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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 8158

Senator ROBERT RAY (9:47 AM) —Senator Ian Campbell read into the record what are basically the views of the Attorney-General's office in regard to these matters. He did not actually address the specific clauses or issues under discussion here. He talked in generalities, as did Senator Hill. Rather than getting an analysis of where the differences lie and where the solutions may lie, we simply got polemics. Senator Campbell used my argument to say that the government had in fact adopted changes. You would have to be silly to say that the bill in its current form, whether it is adopted or rejected, has not changed since the original bill. My point was that the government argued for that original bill, with all its faults, with the same passion that they have argued with tonight—except that, on the way through, they have dumped 10 or 12 of those principles with no passion at all.

Those principles do not exist any more. There is no guilt for coming up with such cryptofacist nonsense as appeared in the first bill. That is just a blank in history. That is just thrown overboard. What of your proposal to strip-search 10-year-old girls? `Oh, that doesn't exist anymore. We'll move the argument on.' The same passion with which they defend some of the more extreme measures in this bill will equally be dropped off at some stage in the future. The fact is that this government has shown that what is an immutable principle one moment can be jettisoned the next. It is true to say that commitment to civil liberties is not the preserve of any one person or any side in this chamber; it is shared across the chamber. There is no question about that. There might be differences of opinion as to how civil liberties apply and when they should be suspended in specific circumstances, but there is a commitment to civil liberties generally across this chamber. That has to be conceded.

But the Liberal Party will never concede that there is also a shared view of patriotism across this chamber. The Liberal Party seek to position themselves as the only patriots in this chamber. It is a despicable attitude that belittles anyone else in this chamber who is critical or who does not agree with them, as being unpatriotic, as putting the country at risk, as being soft on terrorism. These are the sorts of words of war used by Liberals in trying to establish their way on this particular legislation. It is a despicable tactic. I reject it; I know all my colleagues reject it, and I get infuriated when I hear, time and time again, these people opposite assuming for themselves a patriotism that no-one else can share. It is simply not the fact.

The fact is that I do not believe we have got to the specifics. One indication is Senator Ian Campbell's statement from earlier. He says the ALP has rejected security-cleared lawyers. Why don't you actually read the bill? In certain circumstances, we approve of the use of security-cleared lawyers. In an urgent situation, which would prevent a person from using their own lawyer of choice, or if their own lawyer of choice is rejected by ASIO, then the security-cleared lawyers come in. So the statement Senator Campbell made tonight is simply not true. We would prefer a regime where you could have a lawyer of your own choice, but we put two provisos on that. Firstly, if that person is a security risk, they cannot have them. Secondly, we put in a very tight provision to say that, if a lawyer representing one of these people who is detained for a questioning regime in fact discloses that, there are very heavy secrecy penalties that apply. That covers that off. It covers off the original objection of trying to isolate these people so that the message does not get back to any terrorist groups, or any people that might have knowledge of such, that they are under suspicion.

Senator Ian Campbell says—and so does Senator Hill—that, by not agreeing with the government, in some way we strange individuals, we isolates on this side, are putting the community at risk. This is a massive criticism of President George W. Bush, Prime Minister Chrétien, Prime Minister Clark and Prime Minister Blair. Guess what? I have named the four like-minded countries with which we share a very common democratic heritage and a security relationship in the intelligence field that goes back to the end of the Second World War. The club has been in existence and has operated profitably to all our advantage for the past 57 years. Not one of these other four countries has adopted a regime identical to this. There are some similarities, yes. But with regard to the more extreme parts of the bill in terms of being able to detain people—if it went through in its original, unmodified form according to the government's wish—none of these other four countries have adopted legislation so draconian.

Are we missing something here? Has Mr Blair suddenly gone soft on terrorism? Has President Bush gone soft on terrorism? Has Prime Minister Chrétien in Canada suddenly gone soft on terrorism? I think not. They look for alternative ways of dealing with it. President Bush has brought in legislation that deals with aliens, those who are not US citizens. Even that is not as tough as parts of this particular regime. So we have a situation where we are accused of being unpatriotic, of being soft on terrorism, of not backing up the government in times of crisis, but where none of these four other comparable countries has gone as far as this particular government has. You have to ask yourself why. The answer to why they have not is that each of these countries has sought a balance between combating terrorism and maintaining a fundamental dedication to civil liberties in their own country—something that those opposite seem willing to sacrifice at the drop of a hat.

The government claims that it has moved on two issues. Exactly six hours ago these two issues, again, were immutable principles. We were told that the sunset clause was absolutely abhorrent to this type of legislation. Now, at 9 o'clock, Senator Ian Campbell comes and tells us, `Yes, well, we didn't really mean that. You can have a sunset clause.' Oh, really? What has changed in that six hours?

But even more amazing is the government's change of attitude in one of the silliest arguments we have ever had, and that is, over who constitutes a prescribed authority. I do not think it is any secret that we indicated that, if we thought for a moment that the notion of a prescribed authority was in danger constitutionally of voiding the bill, we would jettison it. We said that, and people in this chamber know that we have said it. Yet in fact this is where the government have moved in our direction and said, `Well, after all, maybe the Labor Party proposition is not so bad.' They have read our legal opinion from Gavin Griffith QC and they know others exist. They argued then that they had a counter-opinion from Mr Orr QC. Where is it? We are still waiting. By all means let us have a letter from the Attorney-General purporting to say what Mr Orr said, but where is the legal opinion so we can clear this up once and for all?

Senator Ian Campbell —You don't need to now.

Senator ROBERT RAY —Oh, we don't need to now! Then in that case you can come in here, Senator Campbell, and table that before we finish this debate—if it exists. Does it exist? Does Mr Orr's opinion exist as a legal opinion signed off by him? I would like to see it because so far we have seen absolutely nothing. Of what was true six hours ago for the government—of what was an entrenched principle, like some of these other matters that they say are entrenched principles—they now say: `Oh, no, it didn't really matter. We can certainly cede ground on those particular points.' Then they come in and say, `The Labor Party are totally divided on this issue.' I have attended all the caucus committees and meetings and most of the discussions on this and I have not in fact found much or any dissent on these particular issues.

We do know that every time there is a parliamentary committee inquiry into these things some government members on some issues have taken a different position to the government. If you are talking about disunity and those sorts of things, look to your own ranks—not that, of course, anyone on your side participated in the debate in the committee stage. This place saw only two Liberals or two coalition members present for the entire committee stage: the whip, who had to be here, and the minister, who is not here at the moment. He is off on other duties. They were the only two to front, the only two to engage in argument—and then not particularly any specific argument. On offer here today are two possibilities apparently: the government adopting the modified bill— something they have rejected—or no bill at all. Why don't they go back and ask ASIO what they want? Go back and consult with ASIO to see whether the bill as amended would give them sufficient powers to carry things out. The reason they will not is that politics will always prevail here.

The Prime Minister has just given a press conference in which he said that any terrorist incident from now on will be on the heads of the Labor Party because we have not passed their legislation. We have never ever tried to say that any acts of terrorism that have occurred or that are likely to occur in Australia are the responsibility of Australian governments. We know it is a far more sophisticated argument than that. We know how difficult it is to track down intelligence on terrorist matters. We know that the government are reconfiguring the apparatus of the intelligence community to concentrate in these areas. We support them in that. We support them in their endeavours to expand both Sigint and its human resources so that they can attempt to detect future terrorist acts.

For the record, there are no guarantees that you can anticipate and abort any future terrorist activity either in this country or in the region. There are no guarantees because for every action there is a reaction; every terrorist group that understands what array of powers will be put against them will adopt policies so they cannot be detected and thwarted. We must understand that. We cannot have an expectation that a government can necessarily prevent a future terrorist act. That is not possible. If the government are going to say of any terrorist act, `Oh, well, that's the Labor Party's fault because they did not give us this piece of legislation,' what errant nonsense that is. It is political positioning at its absolute worst. It is putting the national interest behind political interest, and that does not advance the cause of this nation's fight against terrorism one iota.

It is not as though we are suggesting to those on the other side that the culmination of this is that the bill as now amended is some inept pathetic piece of legislation. It is still stronger than any legislation carried in a comparable country. Have a look at the UK security legislation, with their history of the IRA, and compare that with the Labor Party amended legislation and you will find this is tougher.

There were big asks here. It is not easy to come into the parliament and say, after 101 years of federation, `We want you to give up the right of silence, especially when you are not a suspect'—because, let us face it, most of this legislation will be directed against nonsuspects rather than suspects. There is a whole range of legislation that can be brought in to deal with potential suspects and terrorists. This legislation will concentrate mostly on nonsuspects who have relevant information which, if they are forced to divulge it, will protect Australian lives.

You can go to the legislation of Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US and you will not find a more stringent set of requirements than those that appear in this legislation. The reasons why the government will not come to accommodate our position on this are purely political, purely exploitative and purely a matter of positioning. There is no question that up until about 10 days ago negotiations were under way. Then the old orders come out of YAG central around the corner—the Prime Minister's office—and what do we get? The end of negotiations; the positioning; the backgrounding of the Age newspaper for that article that says, `This is nitpicking. We will go no further.' In fact, we have come to the party and we have offered reasonable, well argued and well thought through amendments. For political reasons, this government has decided to reject those and has decided to create an atmosphere such that if anything goes wrong, at any time, in the intelligence community or with terrorism, it will be the Labor Party's fault. What a despicable attitude!