behalf of the Australian people, obviously is limited in terms of its capacity to ensure that organisations which are manifestly terrorist organisations are proscribed in this country. The only alternative path to choose is the path of legislation through the parliament.

The government has been working very hard where we have the legal authority to do so, and in particular in terms of taking measures to ban any financing of terrorist organisations, where we have greater scope. In that particular context, as I said, Lashkar-e-Taiba was listed quite some time ago. But this is all part of the strong pattern of opposition by this government to terrorism and terrorist organisations. That is illustrated, if I may say so, by the fact that the Indonesian Foreign Minister and I will be co-hosting a regional summit on counter-terrorism in February next year.