Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 2 December 2003
Page: 23475

Mr CIOBO (5:49 PM) —I have to say, after listening to the Australian Greens speak on the ASIO Legislation Amendment Bill 2003, that there is a sense of nostalgia in the air for a world that once was. I cannot help but share that certain amount of nostalgia for a world in which, we could hope and pray, bona fides would exist on the part of all people—whereby powers such as those held by ASIO would not need to be enhanced to deal with the very real threat that Western democracies face. It seems to me that the Greens still live in a world that denies in large part the potential for another September 11 attack, another Bali bombing or the kinds of attacks that we saw recently in Turkey. Let us be clear about what this bill does. It is a bill to enhance certain powers and to provide clarification with respect to other powers within the framework that has already been provided to ASIO. It is a bill that operates alongside the framework that currently exists for ASIO, a framework—and I would stress this point—that already has adequate safeguards in place for the issuing of warrants.

I am particularly concerned and perturbed that the Greens would say that a bill like this could be misused by a government in the future to `wage a war of terror'—I think those were the words that my colleague used—on political opponents. That is absolute rubbish and scaremongering of the worst type that exists in the chamber. It is scaremongering because adequate safeguards exist within the ASIO framework that ensure that it would not be possible to have a warrant issued against individuals purely and simply because they were political opponents. I know that the Greens know that those safeguards are in place, and for them to attempt to portray these amendments as a way in which the government could use, or rather misuse, these powers—which is what the promulgation put forward by the Greens purports—is, in my view, a disgrace, given what this bill is actually about. I am very pleased that in this current debate the Labor Party has the good sense to recognise the value of a bill such as this. I am pleased that the Labor Party recognises that the safeguards that exist in respect of ASIO's powers are adequate to ensure an appropriate balance between democracy and civil liberties and the need to ensure that, in this new threat environment, we make available to our intelligence agencies the kinds of powers that are required.

I have spoken at length about this, and the overall framework ASIO has to operate under, with my good friend the member for Dickson. I know he has a very real interest in this matter as well. I spoke to him shortly on this bill this morning after I returned from an Emirates function. We discussed at length the fact that there is a new threat environment facing this country. Gone are the days when we had a situation in which the primary concerns of Australians, when it came to risks to their personal safety and national security, were the threats posed by other nation states. The new threat paradigm, as it applies today, is not the threat of nation states but rather a cultural threat that comes from a small group of Islamic extremists who would like to wage jihad against the values that Western democracies hold near and dear.

Principal among those values our greatest strength, I would argue, is liberty. Unfortunately, in this new threat paradigm, liberty is also our greatest vulnerability. Because of the liberties we all, as Australians, enjoy and take for granted there is now opportunity available to individuals, terrorist cells or groups of individuals, who would like to wage jihad on our Western democratic values. They would use our liberties in a way to ensure that they are successful in repeating the kinds of horrific acts we have seen internationally that have been responsible for the murders of thousands of people.

We know that terrorist groups have veins and roots that go into our communities to a far greater extent than we previously believed. We also know that those who commit the acts are not acting in isolation. We have learnt that those who commit the acts, unfortunately and regrettably, often have a large number of people who actively assist and support them in carrying out these heinous crimes.

I am very proud to be part of a government that has operated to ensure we have in place a framework that provides the greatest counter-terrorist utility available to us—that is ASIO—with the kinds of powers they need to safeguard the Australian public as much as possible. The reality is that, in the current environment, it is not good enough simply to have punishments for terrorist acts. It is not good enough because there is little that can be done after an attack of the style of September 11, the Bali bombings or the bombings we have seen in Turkey in recent weeks.

The fact that people might be imprisoned after the event is of little solace to the community. The best defence we have is to ensure that our intelligence agencies have an appropriate level of powers that enable them to penetrate the web of nefarious and evil people who would abuse our liberties to try to provoke terror and have it reign in our communities. To me that is the only real tool Western democracies have against those who would seek to wreak havoc on our community. The ASIO framework, as it has been put in place, which was passed by the parliament in July last year, is an appropriate balance.

I recall sitting in this chamber for some 27 hours on the final sitting day of last year, as this parliament debated, among other things, the ASIO bill. I am not sure if the Greens member, the member for Cunningham, was here for the entirety of the debate; most of the other Independents were not. If he was here, then I would applaud him for at least remaining for the whole debate, unlike most of the Independents who left at about 9 p.m. I have also heard some concerns raised by the Greens in respect of article 26 of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The concern put forward was that this bill is in some way discriminatory and therefore in breach of that article.

You cannot have it both ways. I am intrigued that the argument would be put forward that because this bill stipulates that, where someone has access to an interpreter—that is, the person either does not speak English or refuses to speak English and, as a consequence, an interpreter is brought in—and we make provision to extend the amount of time available for questioning, that is a breach of article 26 because it is viewed as being discriminatory. Yet, under the same framework, the fact that the bill provides for an interpreter, which is a separate mechanism from that applying to someone who does speak English, is not questioned. For consistency, if the Greens were to make the argument that to have any sort of difference at all is discrimination, then surely the Greens would have to adopt the position that to provide an interpreter for those who either cannot, or choose not to, speak English would be discrimination as well. You cannot take only the good and reject, in their argument, the bad, because it is totally inconsistent. What we are doing is reasonable and rational. In the good vein we say that, if someone does not speak English or chooses not to speak English, to help that person we provide an interpreter. In addition to that it goes almost without saying that it is of added benefit to our intelligence agencies that they have someone there who can speak in that person's native tongue. But, likewise, it is also commonsense and reasonable that, where we do provide an interpreter, we make provision for the fact that it will take twice as long to ask a question of that individual.

Mr Organ —What if it takes half the time?

Mr CIOBO —I am uncertain as to how that is possible. Two people speaking in English would be much faster than one person speaking to an interpreter in English, the interpreter putting the question to the subject in their native tongue, the subject replying to the interpreter in their native tongue and the interpreter repeating it in English to the questioner. That to me is pretty clearly going to be an example of why it will take twice as long. Instead of two statements, you have four.

It is not complicated. What we have done in this bill is ensure that we extend the amount of time available for questioning. But that does not automatically mean the amount of time used for questioning will double. It means that our intelligence agencies have the ability, should they require it, to use a greater total amount of time, which is double the current allowable limit of 24 hours, in order to go through the same amount of information and interrogate the person to the same extent as they would if that person spoke English.

That is very reasonable. I am quite certain that the people in my electorate—the sensible people that I speak with—recognise that it is an appropriate safeguard. I quite frankly find it absurd to argue that it is discrimination to allow more time for the questioning of someone who does not speak English. In addition to that, this bill not only provides for an extra period of time when an ASIO warrant has been issued for questioning but also incorporates two new limbs into the ASIO Act. The second limb is to require the subject of an ASIO warrant to surrender their passport or passports and to make them criminally liable if they seek to leave Australia without permission. The third limb is to create a new offence regime relating to the disclosure of information about ASIO warrants or operational information.

As I have already dealt with the questioning regime, I will deal with the issue of passports with respect to the second of these limbs. As a consequence of a review conducted by ASIO it became apparent that, where a particular individual came to the attention of ASIO and where a warrant was issued for the individual, there was a risk that the person may choose to flee. As there are insufficient powers at present to enable ASIO to remove from that person the passport issued in their name—be it an Australian or a foreign passport—it was quickly recognised that ASIO should have these powers to obtain a person's passport to ensure they are no longer a flight risk. It means we can then question the individual who is the subject of the warrant, knowing full well that it will be exceptionally difficult for them to flee the country.

I will now deal with the third limb, which involves the new secrecy provisions as they will exist in division 3 if this bill is passed. Under the current secrecy provisions, which at the moment are limited and relate only to lawyers and to children's representatives, there is of course the difficulty that arises from the disclosure to third parties of information pertaining to warrants. Under this bill, it will be an offence to disclose information about an ASIO warrant or operational information. This is a more holistic approach to ensuring the secrecy of an operation.

Let us not lose sight of the facts of what we are dealing with. We are dealing with those individuals that have knowledge of or are directly involved in the planning and preparation of a terrorist act. It seems to me very reasonable that, in dealing with them, we should seek to limit the information disclosed to third parties, recognising that the very last thing we want—and what the Greens position would be—is for someone who is the subject of a warrant to be questioned by ASIO and then walk out on the street and tell all and sundry that ASIO has just been questioning them about particular issues. Of course, it does not take a great deal of sophistication to recognise that the very first thing someone who is involved in nefarious activity would do is pick up the phone and disclose to third parties who are involved in planning and preparing an attack that they are the subject of a warrant and that, `We've got to change the plans. Something's come up: ASIO's onto us.'

It is fairly straightforward that the new secrecy provisions this bill puts in place pertain to those individuals that are the subject of a warrant. I reinforce and restate that there are ample safeguards that exist in the legislation already that have to be cleared as a hurdle before a warrant can be issued. There really needs to be a sense of reasonableness and a clear-cut case made to the Attorney-General about why someone should be the subject of a warrant, before we impose this additional responsibility that they not disclose information to third parties.

The ASIO Amendment Bill 2003 makes a number of minor changes to the ASIO framework to ensure that we have a better operating framework for our intelligence agencies. It has the support of the opposition, and I am pleased about that: they too recognise the reasonableness of what is contained within this act. It also ensures that the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation is in a position where it can adequately deal with this new threat environment. As I said, the concern that I have and I know my constituents have is toward those individuals or small groups of individuals that would seek to abuse our liberty and ensure that they wreak as much havoc, murder and destruction as possible on our community.

The only real safeguard that we have is to ensure that our intelligence services have in their power a reasonably balanced framework that ensures they can obtain the information they need to try to prevent an attack before it takes place. In this new environment where of course we have been required to forgo some liberties in a very strict, clearly defined and, I would argue, reasonable way, it seems to me that we do so recognising that there is a huge dividend that could be paid at the end of that process.

The recent case of Willie Brigitte is a good example of exactly the reasons we need these powers—when you have individuals like that who would come to this country and seek to abuse our liberties so as to wreak the most horrendous of crimes. This is an important bill. It ensures that ASIO has at its disposal the kinds of powers it needs, that ASIO can operate in an effective and efficient way and that ASIO can help to protect Australians against the very worst possible kinds of attacks. I commend the bill to the House.