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Howard's Christmas terror dejavu for Simon Crean
G'day. I reckon the most courageous Parliamentary decision of Simon Crean's leadership was to call Howard's bluff on his ASIO terror package before Christmas 2002. Howard played the most vicious card of all - he said if Labor didn't cave in it would have blood on its heads if there was a terrorist attack in Australia over the holidays, yet refused to accept the bill as amended by the Senate to guard against such an event. Not only that, he'd call a double dissolution security election. I recorded the drama on Webdiary at Fighting for our Trust (Crean's parliamentary speech), ASIO: what the parties said before the politics went crazy, War of words and Howard's strip-search for patriots
He did no such thing, and an agreed package passed six months later, a package the then ASIO chief Dennis Richardson and Howard himself later said worked well.
Here we go again this Christmas, except that this time the Government has the numbers in the Senate and Beazley has pledged to vote for the terror package if Labor's amendments don't get up. And this time Liberal backbenchers are having a go on the ASIO aspects of this package. Crean set out the history during a fine speech to Parliament last night on Howard's latest grab for power through fear. Here it is. Kevin Rudd's speech is also worth a read for his clinical assessment of Howard's decision to invade Iraq and the disastrous consequences of that for Australians' safety.
ANTI-TERRORISM BILL (NO. 2) 2005
Second Reading Speech
It does not go far enough in protecting the security of Australian citizens by, for example, strengthening security at our airports, on our wharves and on the railway platforms of our great cities or securing our exposed coastline by establishing a coastguard. What it does, in failing to do those things, is actually attack the civil liberties of those very citizens. Labor argues that we need tough antiterrorist laws, but they have to be introduced in a way that does not take away the very rights and freedoms that the terrorists themselves aim to destroy. The basic rights of our citizenry include the right of freedom of speech, the right to know the crime with which you are charged, the right to defend yourself, the right to a fair trial and the right not to be continuously detained without charge or trial.
Every time this government has introduced new laws to protect us from terrorism it has eroded some or all of these rights. It failed to get the balance right in 2002 and it failed again in 2003. It has failed again with this legislation. As on previous occasions, Labor’s amendments do get the balance right and I urge the government to accept these amendments. I urge the government to listen to its own members on the Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee: Senator Payne, Senator Mason and Senator Scullion. They are Liberal members who joined with all the Labor members on that committee to propose a significant number of changes—some 51 in all. If the government ignores them—those three Liberal senators—they have no option but to vote for their own recommendations in the parliament. If crossing the floor is a problem for them they should abstain. Having heard the evidence and having deliberated on these issues and come to a conclusion, they are obliged to see that conclusion carried out.
The government, of course, approaches these sorts of solutions and those who advocate them with disdain. We know it has restricted debate in this chamber. Some 44 out of Labor’s 60 members of parliament are unable to speak in this debate because the government will gag them. It will introduce the guillotine. Today it gagged its own members in its own party room. It would not allow debate in the Liberal party room today on this legislation. In other words, government members are expected to vote on this bill tonight when they have not even agreed on a position, because the Prime Minister gagged his own party room. What does this say to the senators who have actually considered the detail of this legislation and come to conclusions about it and the need for change, when their views are not even able to be heard and debated in the party room because the Prime Minister does not want it?
The reasons we need tough laws to fight the terrorists are obvious post September 11 and post Bali. Those events in 2001 and 2002 were graphically etched in the minds of Australians. They changed the security, the concerns and the issues that Australians have. They changed them forever. But, having said that, this government needs to be honest with the Australian people as to why we need new legislation to fight terrorism—the new legislation before the House. If in fact, as I will argue in this debate, we got the balance right essentially because of Labor amendments in 2002 and 2003, why do we need new laws in 2005? I will tell you why: because of Prime Minister John Howard’s decision to take us to war with Iraq—a decision which was based on a lie, a decision which has made this country more unsafe and made us a bigger target. Do not just take my word for it. Mick Keelty, the chief commissioner of the Australian police, said so, only to be attacked by the Prime Minister for telling the truth. Forty-three former Defence chiefs and diplomats, eminent people in this country, also said so. They said that Australia was taken to war in Iraq on the basis of false assumptions and deceptions.
So we made the decision to go to war in 2004 based on a lie. We, as a result, made ourselves a bigger target for terrorism. The Prime Minister of this country wants us to judge his prime ministership through the prism of trust. He told us to trust him at the last election, a man who has shown on so many occasions that he cannot be trusted—the person who said we would never, ever have a GST; the person who argued that parents had thrown their kids overboard; the person who said Medicare would be retained in its entirety, who said we would not have $100,000 university degrees, who said he would reduce foreign debt and who said the reason for invading Iraq was to deprive it of its weapons of mass destruction that have never been shown to exist; and the person who, during the last election, never mentioned the extreme industrial relations legislation he is now seeking to ram through the parliament. His determination to ram through this legislation that we are debating tonight without proper scrutiny and in attempted secrecy is a further abuse of trust of the Australian people.
I say again: we do need tough antiterror laws, but we must also protect the nation’s civil liberties. They are not mutually exclusive. The balance can be struck. On many occasions in this House, Labor has argued for the balance and to achieve that balance, and Labor has consistently put forward proposals that do achieve that balance. It can be done if there is a preparedness to consult and to consider. On many occasions, Labor has proposed constructive solutions to strike this balance. A series of terrorism bills were introduced into this chamber in March 2002. The basis for them being introduced set the pattern. They were introduced at 8 pm on 12 March 2002—a hundred pages of legislation; a hundred pages of explanatory memorandum—and were debated the very next day. Under the original proposed bill, the government were seeking ASIO warrants to be provided for indefinite detention and questioning of persons, including children, who have information on terrorist attacks. They proposed detention incommunicado. They proposed no right to decline to give information or produce a document, no penalty for officers who do not administer the bill correctly and no parliamentary oversight. That legislation, of course, in 2002 had serious flaws. Labor was able to make that legislation better, ensuring the terrorists—but only the terrorists—were targeted.
We also had the ASIO bills sent off for further parliamentary scrutiny. Ultimately even the Prime Minister, who had proposed the original draconian legislation, was forced to admit that we got the balance right. He said so at the Press Club on 11 September 2002 when he said:
We have, of necessity, tightened our security laws. I believe through the great parliamentary processes that this country has I believe that we have got the balance right.
Well, why doesn’t he use that ‘great parliamentary process’ again in relation to this legislation? Why doesn’t he draw not just on what the Labor Party is saying but on what a bipartisan position of the Senate committee has recommended? The truth of it is that back then we stopped the Prime Minister from introducing the worst excesses which he sought to introduce, but he still keeps at it. That is why we are debating this legislation.
Then, of course, the Bali bombings occurred on 12 October 2002. The government responded, but again it could not get the balance right then. That was the debate about proscription, Madam Deputy Speaker—you would remember it. As the then Leader of the Opposition, I said that we would support any measure for tough and decisive action to stamp out terrorism. I said we wanted Australia to be tough on terrorists but only on terrorists. The government then wanted the power for the Attorney-General to proscribe organisations, but we said it was too much power in the hands of the executive. It needed judicial oversight. We said that we were prepared to accept the United Nations proscription formula. We even proposed and introduced a private member’s bill to proscribe Hezbollah. Why? Because of the intelligence briefing we and the government had in relation to that organisation. Again, the point I am making is that it was us who took the initiatives to deal with terrorism but not to strip away people’s civil liberties, as this legislation does.
After the proscription debate the two Senate committees reported on the ASIO bills. They recommended amendments that we, Labor, were prepared to adopt—but not the Prime Minister. He insisted on his own bill. He then ignored again the parliamentary wishes. He threatened the Labor Party that we would be to blame if there was a terrorist attack. Labor, to our great credit, at the end of 2002 stared him down. We told him that he could have had an agreed bill before Christmas. We had that late night sitting—members in this House would remember it. Instead, the Prime Minister walked away from that bipartisan opportunity, only to have the bill brought back into the parliament in June 2003, some six months later, when it passed in a form almost identical to that which we had proposed.
What we wanted then—because it was not in the original bill—was the choice of legal representation, the protection of children under the age of 18 years, a three-year sunset clause to ensure further parliamentary scrutiny and a questioning regime, not a detention regime. We got all of those things. We got them because they were right to get. But I said then that not only will Labor combat terrorism but Labor will protect the liberties that terrorists want to destroy. And that is what the balance has to always be about with this type of legislation. The parliament did get the balance right in 2003, but only because of Labor’s insistence and only because the government did not control the Senate.
It is also interesting to note that, despite the government insisting on the need for these new laws that we are debating tonight post the London bombings, and despite the agreed position of a fortnight ago to change ‘the’ terrorist act to ‘a’ terrorist act, the recent arrests of 18 suspects took place under the legislation finally agreed to on earlier occasions—the legislation that I have just talked about. So getting the balance right, protecting civil liberties, does not compromise the work of our law enforcers.
The history of this bill is an outrageous abuse of the parliament and of the premiers. It is another attempt by the Prime Minister to get his way now that he has control of the Senate. He and the Attorney-General are not attempting to get an agreement on what is needed—still no coastguard and still insufficient airline and port security—but, ever pervasively, attempting to strip away civil liberties; they are at it again. The current Attorney-General, like his predecessor, Daryl Williams, has failed his charter. He has forgotten that as the Commonwealth’s first law officer he has a responsibility to the Australian people and their civil liberties as well as to the government. Daryl Williams lost his position as Attorney-General soon after the 2002-03 compromise. His hardline defence of the Prime Minister’s indefensible position was not rewarded. Howard dumped him. The current Attorney-General, Mr Ruddock, should take note. Stick up, Attorney, for what is right. You wear that Amnesty badge—show you believe in Amnesty’s principles. Adopt Labor’s amendments. Listen to the Senate committee. Listen to the members of your own party, do not gag them, and dump the sedition provisions.
The Prime Minister abused the trust of the premiers at the Council of Australian Governments. The proposal that he took to them did not even include the sedition provisions which now the Senate members recommend should be dumped. The Prime Minister sought secrecy on the legislation, but it was exposed by the courageous act of Jon Stanhope in posting the secret bill on his web site.
Mr CREAN—The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence, at the table, said it is outrageous.
Ms Gambaro—I said, ‘Courageous.’
Mr CREAN—What is outrageous, I ask the parliament, about taking the Australian people into your trust and showing them legislation that you intend introducing into the parliament, not through the stealth of night? The Prime Minister talks about trust. Have trust in the Australian people. Jon Stanhope did, and he is to be commended for that courageous stance. He demonstrated a preparedness to properly use the trust mandated to him. He took the people into his confidence. The Prime Minister simply abuses that trust. Honest John indeed.
The premiers forced a rethink of the legislation. Labor again promoted initiatives to get the balance right. Our second reading amendment does that again. But that second reading amendment is bolstered and reinforced by the findings of the Senate committee—bipartisan recommendations from all government and Labor members. The government members have joined Labor and recommended that the archaic provisions relating to sedition be removed altogether. They have then gone on to say that if they are not removed then the rights of free speech and peaceful protest should be protected. Just have a look at what that report says. In quoting the definition of seditious intention, it includes:
What a great legacy for this country to be passing laws that would have prevented the sorts of actions and peaceful protests that those people led that changed the world, that changed people’s lives for the better. This government wants to close them down. The only evidence supporting the sedition provisions came from the Attorney-General’s own department and the police. All other evidence presented to the committee opposed the provisions.
The Senate committee has also recommended a sunset provision, just like Labor has, of five years, not 10. That is the sort of thing the Australian people want. That is the sort of balance that can be struck—tough on terrorism but protecting the civil liberties of the Australian people. That is why the Labor amendments should be supported and why the government, rather than gag its own members, should do the right thing—which it has always been forced to do in the past—and support that which Labor has put forward.