War of words

Here are the speeches of John Howard and Kim Beazley last Friday, when the government refused to pass the amended ASIO bill and promised to resubmit its bottom line bill to the Senate in three months. Who will back down?

I’ve highlighted the sentences and phrases I reckon you’ll hear lots more of. Simon Crean’s speech is in Fighting for our trustwebdiaryDec13.


Mr John Howard

The purpose of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Bill 2002 is to enable ASIO to question people in emergency terrorist situations in order to obtain the information we need to stop terrorist attacks before people are hurt or killed.

In the new environment in which we sadly find ourselves, preventing attacks by gathering information before the attacks occur has acquired a premium it never previously had. We have a new situation that requires a new solution. The reason that we are laying aside the bill that came from the Senate – we are not laying aside the government’s bill – is that it is in a completely unacceptable form.

Labor’s amendments will wreck the bill and render it inoperable. From the very beginning, Labor have not been serious about serious and necessary amendments to the ASIO legislation (sic). That is why they sent it off to a committee and gave that committee an unreasonably late reporting time, which has meant that consideration of this bill has been jammed up against the rising of the House and the parliament for the Christmas period.

I invite the House to listen very carefully to this: Further evidence that the Labor Party are not fair dinkum about this legislation is that the protocols that are proposed – in other words, the guidelines that will govern the operation of the questioning process – must, according to Labor’s amendments, be made subject to parliamentary disallowance.

Even if I had agreed with what the Leader of the Opposition had said and we had passed their bill, when we came along with the protocols, the Labor Party, the Democrats and the Greens would have disallowed them in the Senate. Talk about double jeopardy! That is a great example of their hypocrisy.

The Labor Party realise that they are going to be judged as soft on this issue by the Australian public. That is why we have seen the Leader of the Opposition come into this parliament with a whole lot of confected outrage. He knows that his amendments will destroy the bill. He knows that, if you adopt the procedures that they propose, this bill will be rendered inoperable.

We have no intention of parading a pretence, a fabrication, a fraud, to the Australian public. We have no intention of going out to the Australian public and saying, ‘We have passed a bill which will guarantee that ASIO has the necessary additional powers’, when we know in our hearts that that would be a monstrous lie to the Australian people. That is why we are not prepared to do it.

The Leader of the Opposition comes in here pleading with me to rescue him from the political dilemma he now finds himself in. That is basically what the Leader of the Opposition has tried to do. People on the other side – not least his predecessor – know the need for this new legislation. Many of them know, as indeed we know on this side of the House, that if we accept the amendments that have been put forward, the questioning process from a practical point of view will be rendered inoperable. (Margo: Note he gives no proof of this and provides no examples.)

If we were to agree to the bill in the form agreed by the Senate and as sought from us today by the opposition, that does not mean that that bill would come into effect, because you still have to get Senate acceptance of the protocols that govern the question.

There is no guarantee that, having agreed to the legislation today, the Labor Party would not then turn around and disallow the protocols in the Senate. They want the opportunity to have another go.

The Leader of the Opposition comes in here, pleading with me to accept a flawed measure – a measure that from a practical point of view will not give the additional power to ASIO that is necessary in the new circumstances in which we find ourselves – but just for good measure he has in his back pocket the capacity through the Senate to disallow the guidelines under which the questioning will take place. (Margo: Again, Mr Howard gives no practical examples of why the Senate’s bill is impractical.)

Mr Crean – That’s not right.

Mr Howard: It is right, Mr Speaker, and he knows it is right…

He is not only asking us to accept a bill that from a practical point of view is unworkable; having got what he has asked for today, he is also asking us to accept a capacity to change his mind yet again and demand even more, under the threat of disallowing the passage of the protocols. He is asking for a situation where, having passed the bill he has sought, the protocols that will govern the questioning – which go into details such as meal arrangements, sleeping arrangements and all those sorts of things, which are not normally part of legislation but which are contained in police guidelines or police rules – can be disallowed.

What we have today is another illustration of the Labor Party being unwilling to see the real national interest. The real national interest of Australia at the moment demands a stronger stand against terrorism.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr Howard: We have proposed a bill which is going to provide that sort of stand.

Mr Zahra interjecting

Mr Howard: We have witnessed from the Australian Labor Party –

The Speaker: The member for McMillan is warned.

Mr Howard: From the very moment this bill was introduced the Labor Party have set out to obstruct and delay. They sent it off to a committee with an unreasonably long reporting time. They knew that Christmas was approaching and that at the onset of the Christmas season we would inevitably reach this stage – and we have reached that stage.

I say to the Australian public that what we have proposed is necessary for their protection. It is a reasonable and proper response to the new situation in which we now find ourselves.

The Leader of the Opposition seeks to draw distinctions between this legislation and the situation in New South Wales. I remind the House that it is perfectly okay in New South Wales to strip search children between the ages of 10 and 18 without a warrant, where there is a threat of terrorist action, on the whim not of a judge, not of an Attorney-General but of Michael Costa. That is fundamentally what has been proposed. In those circumstances, there is no warrant, there is no judicial oversight -just the authorisation of the New South Wales police minister. But did we get a peep out of the Labor Party on that? Did we have the confected outrage and civil liberties concerns of the member for Banks and others on that legislation? Oh, no; that is perfectly all right because that is New South Wales Labor.

We do not accept the Senate’s amendments because, from a practical point of view, they will destroy the bill. (Margo: Yet again, Howard does not deign to explain to the Australian people why.) Therefore, we would be perpetrating a fraud on the Australian public if we went out and paraded this bill as an acceptable bill. Labor are weak on this issue.

Opposition members interjecting

Labor are very weak on this issue, just as they were weak on border protection. They remain weak on border protection. They are weak on this issue, and the more the crescendo in the Leader of the Opposition’s voice rises, the more we realise how sensitive they are. The redder his face got and the more personal he became, the more I knew that what I had said is right. He is weak on this issue, he does not have the courage to tell his party what is in Australia’s interests. He said somebody once said in the Labor Party, ‘Who’s party is it?’ That is not the relevant question. It is not a question of party interests; it is a question of Australia’s interests. And Australia’s interests require that we need a strong bill –

Opposition members interjecting

The Speaker: I warn the member for Corio.

Mr Howard: What the Senate have done to this bill is nothing short of security vandalism. They have vandalised this bill, they have made it unworkable, they have failed the national interest, and that is why we will not accept a bill that does not give the people of Australia the protection they need.

Opposition members interjecting

The Speaker: There is a number of people on the floor of the chamber who have been warned and who will be dealt with shortly. The courtesy extended to the Leader of the Opposition by the Prime Minister will be extended to the Prime Minister by the Leader of the Opposition, and the restraint exercised by the Prime Minister will be exercised by the Leader of the Opposition.


Mr Kim Beazley

We have just heard the Prime Minister in full kids overboard mode –

Mr Cameron Thompson (Liberal member for Blair) interjecting

The Speaker: The member for Blair will excuse himself from the House under the provisions of standing order 304A. (The member for Blair then left the chamber.)

Mr Beazley: I find it quite extraordinary. Prime Minister, I think you were in the chamber when I last spoke here five hours ago. If you were in the chamber, you would have heard me say this with absolute clarity: in the course of the discussions that Senator Faulkner, Senator Ray, Mr Melham and I had with Mr Williams, your Attorney-General, prior to that phase of the debate of this issue in the House, we offered to abandon the position that we had taken on the issue of a disallowable instrument in the Senate and to move instead to a regime which meant it was not vulnerable to the Senate but had some other form of process whereby there was consultation but the decision was in the hands of the government.

That is what we proposed. We proposed it to the Attorney-General and then I reiterated it in public, here in this chamber, five hours ago.

There was no approach, even though there has been constant tick-tacking between both sides of the House on this matter, because we both accept that this is a critical issue to Australian security. No call came from the Attorney-General’s office to Senator Faulkner to test that proposition. It was a proposition that we had already issued, but we reiterated it because we considered that the government had shown us good faith in their gesture on the issue of the sunset clause and by accepting our propositions in relation to the authority associated with the bill.

We responded with good faith, but there was no call to Senator Faulkner. After checking repeatedly with Senator Faulkner over the subsequent hours, I assumed that in that period of time the call would be made and that, if it was not, it would mean that the government considered that what the Prime Minister based almost the entirety of his speech upon was not a matter of relevance, that as far as they were concerned that issue was not central and that the other concerns they had – such as a so-called interrogation regime – as opposed to a detention regime – were the critical issues, not the issue of Senate disallowance.

Prime Minister, we would have abandoned Senate disallowance, just like that. On this the Prime Minister rests his case against the Labor Party. It is unbelievable.

This is the second time in two weeks that the Prime Minister has knowingly or unknowingly trashed the national interest in relation to –

Honourable members interjecting

Mr Beazley: I know he may not know. I am prepared to extend a slight benefit of doubt on his performance last week in trashing the relationships that we have with those with whom we must build an anti-terrorist coalition. I am prepared to believe the Prime Minister may not have known what he was doing.

He subsequently came to know it, and did not correct it, even though he had his foreign minister out there paddling like a duck on the water, desperately trying to make up for the Prime Minister’s mistake. I suspect he thought he was positioning the Labor Party domestically, the way he tried to use this bungle by the government to position us domestically.

I suspect he was doing that. But I will also give him due credit: He probably did not know what he was doing when he did it. It is inadequate for a Prime Minister of a nation under security threat. Nevertheless, it is a culpability of omission rather than commission.

Frankly, Prime Minister, in this case, it is a culpability of commission. Was that your central problem with the Labor Party’s amendments? We offered, both in private conversation and here publicly in the chamber – and every member here heard it, and I see the Independent member nodding his head – to abandon that position five hours ago.

I am sorry, Prime Minister, but I listened for the tonality of your remarks. They were not the remarks and the tone of a man defending the national interest; they were the remarks and the tone of a man who saw a political opportunity.

There are people on both sides of the House with a deep sense of patriotism and a deep fear of the situation in which we find ourselves. I have had the privilege, since I have become a backbencher, of sitting with some of your backbenchers. I have come to admire their patriotism. I have come to admire the way they try to take a dispassionate look at the issues that are placed before them.

I admire their courage, because I know that you run a rougher race in the Liberal Party than most other Liberal leaders. I admire their courage on that front. I do not challenge their patriotism, and they do not usually agree with me on things. But I sit down with them on the basis that I assume that what they are worried about is the lives of their children, my children and everybody elses

children in this country. I assume that that is what they are like. Therefore, when we sit down and negotiate with them and discuss things with them, I am fully confident that we bargain and discuss things in good faith.

The original bill that is being laid aside here could have, firstly, included the removal of your central objection and, secondly, put in place a regime permitting ASIO to question a person suspected of having knowledge of an imminent terrorist attack or some other matter related to terrorist activities for a period of 20 hours – which in effect means two to three days. And if that person tried either silence or dissimulation, that person would be jailed.

Remember, your version of the bill also permitted legal representation for the persons so caught up. Ours was slightly different. We took the protective strength of those undertaking legal representation of a person so interrogated a point further. Because of the particular character of the legal representation, we were prepared to propose – and we did in the amendments that you have rejected from the Senate – that a further regime of secrecy be imposed on both people who have been picked up and anyone who represents them legally. Failure to conform with that regime of secrecy would render them liable to a jail term. That is actually tougher than anything that was in the original bill.

But I am not here to do comparisons of toughness; I am here to establish that we stood for the national interest. We bargained in good faith and, when you came back to us in good faith, we responded in good faith.

We regarded your approach on being prepared to drop the position you had adopted towards the appointment of judges and your proposal to pick up the idea of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on ASIO, ASIS and DSD on a sunset clause as being in good faith, and therefore we responded in good faith. But no approach was made to us, Prime Minister.

I know at least as well as the Prime Minister the level of threat to the Australian community that is out there. As I listen to the briefings I get from intelligence officers, I have before me constantly – as no doubt you do yourself, Prime Minister – the faces of ordinary Australians going about their daily business, be they in government offices, in private offices, at sporting venues, in nightclubs or wherever.

I love them and I want them protected. I assume you do too, Prime Minister. So I do not play games. None of us on this side of the House plays games when we are presented with serious propositions to defend the national interest. We do not play games with those.

We all bring to the table our own views on what we see as the essential civil liberties of the Australian people, and so do you. Your fellow Liberals on those various committees who made propositions about eliminating children from the regime and trying to get in place decent legal representation were obviously informed by their concerns for civil liberties.

The organising principle of the parliamentary Liberal Party is the defence of individual freedom. That is not necessarily a central feature of a social democratic creed, but it is of the Australian Liberal Party. I therefore expect to see when I deal with members of the Liberal Party – and I do see it when I sit on committees with them – respect accorded to that fundamental tenet of liberal ideology, and I respect them.

They have their views – and they showed their hands on those views on those committees – and we have our views on civil liberties as well. We are trying to marry the particular views in the propositions we put forward and introduce a regime that will permit those views to be protected, but at the same time hand to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation authority that the FBI in the United States could only dream of.

The United States Constitution would not permit this legislation, either in your form or ours. This is a serious extension of powers to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. Had your bill or our bill got through, it would have seen a substantial extension of the capacity to do the job.

What do I find here as I listen to the Prime Minister marshal his forces and his argument against my successor? He has as the central point of his criticism of the Labor Party position what seven hours ago we indicated to the Attorney-General we were prepared to give up and what five hours ago I indicated to this parliament that we were prepared to give up.

Mr Melham:It was raised in earlier discussions, too.

Mr Beazley: And Senator Hill (defence minister) was there, too. We made the offer and they did not tell the Prime Minister. They did not wake him up. I mean, really, Prime Minister. I suppose there are not terribly many people listening to this debate but, by golly, if there are people out there in Australia listening to this debate, you can be absolutely certain that we will make sure that the full Hansard is available to anyone who asks for it.

They will see a massive prime ministerial error in the negotiations. It is a massive prime ministerial error, given the prominence he assigned it. When the telephone call failed to come, we assumed that the negotiating parties thought it was irrelevant. We said: ‘That’s a shame. We thought that was a good response to their good gesture, but they’re not interested.’

Prime Minister, all it would have taken was a phone call from you if that was your central problem. We would have needed your draftspeople, of course, because you have better draftspeople. We could have got the authority of the Commonwealth behind it and provided that for you completely, and we would now have a bill before the Australian people which would have protected us instead of an opportunity for political exploitation.

Leave a Reply