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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 8155

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) (9:26 AM) —We have just heard, in effect, the de facto government, the Labor Party, dictating to the elected government what should be its laws. You have heard it in the language of Senator Faulkner. This model, the Labor model, is what the government can have—nothing more, nothing less: take the Labor model whether you like it or not. That is what we have heard from Senator Faulkner. That is what he has put to the parliament today. When I was brought up, I was led to believe that it was the job of the government to govern.

Senator Mackay —Here we go: `Senate obstruction!'

Senator HILL —No; you are wrong. The government is responsible to the parliament, but it is the responsibility of the government to govern. This government accepts the responsibility in relation to the safety and security of the Australian people. Therefore, it brings to the parliament a piece of proposed legislation which it believes is necessary to protect that security. It is legislation that it believes would be effective to achieve the goal of helping safeguard the Australian people. What does the Labor Party say when the government does that? It says to the government: `We will not have your model; instead we will put up our model, which is adequate.' But we know that it is inadequate. Senator Faulkner said that it works in relation to corporate law—but we are talking here about terrorists, not breaches of corporate law. What works in relation to corporate law does not necessarily work in relation to terrorists. I have to say to the Labor Party that terrorists do not play according to the rules, and that is why it is necessary for the first time in our history to introduce legislation of this type. This is not the normal thing for a government of our colour. We would prefer not to have to do this.

Honourable senators interjecting

Senator HILL —You might laugh at that, but we accept the responsibility in government to do our best to safeguard the Australian people. We bring a model that, we believe, after a great deal of care and thought, to be effective but not unduly intrusive. It is not modelled on the corporate affairs power but one designed to address the issue of terrorism and the threats and uncertainty that are attached to the issue of terrorism. That is what this has been designed for. It is a modest scheme that, we believe, can nevertheless be effective. What the Labor Party demands instead is a scheme that we believe will be ineffective. How can the government, with the responsibility to govern, accept the Labor Party's dictates and sign on to a scheme that it believes would be ineffective? What an abdication of responsibility that would be for any government! But that is what is being demanded by the Labor Party here today.

Senator Brown, with the way in which he approaches these things, thinks that is legitimate, because he believes that the parliament is the government. The parliament is not the government; the government is responsible to the parliament. That is why we bring our legislation here. If the parliament wishes to vote it down, it does. But we ask it to vote it down honestly, not with the sort of hypocrisy we have heard in here this morning. What happened in New South Wales in relation to Premier Carr's legislation? What happened in relation to children, for example? What happened in that legislation was the sort of thing that Senator Faulkner in this place condemns the Howard government for. What did he do in relation to Mr Carr? Nothing. Was there a murmur from the Labor Party in relation to New South Wales? Not a murmur. When it came to electricity privatisation, you wanted to hold a state conference to protest. Did you protest against Mr Carr's laws aimed at addressing the issue of terrorism? Of course not, because that would be too awkward to do. Where is the inconsistency? The inconsistency exists because in this parliament we have a weak and divided opposition that can only get through a debate like this by taking the lowest common denominator.

The weakest alternative is all that the Labor Party can get its caucus to sign on to. It would not dare come out with anything with a bit of stomach, because of course there would be those within the Labor Party who would revolt. Instead, we get the weak alternative, the ineffective alternative, that all can sign on to and about which Senator Faulkner can get up here and boast, `We all signed on to it, with not one dissenter.' It is not surprising that there is not one dissenter, because it just serves the purpose of holding the family together. But that is not what this legislation is supposed to be about. It is not about holding the Labor family together, but about protecting Australians and Australian kids. That is what this legislation is all about. When the government makes a special effort to get it through by compromise, what does Senator Faulkner do? He laughs at it. He says, `Obviously, you weren't serious about it in the first place.' If Mr Williams made a mistake in tactical terms, it was that he was prepared to make so many compromises before the bill came in. He listened to the committee and, where possible, consistent with an effective scheme, he was prepared to compromise.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator HILL —And so, Senator Carr, it was the compromises that were brought to this place. We, in our naivety, believed that Labor would pick that up, recognise the efforts that the government and Mr Williams, in particular, have made to meet the requirements of the parliament and respect that effort, Senator Brown. Instead, all you did was laugh at Mr Williams for what you perceive as weakness. The government today made the extra effort in two areas where the Labor Party had made demands. The first was to put a sunset clause in, so that the legislation would come to a close. That is the strongest safeguard of all, I would have thought. When we did that and when we made the compromise in relation to judges, to suit the Labor Party—in an effort to get this legislation through, because we believe this legislation is important in the interests of the safety of the Australian people—what did the Labor Party do? They just laughed at it. They dismissed it. They said: `Unless we, the Labor Party, get 100 per cent, every matter that we have raised'—in other words, unless it is the Labor Party's scheme—`we will vote it down, and damn the Australian people and damn the safety of Australian kids. We do not care, because the interests of the Australian Labor Party are paramount.'

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator Conroy —This is a cheap stunt to put Australians' lives at risk.

Senator HILL —Then vote for a reasonable and moderate scheme. Stop playing politics. Vote for a reasonable and moderate scheme. It is not too late.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator HILL —I heard Senator Carr. What did he say in relation to the two compromises that Mr Williams made today? What did he scream out across the chamber? He said, `He capitulated.' This legislation is not about capitulating; this legislation is about getting a scheme that is fair and effective, and that is all we ask of this parliament.

The last point I want to make is that, if we were to accept Senator Faulkner's demand that we sign onto the Labor scheme, when we believe that it would be ineffective, it would be to lull the Australian people into a false sense of security. We will not do that. We have compromised as far as we are able to go. We have demonstrated good faith throughout this debate. We have put in a scheme that is full of safeguards, yet which we believe can be effective. We urge the Australian Labor Party, for once, to put its internal divisions to one side and take a decision in the interests of the nation as a whole, and support this legislation.