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Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Page: 4441

Senator TROOD (2:13 PM) —My question is also to Senator Wong, but it is in her capacity as the minister representing the Attorney-General. Does the minister agree that the deaths of three Australian citizens in the recent bombings in Jakarta, and last week’s arrests in Melbourne, are painful and alarming reminders that terrorism remains a central threat to Australia’s national interests? Does the minister also agree that completion of the government’s long-promised counterterrorism white paper is urgent and a critical component of our national security architecture?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —The good senator references a range of issues, including the counterterrorism arrests in Melbourne and also the tragic events that all Australians are too painfully aware of in Indonesia in recent times. In relation to the white paper issue, as the senator would be aware, the Prime Minister announced that a counterterrorism white paper would be developed in 2009. My recollection is that that indication was as part of the national security statement that the Prime Minister delivered. I am advised that the Prime Minister will release this white paper this year. All relevant agencies across government are working together and with the states and territories to complete this white paper in a detailed, thorough and methodical manner.

Obviously—and I am sure all in this chamber would agree—counterterrorism remains a critical government priority; the security of Australia and Australians remains a critical priority; and, as recent events in Jakarta as well as in Victoria have reminded all Australians, terrorism continues to pose a serious threat, unfortunately and regrettably, to Australians at home and abroad. The government is keenly aware of this, and the white paper will consider and respond to this threat and articulate the government’s ongoing commitment to counter those who unfortunately continue to seek to engage in terrorism.

Senator TROOD —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. In light of those remarks, Minister, I wonder whether you could tell the Senate: are you aware of an article that appeared in the Australian Financial Review on 7 August last that cited intelligence sources to the effect that the ‘writing of the counterterrorism paper’ had ‘barely begun’? Is this an accurate reflection of the situation and does it reflect the fact that Australian authorities believed the threat posed by Jemaah Islamiah was in retreat before the last Jakarta attacks?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —As the senator knows, certainly in relation to any questions which may go to intelligence matters, those are not matters which any minister would be putting in response to a question in this chamber. I have provided an answer to the senator in relation to the white paper.

Senator McGauran interjecting—

Senator WONG —I have provided an answer to the senator in relation to the preparation of the white paper. I do not recall seeing the article to which he referred. If there is anything further to add in relation to my answer I will seek advice on that issue, but, if there is any implication, as there appears to be, that counterterrorism is not an issue that the government takes seriously, I would invite the senator to reconsider the proposition being put.

Senator TROOD —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I press the matter, Minister, and I ask: will you now admit that little, if any, progress has now been made on the white paper? Will the minister also admit that this long and dangerous delay is another reflection of the Rudd government’s hopelessly confused foreign policy priorities and a reflection of its abject contempt for protecting Australia’s national interests?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —That is really quite an offensive set of imputations, Senator Trood, and, if I may say, generally beneath the standard of the way in which you would usually approach these matters. There is no-one in this chamber on any side who diminishes or minimises in any way the importance of ensuring the security of Australians, of doing everything we can in government or in parliament to ensure the security of Australians. Frankly, the implications to the contrary are not only unfair but inappropriate in these circumstances. I have responded on the white paper issue, obviously. As I said, it is a critical and key priority of government to safeguard the security of Australia and of Australians. That is absolutely something this government is committed to, and I would suggest there would be no senator in this chamber who would not regard this as a key priority.