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Thursday, 5 December 2002
Page: 7294

Senator FERGUSON (3:38 PM) —No-one will ever accuse Senator Brown of political correctness, and no-one will ever accuse him of standing up for Australia; no-one will ever accuse him of that because he does not.

Senator Brown —Mr Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I disagree with him, but I will leave that to your judgment.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —There is no point of order.

Senator FERGUSON —Senator Brown's scaremongering and his lack of either knowledge or understanding of the facts is abysmal. He always comes into this place purporting to represent the people when he, in fact, represents certainly no more than one in 10, if ever that. The issue of pre-emptive action that Senator Brown refers to is in relation to comments that the Prime Minister made in the context of commentary on the issue in response to a lecture delivered by Senator Hill at the University of Adelaide and as a result of a journalist's question. The speech focused on the general question of the evolution of international law to reflect new challenges in global security—but Senator Brown is not interested in that; he is only interested in a little bit of cheap publicity, which is all he has ever been interested in.

Both the speech and the Prime Minister's comments discussed the issue in hypothetical terms, and that is all it ever was. But the Senator Browns of this world make sure the media get the wrong end of the stick in order to make it an issue. It is wrong to interpret the remarks as suggesting any shift in the government's approach to the problem with Iraq. We are certainly working very closely with all our neighbours under bilateral counter-terrorism memorandums of understanding, and we are working to develop these in cooperation with all those other countries.

The key point is that the Prime Minister's comments have been deliberately taken out of context by the Greens, by Senator Brown, by the Democrats, by the ALP and by sections of the media. If you read the comments in context and in their totality, you will find that they are soundly based and would be supported by all Australians. Let me remind Senator Brown of what the Prime Minister actually said in response to a question by Laurie Oakes. Laurie Oakes said:

Now, you've been arguing for a new approach to pre-emptive defence, you want the UN to change its charter, I think. Does that mean that you ... if you knew that, say, JI people in another neighbouring country were planning an attack on Australia that you would be prepared to act?

The Prime Minister responded:

Oh yes, I think any Australian Prime Minister would.

And that is true. He continued:

I mean, it stands to reason that if you believed that somebody was going to launch an attack against your country, either of a conventional kind or of a terrorist kind, and you had a capacity to stop it and there was no alterative other than to use that capacity then of course you would have to use it.

Now, that situation hasn't arisen because nobody is specifically threatening to attack Australia ...

Further on, Laurie Oakes said:

It's fair to say, isn't it, that the SAS is not only perfectly tailored to make that kind of pre-emptive strike in another country but that's really what we've got it for.

The Prime Minister's response—which Senator Brown carefully made sure that he did not put in his speech—was:

Laurie, there's no situation that I'm aware of at the moment that raises that issue, and I don't really want to go down that path any further other than to state the obvious that any Prime Minister who had a capacity to prevent an attack against his country would be failing the most basic test of office if he didn't utilise that capacity if there's no other alternative.

Senator Brown very carefully made sure that he did not use the words that were actually used by the Prime Minister: `if there's no other alternative'. What we get from the Prime Minister is strong leadership. He is a man who is prepared to accept his responsibility for protecting the Australian people, which is more than Senator Brown has ever been interested in. What do we get from the opposition? Mr Crean believes that the Australian Prime Minister should apologise for stating that he would do everything possible to protect Australian citizens. He wants the Prime Minister to apologise for protecting Australian citizens—and this is a man who wants to be Prime Minister! It is unbelievable.

Unfortunately, the Greens—Senator Brown, in particular—the Democrats and the Labor Party, and some of their fellow travellers from the more loopy left of our country, have stirred up `much ado about nothing'. How do we know they have stirred up much ado about nothing? If Senator Brown thinks that this is such a new development on the issue of counter-terrorism, I would really like him to listen to this. The Prime Minister recently said:

Well the principle that a country which believes it is likely to be attacked is entitled to take pre-emptive action is a self-evidently defensible and valid principle and I don't think you need a government decision to say that you agree with that. I mean let me make it very clear if I were presented with evidence that Australia was about to be attacked and I was told by our military people that by launching a pre-emptive hit we could prevent that attack occurring I would authorise that pre-emptive hit and expect the Opposition to support me in the process.

Do you know, Senator Brown, when the Prime Minister said that? He said it on 20 June this year, and you never said a word about it then. Senator Brown never said a word about it then, Senator Bartlett never said a word about it then, and Mr Crean never said a word about it then. This was almost six months ago. It was exactly the same statement, and there was not a word from Senator Brown, Senator Bartlett or Mr Crean. It is only now that, for cheap political purposes, the Prime Minister's comments have been misrepresented to other nations in our region, that Mr Crean, Senator Brown and Senator Bartlett seek this opportunity to score cheap political points. That is hypocrisy in its highest form. All Australians—and I mean all Australians except for Mr Crean, Senator Bartlett and Senator Brown—would agree that defending Australian lives is the most important duty of an Australian Prime Minister.

I can say with some confidence that everybody on this side of the chamber and the vast majority of the Australian population rely on this Prime Minister, whom they trust implicitly—they do not trust Senator Brown, Mr Crean or Senator Bartlett, but they trust this Prime Minister—to agree to defend Australian lives. I can tell you that everybody on this side of the chamber, and practically every Australian who cares about protection in the future, would fully support the Prime Minister, and that is reflected every time the Australian people are asked. This is a beat-up of a repeat of a statement made six months ago, when Senator Brown said nothing—not a word. Now we have a situation where, for cheap political point scoring, he sees fit to raise the issue, to make sure it is beaten up in the media in order to try and destabilise our relationship with neighbouring countries—and that will not happen. That will not happen because we are working very well under our memorandums of understanding to make sure that we secure our counter-terrorism measures. (Time expired)