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Tuesday, 14 October 2003
Page: 21322

Mr PRICE (4:18 PM) —What an interesting defence by the Attorney-General. In relation to the accusation that the Minister for Foreign Affairs or his staff may have leaked an intelligence document, the Attorney-General offers zero rebuttal—zero evidence. But then why should we be surprised? This is the Attorney-General who says, `I don't know when $100,000 is banked into my election campaign fund.' Mr Deputy Speaker Causley, I may have differences with you, but I am under no doubt that, should $100,000 be banked in your re-election fund, you would know about it. In fact, I think the honourable member for Kalgoorlie would know about it. I even think the honourable member for Flinders would know if $100,000 in one cheque were banked into his account. This is a very important issue. I want to quote a very interesting article from the New Republic called `The first casualty'.

Mr Sawford —Are you a subscriber?

Mr PRICE —I am not a subscriber. With foreign affairs, defence and national security, democracy requires openness; it requires transparency. But about these matters we cannot always be open and transparent—it is the nature of the beast. Therefore we need to be able to trust people: the Attorney-General, who does not know about $100,000; the Minister for Defence, whoever it is in this term of this Howard government; and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. What did the article say? It said:

As the Tower Commission, established to investigate the Iran-Contra scandal, warned in November 1987, “The democratic processes ... are subverted when intelligence is manipulated to affect decisions by elected officials and the public.”

If anything, this principle has grown even more important since September 11, 2001. The Iraq war presented the United States with a new defense paradigm: preemptive war, waged in response to a prediction of a forthcoming attack against the United States or its allies. This kind of security policy requires the public to base its support or opposition on expert intelligence to which it has no direct access. It is up to the president and his administration—

it is up to the Prime Minister and his Minister for Foreign Affairs in this government, I interpolate—

with a deep interest in a given policy outcome—nonetheless to portray the intelligence community's findings honestly. If an administration represents the intelligence unfairly, it effectively forecloses an informed choice about the most important question a nation faces: whether or not to go to war.

What is this Wilkie affair all about? In a celebrated interview on the ABC, Andrew Wilkie announced his resignation. This is a former officer—a lieutenant colonel who trained at Duntroon—who was hired as a senior strategic analyst in the Office of National Assessments. He resigned. He was asked, `Why did you resign?' He said:

Kerry, war must obviously be justified and it must obviously be the option of last resort.

I'm not satisfied that in this case it is either justified or it's been viewed as the option of last resort.

Whatever you think about the man, he has made a principled step. He has resigned; his career is over in that organisation. But he felt impelled to resign. Furthermore, he said that he didn't see that there is any link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Precisely. He was asked whether he saw any intelligence that would allow him to justify that opinion, and he answered: `Yes.' Here is a former military man, employed as a senior person in an intelligence organisation, who I think took the correct step of resigning because he fundamentally disagreed.

What does this government do in retaliation? After all, the Prime Minister said that it is fair to retaliate; he said that in this House on two occasions. Do not attack his opinions, do not attack the basis on which he made his decision, but go for the man in the most personal way! How did the government do that? Lo and behold, here is the article by Andrew Bolt, `Spook misspoke: How a whistleblower from the Australian intelligence community got it so wrong in his report on the alleged hazards of war with Iraq'. It goes on to quote items out of the report.

You can only be left with two conclusions: he was either fed the total report, which is a criminal act in this country, or, equally, he was fed excerpts from that report, which is also a criminal offence. There can be no doubt about that. What did we hear from the Attorney-General when the suggestion was made that the Minister for Foreign Affairs had on four occasions refused the opportunity to deny that it was himself or his staff? He offered zero words in defence. What an Attorney! God help us if he prosecutes a case in the High Court. On a very serious matter he offers a zero defence.

What also happened? We have a joint intelligence committee; some of our members are on it. A very distinguished member on the other side of this House is the chairman of that committee. That committee interviewed Mr Wilkie. My colleague the shadow minister has already quoted that—and I will say who it was—Sandy Macdonald, a friend of mine, served with him on that committee. Another member who was there is Senator Alan Ferguson, who is also the Chairman of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. I am not standing here for one moment accusing them of having had access to that document; I do not make that accusation. But I do say that it is unusual that they both should be so industrious that they would have five pages of prepared questions, with which they then go and cross-examine Mr Wilkie. I will read one of the responses that make it quite clear that those five pages of questions, no matter who first prepared or assisted in preparing them—there is a big question mark about whether it was Senator Macdonald or Senator Ferguson—came from the very same report. Sandy Macdonald asked:

Did your report also suggest that there would be a mass panic of refugees who had fled his biological weapons, and has that turned out to be correct?

Mr Wilkie said:

You are obviously quoting from the report.

How did they get their hands on the report? As the shadow minister asked at question time, who requested access to this report around the time of this inquiry and the leaking or giving of that report to Andrew Bolt? We have not had an answer to that question. Quite clearly, in terms of retaliation, it is okay for two coalition senators to have five pages of prepared questions and for those questions to have at their core matters that can only be found in the report. To this the Attorney-General offers a zero defence.

This is not some light-hearted matter. It is not a matter of a television set, a chalkboard or some inadvertent oversight like having Coles shares or a trust where your mother has Telstra shares. This goes to the heart of national security. A security report from the Office of National Assessments was put out in the public ether firstly by a journalist and secondly by two senators' questions. And what does the government do? This is in retaliation for what? It is in retaliation for the fact that someone who worked in the intelligence community resigned and went public because he felt the government was doing the wrong thing. This country wants confidence in the foreign minister, confidence in the Prime Minister, confidence in the Attorney-General and confidence in the defence minister—confidence that they will tell the truth and that, in such a sensitive matter, they will not release the organs of state on individual citizens who in the end have done the right thing. (Time expired)