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Tuesday, 4 November 2003
Page: 21909

Mr DUTTON (2:04 PM) —My question is addressed to the Attorney-General. Would the Attorney-General inform the House of any obstacles to the listing of terrorist organisations which pose a threat to the Australian people? What action will the government take to overcome such obstacles in order to protect the Australian community?

Mr RUDDOCK (Attorney-General) —I thank the honourable member for Dickson for his question. This matter, of course, was raised yesterday. Currently, an organisation cannot be listed for terrorist purposes unless it has been expressly identified in or pursuant to a decision of the United Nations Security Council.

The SPEAKER —Order! The Attorney-General has the call.

The SPEAKER —The Attorney-General will resume his seat. Standing order 55 makes it perfectly clear that interjections are out of order. I had already drawn the attention of the House and the Leader of the Opposition to the fact that the Attorney-General had the call. The Attorney-General will be heard.

Mr RUDDOCK —The requirement to wait for a Security Council listing, of course, prevents Australia from acting independently to list a terrorist organisation, even though it might be in our national interest. The requirement is a result of changes to counter-terrorism legislation originally proposed as a result of amendments that were insisted upon by the opposition. There is currently a bill before the Senate—the Criminal Code Amendment (Terrorist Organisations) Bill 2003—which is seeking to remove the requirement, but we have indications that the opposition will not support that measure unless there are further changes made to it.

The fact is that the government has previously introduced legislation to allow specifically the listing, on a one-off basis, of particular organisations where they have not been identified as a terrorist organisation by the United Nations. We think the government of the day ought to be able to act quickly, effectively and decisively when there is a need to protect the Australian community.

Let me make it very clear, in relation to this issue, that any proposal that involves the introduction of legislation to specifically identify terrorist organisations is a second-best option because it is not timely. The fact is that you can, by passing the legislation that is in the Senate, ensure that the decision can be made in a timely way, in an effective way, and still be subject to parliamentary scrutiny by way of disallowance. But that is not a course that the opposition wants to follow. Now, it is obvious that, when the government have received information that these issues have to be addressed, there is only one option available to us if we are going to deal with it. But it is the second-best option—I make that point again.

The government has received advice that a Pakistani organisation, Lashkar-e-Taiba, also known as LET, has links with Australia, and therefore does pose a threat to Australia and Australian interests, and is known to have conducted a series of terrorist attacks resulting in dozens of deaths in the subcontinent. There have also been concerns expressed about the military arm of Hamas, and many members would be aware of the recent terrorist activities, which include shootings and bombings. While there have been no direct linkages with Australia and Hamas, it is a matter of prudence or—in terms that I have used before—`more abundant caution' to take action in relation to this organisation as well.

As a result of this, the government will be moving to amend the terrorist organisations listing provisions in part 5.3 of the Criminal Code Act. The purpose of the bill will be to create a basis for identification and listing of Hamas and Lashkar-e-Taiba as terrorist organisations under the Australian law if a minister is satisfied that either or both of those organisations are engaged in terrorist organisations. The government will move promptly to deal with this matter. I will give notice today of an intention to bring that legislation into the House tomorrow and we will seek passage through all stages. But let me just make it clear that that is dependent always upon the parliament sitting at a relevant time when notification needs to be taken of an organisation, and of course it is also pertinent that you need to have the Senate sitting at the same time if you are going to deal with it quickly—and the fact is the Senate is not sitting.

The SPEAKER —The member for Melbourne Ports!

Mr RUDDOCK —In order to obtain quick, prompt and timely action in relation to this matter—

Mrs Crosio —What have you been doing on that side of the House for seven years?

Mr RUDDOCK —In order to be able to deal with this matter in a timely fashion, there are a number of issues that have to be dealt with. We need to obtain agreement of a majority of states and territories—at least four—quickly and effectively. In other words, we need to know they are not going to stand in our way in relation to that. Not only do we need to ensure prompt passage through this chamber, which we can secure, but we need to ensure that in another place it comes together quickly and in another place the practices whereby minority parties can have matters referred off to parliamentary committees that might take an interminable amount of time to deal with are abrogated—

The SPEAKER —The member for Melbourne Ports is in an invidious position.

Mr RUDDOCK —They are the sorts of issues that it will be seen potentially can significantly delay the identification of a terrorist body on which we have that advice. So I want to make it very clear that, although we see this as the second-best option, there is the potential for the way in which this is addressed to make it abundantly clear the sorts of difficulties that any government experiences in trying to list organisations of concern such as Hamas and Lashkar-e-Taiba.