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Thursday, 10 March 2005
Page: 8

Senator LUDWIG (9:54 AM) —Let me say this at the outset: Labor have listened to Senator Brown in respect of this matter, and we agree in terms of the substantive matters that he has put forward. We do not agree with torture. We have been at the forefront of ensuring that UN conventions against torture have been adhered to. We have supported in this parliament those issues which go to ensuring that the scourge of torture is removed from this world, and we have pressed this government on international matters—

Senator Brown —Well, support this.

Senator LUDWIG —You have had your turn, Senator Brown. We have pressed this government to ensure they support United Nations conventions across the board—not only those on torture but those on a whole raft of international humanitarian initiatives—to ensure that these sorts of things are not done or dealt with. However, we do not have before us a motion to debate the substantive issue, as you might think. What we have is a motion that is going to send a reference off to the Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee. That is what we have before us. Senator Brown, if you want to debate the substantive matters in relation to torture or rendition, you have—and you know very well that you have—the ability to be able to do that in a range of—

Senator Brown interjecting—

Senator LUDWIG —You have had your say, Senator Brown; it is my turn now. You have the ability to raise these matters in the parliament in a number of quarters and in a number of ways. In fact, I had the ability to sit at estimates and ask the Australian Federal Police and ASIO a range of questions dealing with a raft of issues that go to this area and others that we have an interest in. I know that you were not there, Senator Brown. You might have been on more important work—I am not sure. However, estimates is one opportunity that you have to progress these matters, to question the department and to question the bureaucrats in relation to this matter.

I know that Senator Nettle did take up that opportunity. Senator Nettle, representing the Greens, did take the opportunity to participate in estimates, and some of those matters have now been put forward. As I understand it, Senator Nettle asked questions, which were put on notice, that went to what the government’s policy and practice on rendition is, whether the government has ever assisted the US government with rendering persons from Australia to another country, whether the government has ever assisted the US government with rendering persons from a country other than Australia to another country, whether the practice of rendition is legal in Australia and so on. There has been an opportunity for the Greens to progress this matter in estimates. That is a right we all have, and I do not cavil at that. What we have not heard is a response from the department about that because, as you know, Senator Brown, with the estimates process they have until 9 April to provide answers on notice in respect of those issues. So, to date, unless Senator Nettle can inform me otherwise, we have not heard a response on this matter, and therefore we do not know whether the answers to these questions will inform us about ways we can progress this matter.

We do know that when you want to give a matter to a references committee you ask, ‘Is this the appropriate forum for this matter to be pursued?’ As Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate, what I do in terms of references is look at the detail. Senator Brown, you know the process in this place. If people want references pursued in this place there is the Selection of Bills Committee and there are forums where you can discuss with various leaders whether a reference is the type of reference that can be sent to a legal and constitutional committee. We know that the usual processes regarding that sort of reference take place before we come into this chamber and move a motion which sends it off to a references committee such as legal and constitutional. You have to ask yourself a couple of questions, Senator Brown. Is it the case that you want the forum here to ventilate the issue, or do you want a substantive look at the issue? If you send it to the references committee, one of the problems you will be confronted with is whether it will actually determine or be able to get to the facts that you have alluded to today, or whether it would be more appropriate to send it to a different committee, such as the ASIO committee.

Senator Brown —Do you know?

Senator LUDWIG —I do not know the answer to that because you obviously have not canvassed it with anyone. But with the Legal and Constitutional References Committee what you would end up with, Senator Brown, is perhaps calling the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Australian Federal Police or the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. At least from an estimates point of view, because of the nature of the classified subject matter you then have to ask: ‘Is the inquiry process in a Senate references committee an appropriate vehicle to progress the matter? Would any relevant official be in a position to provide a cogent argument or evidence to outline what you say could potentially be going on?’

I am not convinced that that would progress the debate any further. The difficulty that Labor and I have is that we cannot see clearly that you would be able to progress the issue past the point of making the statements that you have made today, other than calling one witness perhaps to give his version of events, which would then be uncontested in that sense. A Senate references committee is not a forum in which to try to come to a conclusion. What we can do is throw some light into the corner and ventilate the issues; debate does not occur there. As you know, Senator Brown, you can use a number of mechanisms to initiate a debate on this matter in the Senate. On numerous occasions you have pursued those options. I am sure that you know how to bring that forward. In this instance it is not an appropriate mechanism, in Labor’s view, to put this issue to the Legal and Constitutional References Committee. I do not think that that would provide the result that you are looking for. Those are the substantive reasons why Labor will not be supporting the motion. We do not think that the issues that surround it will in any event be well ventilated in that process.