Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 21 October 2002
Page: 5457

Senator BOLKUS (12:31 PM) —I rise to speak on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Bill 2002 with a backdrop of the events in Bali some nine days ago. I think it is important that, as we deliberate on legislation like this in the Senate, we look at those events and acknowledge that there are a quite a number of lessons in them for us. Like all Australians, I continue to be rocked by those events. We have seen the human dimensions night after night on TV and quite graphically over the weekend. We just cannot run away from the continued grief that parents, husbands, spouses, brothers, sisters, sporting colleagues and we, as a nation, are suffering.

I think we are also confronted by the implications of last weekend, and they will continue to confront us. We share the pain; we share it to the point of being tortured by it. But I think as a nation we have a sense of frustration and we need to take some sort of remedial action. We need to bring the perpetrators to justice but there is a sense of frustration and helplessness in terms of where we start and what we can do. What can we do to ensure that it does not happen again? I will go to that point later on. We are haunted by it and, as a consequence, I think the events of Bali will continue to influence public policy in this country and definitely within our region, if not across the whole world, for quite a long time.

We are affected by those coming home and we are confronted by the challenges but I think we are also deeply affected by the pain caused to the Balinese themselves. I have been to Bali some six or seven times. I spent my honeymoon there. Like everyone else, I had seen it as a tranquil, peaceful, beautiful place with beautiful people. Even before last week I think many of us were troubled by the impact that the Australian tourist market was having on the lives of the Balinese. As we see the photographs of Balinese families still waiting for parents and children to come home, I think the impact that we have on their lives continues to be brought home to us.

I, for one, think that the steps that have been announced so far in terms of assisting the Balinese—for instance, setting up a hospital—are important steps. But I have also had a view for quite a long time about what we as Australians need to do within our region, particularly in places like Bali—I was involved, for instance, in the reconstruction of the Cambodian national gallery and museum in Phnom Penh when I was Minister for Administrative Services—and I think it is important for us to help those people reconstruct their cultures and place those cultures in a pivotal place in the Kuta of the future. It will be important for us to show that we actually understand those people and will not just help them with medical services—which will probably help tourists more than others, but they will help the locals—but also pay respect to them by setting up some sort of cultural monument so that Australians in the future may be able to understand better the people that have made their home the island of Bali, the playground of Australia.

Moving on from that, I think the issues of the last 10 days have led us to have a greater appreciation of, confidence in and respect for our institutions; the spirit of generosity of the Australian people; and the many tiers and aspects of the professional staff and non-professional support staff who quickly activate themselves beyond the call of duty whenever there is a crisis and get involved in support assistance, from grief counselling to attending to the bruises and picking up the body parts. We really need to respect and pay tribute to the professionals, the airline workers, the cleaners, the volunteers and the paid employees. We should say thank you to them not just for what they are doing but also because they are making us, as a nation, feel as if there is something we can do.

In the context of this legislation, I think we have to learn from the Bali attack. This is antiterrorism legislation. There is a very direct link with the legislation that was before the parliament just a few months ago. I think we have to learn from the Bali attack and not be spooked by it. It is not an issue which can be handled in the conventional way. Terrorism cannot be fought in the conventional military way. We cannot be spooked by it. We need to address the underlying problems. For instance, in Australia we need to recognise that we do live in a region that has its problems. There is an enormous degree of stability in the level of potential problems that have existed and continue to exist in places like Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

As I said just a few weeks ago in a debate on Iraq in this place, from Kasakhstan to Dili there is potential for problems. We in Australia need to learn from that and we need to assess our performance in the context of the challenges that we have to meet in the region, if not in the broader world community, over the next few years particularly. We have to assess the performance of our key institutions. Was, for instance, the incident 10 days ago a failure of intelligence? Was it the institutions? Was it the political leadership? Was it a failure of resources? Was it a failure of legislative capacity? That, of course, brings us to this legislation. These issues will be for ongoing debate. But you cannot debate these issues without coming directly to the role of ASIO in our society, the potential for ASIO to perform a productive function and the dangers that may be inherent in any excessive power in an organisation like this.

There is an unfortunate tendency in Australian society at the moment to see things in simple terms—good or bad, black or white, us or them. For instance, when it comes to boat people there is a view that says, `Let them all in.' There is an alternative view that says, `Let them all out.' We in this parliament need to be confronted by the complexity of all these issues, and a simple solution is more often than not the appropriate solution. As we found with boat people and as I think we find with ASIO, there is a view in our society amongst some—and they can be either of the extreme Left or of the extreme Right—that ASIO is inherently evil and as such should not be given any extra power at all. I do not share that view. I think those who have worked with this organisation over the years also do not share that view. I have had much experience with them as immigration minister and I know of their value in the screening of people coming to Australia. It was comforting to hear Dennis Richardson, the Director-General of ASIO, before the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade of this parliament just a few weeks ago tell Australians that of the boat people who came around the end of last year not one of them had been identified as being a person of suspicion in terms of terrorism. They had all been cleared of that concern, which had been beaten up before the last election.

I have respect for them and I am pleased that they are over in Bali. I am also of the view that we need to ensure that they can work effectively to meet the new challenges that may have been thrown up by the Bali terrorism act. We have to get the balance right and in that context we have to ensure that ASIO can be effective, but effective within the democratic structures and values that Australians treasure so much.

We also ought to recognise that organisations like that have been asked to address unprecedented challenges. Just a few years ago there were something like one million people coming to Australia per annum. Now it is four or five going on six, seven or eight million. Essentially, it is part of the tourism industry. ASIO have a continuing role that they need to meet, and it is a role that up until now they have met quite effectively. That is not to say that an organisation like that cannot be misused and abused. Though I might have some confidence in some of the people running ASIO, I am sure I do not have the same respect for and confidence in some of their political masters.

We all spent last week saying that we need to reflect on the situation in Bali and learn from it. We had by the end of the week, for instance, the unfortunate behaviour of the Attorney-General, the hapless Daryl Williams. When asked about these issues, he knew of no alternative but to return to his song sheet of the past and to propose the proscription of an organisation like this—the organisation I am referring to is, of course, Jemaah Islamiah. He thought that proscription would provide all the answers. The challenge for people like the Attorney-General, for leaders in this government and for us is to actually look at the new challenges from Bali and to see whether we need new solutions rather than to go back to those that have been tried and rejected by all sides of politics in the not too distant past. For instance, Daryl Williams says `proscribe'. In the current context, who do you proscribe? Is it Jemaah Islamiah? Is it the college Ngruki network or whatever other manifestations it may have? Is it Hezbollah? Is it Masjumi? The list goes on. An organisation like the one that is under prime suspicion with respect to the Bali bombing is not an organisation like the ones that Daryl Williams might be aware of and have close contact with, like the Melbourne Club or the West Coast Eagles. They do not have central membership; they do not have core membership. They do work in cells. It is this sort of loose non-organisation that we need to somehow come to grips with. The formal act of proscription will not do that. Other provisions in this legislation may help to do that. Our challenge is to look at these and to see what the new challenges are.

We also need to build on the strengths of the organisations and institutions that we have running for us. I for one am concerned to ensure that ASIO is not, by the addition of further functions—functions which have not been part of its essential character over the years—derailed and disrupted and maybe even corrupted. As an effective organisation over the years, ASIO has developed important relationships with many Australians, not the least being with migrant groups in our community. ASIO provides information on which state and federal agencies depend quite importantly. We need to ensure that those relationships are not disrupted in any future manifestation or consideration of the powers of ASIO. Do you jeopardise the ongoing strengths of an organisation like this when you give to it the power to arrest, to detain, to detain for a length of time without reason, to detain in secrecy and to detain young people? My fear is that you do do that, and some of those confidences that are built in the community, from which ASIO derives an enormous degree of information, may very well be jeopardised if we go the wrong way. It is one of those issues that, if this bill finally does go in committee, the committee will have to have a close look at.

We do have some real concerns and those concerns will have to be addressed in the committee process. We are concerned that once again this government, calling for a spirit of national unity, will go off and do things on its own when consultation and a healthy participatory process would have brought about a greater bipartisan outcome. For instance, with respect to this legislation there was no real attempt at bipartisanship. My concern is—and it has to be the concern of many—that this government preaches bipartisanship but knows very well how to play wedge politics. That is one thing the Attorney-General was trying to do in question time last week, unfortunately.

We as a committee will have to address whether the legislation is balanced and fair. We had this challenge before the parliament for the previous regime of antiterrorism legislation which passed just a few months ago. The parliament achieved major amendments. The Prime Minister railed against them at the time, but it was only just a few weeks ago that Prime Minister Howard said of the legislation that came out of this parliament after major amendment by the Senate, `I believe we have got the balance right.' I think that is what we want people to say at the end of the process in this place. Let us see if we can get the balance right.

We recognise that we need to combat terrorism, but we also recognise that we need to protect the liberties that terrorists want to destroy, liberties fundamental to our system of government that terrorists are threatened by and do in fact want to destroy. At the same time, I think we need to do that in a way that does not provide further oxygen for terrorist cells in our region and afar.

The third issue that needs to be addressed by the committee was raised by the joint parliamentary committee. For instance, the chair of the committee, the member for Fadden, is on record as saying that the legislation:

... would undermine key legal rights and erode the civil liberties that make Australia a leading democracy.

The government accepted quite a number of recommendations of that joint parliamentary committee but there are five major recommendations that have not been accepted by the parliament, and I think they are recommendations that a Senate committee would have to look at.

For instance, as a first issue, even ASIO agree that the detention of children needs to be reviewed, and I think that is important as a continuing process. The second recommendation of the committee is that there be a three-year sunset clause. The joint committee has proposed a sunset clause. We believe a sunset clause would be a significant accountability mechanism were the legislation to go ahead. That needs to be given further consideration.

The third recommendation is that the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security be present during ASIO interviews and have the power to stop them if necessary. It is amazing that the government was not flexible enough to pick up a recommendation like that, and there are a couple of other issues as well. They are issues that would need to be addressed by the committee in its deliberations were the legislation to be deemed to be salvageable. I think a fundamental question facing the committee is: are the powers that the government wants to give ASIO powers that are necessary for its better management and greater effectiveness or should some of those powers be powers that are available— as they may very well be at the moment—in other institutions such as the AFP? If they are not available to the full extent, what changes have to be made to AFP legislation to see what we can give them by way of acceptable extra powers? The other question that has arisen during the deliberation of this legislation is the question of constitutionality—and that is a question that I am sure will be confronted by any committee process.

This is extremely important legislation. It is being debated against the backdrop of September 11 and it is being debated against the backdrop of the tragic events in Bali some eight or nine days ago. Once amended, it is legislation that will last forever. It is legislation that, in lasting forever, may have some fundamental impact on the democratic nature of our society and the way in which secretive organisations like ASIO proceed into the future. In that respect, it is important for the Senate to give this legislation some very serious consideration. We cannot ignore, nor should we ignore, the events in Bali. We cannot ignore, nor should we ignore, the events of September 11. But what we do need to take into account is that terrorism cannot be confronted, and it cannot be beaten by jingoistic, nationalistic rhymes that often come out of the mouths of people like the US President. It is complex. It is in our region. It is something that we need to confront by effective institutions. Let us hope that at the end of this process we can come up with an effective answer to some of the issues in this legislation.