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Thursday, 31 August 2000
Page: 17064

Senator FAULKNER (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (12:05 PM) —Senator Brown is right about one thing: he has provoked me. Ill as I am, I must respond to a couple of the things Senator Brown has said. There seems to be a lack of clarity here. I want to say this to Senator Brown, through you, Mr Temporary Chairman: I understand why you raise the concerns that you have raised about the shooting of civilians and the use of APCs, or tanks. I note that you quote from the totally unsatisfactory manual that is currently in existence. We do share those sorts of concerns about the current situation. One difference is that we have tried to come to this with a somewhat open mind. We have come to examine this legislation from the perspective that, if we can improve it, we will. Like you, we are not satisfied with the situation. It is, as you have most eloquently and at great length outlined to us, unsatisfactory. You win that debate; you make that point. You have made it strongly, and you have made it consistently. Fair enough: very many people in the parliament—perhaps everyone in the parliament—and many in the wider community would share those concerns.

What has our approach been in that circumstance? We have come to the Defence Legislation Amendment (Aid to Civilian Authorities) Bill 2000 with an open mind to see if we can right some of those grievous wrongs that Senator Brown outlined to the committee. We do not believe the government has achieved that in the bill it has placed before the parliament. Again, we have come to the debate in the spirit of saying that, if we can improve the bill in a number of crucial areas so that it deals with those problems and the new problems that the government's legislation has created, we will accept that that is a significant improvement. But there are a lot of qualifications there, and they are really important qualifications from the perspective of the Labor opposition. What is the key qualification as far as this bill is concerned? Let me state it to this committee: we want to ensure that the Australian Defence Force will never—I stress `never'—be used against any peaceful protest, dissent, assembly or—particularly, from a Labor perspective—industrial action. That is why we have moved the amendment, and we are going to stand by it.

As far as the Labor Party are concerned, it is a principle we will never resile from and, if it does not stand, the bill will fail. There is no argument about that. Senator Brown makes a point. Through you, Mr Temporary Chairman, let me say to Senator Brown: we are happy to have the debate around the Labor amendment. I would say to everyone in the committee: let us have the debate about the Labor amendment when it is moved and not during the debate on the first amendment that stands in Senator Bourne's name about a review of the legislation. I do not want to duck away from it, Senator Brown. You are entitled to put your view on that strongly, and I want to engage in it. I am not going to slide away from the debate on the propositions that the opposition is putting before the committee. But, with respect, I would suggest we have it at the appropriate time and place.

The only difference between the Labor amendment that was originally circulated and the one that you now have before you is that in the meantime the drafters got at it. I am assured that, in effect, there is no difference at all and no diminution of its intention or effect. But let us have that debate and, if you can convince me otherwise, we will be very interested, let me assure you. It is not the subject of some closed-door secret deal with the government or anybody else. That is the position that the Labor Party have put before this parliament and we will be arguing that position very strongly at the appropriate time in this committee stage.

We are not going to slide away from our commitment that the defence forces of this nation should never be used against peaceful protest or industrial action, and I think we share those concerns with many in this parliament and many in the community. Let the record be clear on what Labor intend to do and why we are going to do it. That is the initiative we have taken, and the opposition amendments are to give effect to that. As I hear from the Special Minister of State at the table, the government plan is to amend that opposition amendment that Senator Brown has quoted. I will have a look at what the government plan to do and what they say in support of any proposal to amend the opposition amendment. I cannot make a comment about that because I do not know what is being proposed at this stage.

The concerns that senators have raised are shared by the opposition. We are also concerned about the elements of the manual that Senator Brown has quoted—what can occur in the current situation. That is why we have looked at this bill from the point of view of trying to improve the status quo. That has been our motivation, and it will continue to be our motivation as we work through these issues before the committee—that is, if we move off the question of the review that stands in the name of Senator Bourne. I have indicated that we think it is an important principle too, but we think we have got a better formulation than the one Senator Bourne has put before this committee. We do accept that it is a crucial element of the bill, and we are treating that matter seriously as well. But for heaven's sake—and I think the minister should have made this point—there is a range of issues of concern to senators and there is a range of issues where the current drafting of the bill, in the view of many in this chamber, is inadequate. I am going to try to focus my remarks on the matters that are before the chair. I think I am showing a great deal more discipline than the minister is in that regard.