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Thursday, 27 March 2003
Page: 13762


Mr WILLIAMS (Attorney-General) (10:34 AM) —I would like to thank honourable members for their contributions to the debate. The member for Banks outlined the opposition's position on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Bill 2002 [No.2]. I do not propose to go into each of his points in detail. The government's position on this bill is well known. However, the member for Banks continues to insist that the opposition's bill would have delivered something of substance to the Australian community. As the government has made clear time and time again, the opposition's proposed amendments that the government rejected last year would have rendered the bill impotent and unworkable. The government's position on this bill has been clear and consistent. While the opposition is happy to pretend to the community that a bill robbed of its workability and impact by its amendments would have delivered to them the protection they need, the government will not engage in such deception.

In all his rhetoric, what the member for Banks made clear is that the opposition still does not understand the basic premise of the bill. This bill is about intelligence gathering. Its objective is to gather intelligence to prevent and deter terrorist attacks, not to punish those guilty of a criminal offence. The member for Banks suggested that the government are not interested in community safety. I wholeheartedly reject this preposterous suggestion; nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that the government have proven our commitment to making this nation more secure. We introduced this bill and we have continued to press for its passage despite continued resistance and obstruction by the opposition. We have come a long way and made significant compromises to secure the passage of the bill, and we are committed to continuing to seek progress for its passage. The opposition has today indicated that it will continue to obstruct passage of this bill. At the end of the day, it is only the opposition's commitment that can be called into question.

The bill was originally introduced into parliament in March 2002. Its history goes back even further than that. The proposal for legislation to enable ASIO to detain persons to obtain intelligence relevant to terrorism was first announced by the government prior to the federal election in 2001. There has been extensive public debate, a comprehensive inquiry and three parliamentary committee reports on this bill. We cannot afford to delay passage of the bill any longer. It is important that we armour our agencies with strong tools to help prevent and deter terrorism. It is clear that Australia is not immune to the threat of terrorism. The world shaking and tragic events of 11 September claimed close to 3,000 lives, including a number of Australians. The more recent atrocity in Bali, in which 88 Australians tragically lost their lives, brought terrorism to our very doorstep and proved to Australians that geography does not protect us from terror.

The security environment has changed forever and the spectre of terrorism is omnipresent. The Howard government are committed to doing everything we can to protect Australians from this threat. The purpose of this bill is to arm ASIO with the tools it needs to gather important intelligence in relation to terrorism and, wherever possible, to prevent potential perpetrators from carrying out their terrorist crimes. Such information may be vital: it could deter or prevent terrorist acts in the planning stages; it could result in the capture of the perpetrators of previous atrocities; or, it could serve to warn Australians against visiting the site of a likely terrorist attack.

Senior members of the opposition have publicly supported the need for the bill, including opposition members on the Parliamentary Joint Committee on ASIO, ASIS and DSD. It is unfortunate, therefore, that the opposition continues to hold up this vital piece of legislation. Australia's need for optimum counterterrorism capabilities has never been greater. In order to prevent potential perpetrators of terrorism offences from carrying out their crimes, we must enhance the powers of ASIO to gather relevant intelligence in relation to terrorism offences. Our profile as a terrorist target has risen and we remain on a heightened security alert. We need to be well placed to respond to this new security environment in terms of our operational capabilities, infrastructure and legislative framework. The Howard government takes very seriously its responsibility to do everything it can to protect Australians and Australian interests against the threat of terrorism. Unlike the opposition, the government has shown that it is committed to protecting Australia's national security and punishing those who threaten Australia's interests. It must be remembered that warrants issued under the bill will be tools of last resort. It is anticipated they will be used rarely and only in extreme circumstances.

To protect our fundamental rights and liberties, we must protect the community from terrorism. However, the government is mindful that we must not erode civil rights in the name of security. The opposition conveniently ignores these significant safeguards in the bill. We have worked hard to develop safeguards to ensure that ASIO's powers are exercised reasonably and individual rights are protected. The extensive safeguards in the bill are designed to ensure that the right balance is maintained. The balance that has been achieved in the bill is the right one. In developing this legislation and the rest of the government's counterterrorism legislative response, the government has shown its resolve to put in place measures to address the challenges we face, both domestically and internationally, while at the same time being committed to the protection and preservation of human rights. We reject suggestions that in doing so we have somehow traded security and human rights. The counterterrorist legislation is needed to protect human rights. The victims of September 11 had rights, too—such as, the rights to life, physical security, freedom of association and freedom of religion. These rights were not respected by the terrorists and are as deserving of protection as any other right.

When the bill is enacted, we will have the appropriate laws to protect the community from terrorism and to ensure that the rights of individuals are not necessarily impeded. It is vital that Australia does not forget the catastrophic results of terrorism. We must not become dangerously complacent. The bill delivers on the Howard government's commitment to ensure we are in the best possible position to protect Australians against the evils of terrorism. I commend the bill to the House.

Question put:

That this bill be now read a second time.