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Tuesday, 4 November 2003
Page: 21927

Mr RUDDOCK (Attorney-General) (3:50 PM) —Let me first say that, in relation to the comments of the shadow Attorney-General, I welcome his observation that there should be rational analysis of this issue, and I hope that will extend to the totality of them. He started his speech with a reference to substantial failings in Australia's security arrangements in relation to the way in which Mr Willie Brigitte entered Australia and remained in Australia for a period of time. I will give a rational answer and demonstrate it in the context of what he himself said. There are, of course, questions of degree as to what it is reasonable to expect other countries will supply to us in terms of information and what information we are prepared to supply to other countries about our nationals. Whatever arrangements you put in place, there needs to be a high degree of reciprocity.

The first point I make on the substantial question in relation to Mr Brigitte is that Australian agencies were not aware until late September that he was a security concern. If we had known earlier, he would have been included on our migrant alert list. That is abundantly clear. The French authorities advised us as soon as they had established that he may have entered Australia, and we have no reason to dispute the advice they gave us. We do not know precisely what the French authorities knew about Brigitte in May as opposed to in September. We do not know that. That is their information and it is privy to their security authorities. I have seen some reports. I have seen a lot of exaggerated comments—I think they were from the member for Barton—drawn from newspaper reports. But, on the advice given to me, I cannot say with any authority that those assertions are correct. I do know that our authorities do not know precisely what the French authorities knew about Brigitte in May as opposed to in September.

However, we do know that, but for the French advice in late September and early October, it is unlikely that we would have been aware of Brigitte's presence in Australia at all. That advice, and the subsequent cooperation by the French, has been central to our investigations and the prevention of whatever Brigitte may have been planning. Because of that, I believe the claims by the opposition of a massive failure in communication between French and Australian authorities are nothing more than grandstanding, on their part, to try and make themselves relevant in a debate in which they have been part of the problem, not part of the solution. The impression of our officials is that the French were finding out more about Brigitte as their investigation went along. Their initial advice on 22 September did not express any urgency or particular concern. It was treated by our authorities as routine and, in the context of other demands on ASIO—their investigations into JI and related matters—it was not given a high priority. In fact, the French advice was that there was no urgency associated with that matter.

The subsequent advice that we received on 7 October changed all that. Brigitte was located and taken into immigration detention within two days. That is the situation. If you look at the comments made by the head of ASIO, Mr Richardson—and reference was made to his appearance before the Senate estimates committee yesterday—I think his most important comment was:

Our own impression is that the French were themselves finding out more about Brigitte as the investigation went along. So, from where I sit, the French have been nothing less than cooperative, and I see no reason to bag them ...

I think the implication of that is quite clear: cooperation is something you earn through your relationship, and you certainly do not get it if you bag them in relation to it. I think the comments from a number of opposition spokesmen, suggesting, as the shadow Attorney said, that Brigitte `breezed' into our embassy in Paris, demonstrate a significantly flawed understanding of the system under which people from certain countries in the world are able to get visas to Australia. The countries from which the greatest number of visitors to Australia come are those in which the system of electronic travel authority applies—where people go to a travel agent and the information is advised to us. The information is run through our alert systems to establish whether or not those people have been advised to us as being of concern.

Those systems have been comprehensively reviewed over time. David Sadlier, a former head of our external security agency, reviewed the arrangements for the MAL and, particularly, the arrangements for the development of a name-matching capacity to ensure that we are better equipped to identify people who may have minor variations in their names and to ensure that people of concern are drawn to our notice. That database has in the order of 160,000 names on it.

Mr Rudd —How many?

Mr RUDDOCK —I believe it is in the order of 160,000. It certainly contains a very substantial number who are of security concern. In relation to these matters, if Australia were aware that some of its nationals who may be of concern to our security agencies were likely to leave Australia, we would have to include them on a separate database; I think the database is known as PACE. That gives us the capacity to identify children that are being abducted and others that might be leaving. It puts us in the particular position of being able to establish whether or not we want to warn other countries about the fact that one of our nationals might be travelling abroad.

We know of no similar system in France that would work in the same way as PACE does—in other words, we know of no system that would enable the French to identify people who were leaving and to then inform other governments. If you are looking at these matters in terms of the question of degree, just think about this further. In relation to Europe, nationals of one European country can travel, under the Schengen agreement, to any other European country. After having left by road—where there is no supervision—they can then simply board an aircraft and go to where they are properly authorised to travel. So any idea that the French have in place a system that would enable them to deal with this matter in the same way as we could demonstrates, I think, an unfortunate lack of knowledge of the systems that operate here and in France.

On any rational analysis of the issue, I think we have been extraordinarily well served by our intelligence authorities, who were able to work with their overseas counterparts to obtain information that enabled them to act promptly in this matter. At a point in time when we were still able to undertake comprehensive investigations—and those are of an ongoing nature—they were able to ensure that that could occur.

I do not want to in any way diminish the seriousness of this issue. It is certainly the case that, on advice to us from the French authorities, there are very serious questions that need to be looked at. There are a number of outstanding questions that need to be answered and those matters are proceeding right now.

The next issue that has been raised in relation to this discussion is the question of the adequacy of the powers we have. Let me make it abundantly clear: I am not asserting and have not asserted at any stage in relation to this legislation that each and every potential defect that we are identifying now was the responsibility of the opposition. What I have said is that there are particular issues that we believe should have been addressed at that time and where there has been a lack of cooperation. And, in relation to other matters, we have identified shortcomings that we believe should be addressed.

I read into the Hansard yesterday something of the test that has to be established for a minister to be satisfied that an agency wanting a questioning warrant should be able to go before a competent authority for that warrant to be issued. The test is that there have to be reasonable grounds for believing that the issuing of the warrant will substantially assist in the collection of intelligence that is important in relation to a terrorism offence and that relying on other methods of collecting that intelligence would be ineffective.

The Director-General of ASIO made it clear again yesterday, in answer to questions in the Senate estimates, that the power to issue a warrant is significantly circumscribed by the words that have been used in the enactment. He went on to say—and I notice some people seem to be questioning this; Mr Williams who writes on these matters questions it—that it was a moot point whether or not we would have been able to get a questioning warrant in relation to Brigitte and that ASIO did not seek a questioning warrant in relation to him because they were of the view, firstly, that there were question marks over whether or not the evidence they had would withstand the scrutiny that is required for the issue of a warrant. They also came to a view separately that the French were in a better position, given the amount of information available to them, to be able to obtain—under the wider powers that they have—an outcome. They are in a position to test the claims that might be made, or the answers that are given to questions, against the information that they have. That is, of course, the reason that he was removed from Australia and the reason that this approach was taken.

I will conclude my comments by considering the question of the adequacy of the powers to be able to identify potential terrorist organisations that ought to be proscribed here in Australia. Our view is that the approach for obtaining proscription is seriously flawed at the moment. We think that urgently having to bring before the parliament legislation to proscribe two organisations—or to lead to the proscription, potentially, of two organisations—is not timely or efficient or the most appropriate way to go about that process. We believe that the executive government, with evidence, ought to be able to regulate to bring about that proscription and that we ought to be able to do so without having to go before any judicial authority—some further authority—to obtain that outcome, with the consequent delays that that could bring. We think that the legislative route inherently has significant difficulties associated with it, as will be demonstrated when it becomes apparent that, if legislation passes all stages here tomorrow and goes to the Senate, we will have a three-week wait until the Senate is available to consider that matter. It may well be that the Senate will come back, but if there were not to be cooperation in relation to that it is highly unlikely that we could get this in in under three weeks.

The model we have in mind is the model that was used in relation to Hezbollah. I know the opposition has already seen the legislation, because it was provided to state premiers yesterday or today by the Prime Minister. So the model that we are using is a model that will secure a similar outcome to the one that occurred in relation to Hezbollah. (Time expired)