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Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Page: 4455

Senator TROOD (3:15 PM) —There is one point in his contribution to this debate on which Senator Bishop and I might agree, and that is that the highest responsibility of government is protecting its citizens from danger and from threat. That is the responsibility of government. In the area of national security, the manifest threat, Senator Bishop, has for a long while been—and remains so, as we have seen from recent events—that of international terrorism. In your contribution to this debate today, you barely could mention the word. Senator Wong, the Minister representing the Attorney-General, came into the chamber this afternoon for question time and she clearly was not prepared for the questions which were likely to be raised with regard to counterterrorism. She struggled to answer the questions that were put to her from this side of the chamber. She had absolutely no idea about the issues that needed to be addressed.

What a contrast with the way in which the former government addressed this problem. There was a comprehensive counterterrorism policy for almost the whole period that the Howard government was in office. There was increased expenditure on counterterrorism activities. In 2004 the government released a counterterrorism statement to make its position clear. There was active work with our neighbours through bilateral engagement on counterterrorism activities, including a very successful program of building the capability of the Filipinos and the Indonesians to deal with this need. We worked with our neighbours diligently and conscientiously on this problem. Of course, as Senator Brandis mentioned in his question to the minister today, there was a comprehensive revision of the antiterrorism laws in this country so that in the domestic arena we were prepared to deal with the challenge which now confronts us. We were dedicated to what might be called a clear and present threat.

What a change occurred on 24 November 2007. That date is significant because that is the date on which the Rudd government won office. From that date there was a fundamental change in the government’s attitude towards the danger of terrorism. It essentially became an issue of almost no importance to this government. There was a conscious movement of priorities. Mr Rudd, who sets the agenda on foreign policy, national security and just about everything else that the government does in this arena, decided that the priorities were elsewhere. He decided that the government ought not to be focusing on the issues that threatened the lives of Australia’s citizens—as, sadly, we recently witnessed in Jakarta. He decided that our foreign policy agenda should focus on pretty well everything else. He decided we should focus on gaining a seat on the United Nations Security Council. We ought to focus on an Asia-Pacific community. We ought to put forward $9 million for an international commission on disarmament and arms control. We ought to focus on rejigging the international financial framework through the G20. Apparently the government’s real focus ought to be on spending $13 million on opening a new embassy in Rome for the Holy See. That is where this government’s priorities have been. They have been nowhere near what is widely recognised as the main threat that faces this country and its citizens—the threat of global terrorism.

Senator Bishop mentioned the white paper. What a good idea that was. In 200 pages, there was half a page devoted to the issue of terrorism and no funding and no commitment to deal with it. Now, as a result of these recent events, we arrive at a situation where the government has been caught short. It has failed to deal with this issue. (Time expired)