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Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Page: 4453

Senator JOHNSTON (3:04 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Defence (Senator Faulkner) and the Minister for Climate Change and Water (Senator Wong) to questions without notice asked by senators today.

Recent events have indicated that there is no higher responsibility upon the government of the day than national security. Sadly, this government has disclosed a clear attitude and policy direction that is very soft on border protection. It has also disclosed a preponderance of softness on illegal immigration. What we have seen with respect to defence bases indicates that the government is also very soft on security at ADF bases around Australia.

The minister answered my question by highlighting that safe base threat levels went from Bravo to Charlie with respect to the matters arising in Melbourne, giving rise to the arrest and charging of several men related to alleged terrorist activities. What does moving from Bravo to Charlie actually mean? It simply means that the personnel at the gate of bases, particularly TAG/East, which is Holsworthy, began to conduct random vehicle checks and some random identity checks. I have to say that that causes me some considerable concern and I believe it causes all Australians some considerable concern. It follows that we are more than concerned—that is, we are very, very alarmed—that two journalists, following the publication of this material, simply wandered into Holsworthy and began, I think, to take photographs. It causes me some considerable alarm, that, notwithstanding the media publication of what was going on, we still did not respond to tighten up security.

The most important thing is when I and other members of parliament in the opposition receive emails and correspondence from soldiers saying that security at bases is substandard and that they are concerned. That is very, very important. Everybody now knows that security at Australian Defence Force bases is of concern. It is substandard. It is not adequate. Everybody except the Minister for Defence knows that.

Senator Jacinta Collins —That is absolute rubbish! You are such a hypocrite.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Collins!

Senator Jacinta Collins —It is outrageous.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! You will get your chance later.

Senator JOHNSTON —Holsworthy is not just any base; it is the home of TAG/East, the SAS equivalent on the east coast of our counterterrorist assault troops. If we cannot provide adequate security for that base, where are we? We are at a level of great concern with respect to what is happening here. This base contains a childcare centre. This entire story indicates a grievous problem with respect to understanding what is required to provide adequate security for military bases. I seriously hope the minister will engage in the debate regarding security at bases and will release the review being conducted.

Can I also say how concerned I am that al-Shabaab has not been put on the list of terrorist groups. Why the government has not proscribed this group absolutely worries me greatly. There must be some explanation for that. This group clearly is a problem. The United States says it has distinct links to al-Qaeda. The group was recently involved in kidnapping two French intelligence officers in Somalia. Why this group, having clear links and a nexus to these persons and the evidence giving rise to these arrests in Melbourne, has not been proscribed is an unanswered question that must cause everybody concern. What is going on? We have seen cutbacks in Customs, we have seen cutbacks in Australian Federal Police counterterrorism and we have seen a movement away from strict immigration policies. This government says the right things but does nothing. (Time expired)