House debates

Monday, 3 June 2013


National Security

3:07 pm

Photo of Scott MorrisonScott Morrison (Cook, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That so much of standing and sessional orders be suspended as to allow the member for Cook to move the following motion:

That given the Government’s refusal to answer questions in this House and their refusal to establish an independent inquiry into the Government’s ‘light touch’ handling of national security issues regarding the detention and processing of a convicted terrorist who arrived illegally by boat in and around May 2012 that:

(1) a Select Committee on the ‘National security issues relating to the processing and detention of a convicted terrorist who arrived by boat in and around May 2012 and other related matters involving the Government’s handling of national security issues for irregular maritime arrivals’ be appointed to inquire into and report on, having regard to the following circumstances,:

(a) in or around May 2012, an Egyptian adult male accompanied by his family arrived illegally by boat at Christmas Island claiming asylum. After initial processing the man and family were transferred to the Inverbrackie Alternative Place of Detention, a detention facility for low risk asylum seeker families in the Adelaide Hills;

(b) by end August 2012 it was established by ASIO that this man was convicted of multiple terrorist offences, a member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad which merged with Al Qaeda in June 2001. He was the subject of an Interpol Red Notice; and

(c) the man and family remained in low security detention at Inverbrackie until April 2013 when they were transferred to higher security detention facilities at Villawood in Sydney;

(2) the Select Committee should:

(a) establish the facts surrounding the case in relation to:

  (i) the full chronology of the events relating to the man and his family’s arrival and detention in Australia and associated security and criminal investigations;

  (ii) how and when relevant agencies and Ministers became aware of the man’s terrorist conviction and what action was taken in response to that knowledge;

  (iii) the adequacy of interagency co-operation, and in particular co-operation between DIAC, ASIO and the AFP, in identifying, sharing information, and taking steps to appropriately deal with the individual concerned;

  (iv) why the individual was left so long at the Inverbrackie low security facility before being transferred to Villawood;

  (v) the current location and security arrangements for the man and family;

  (vi) the current status of immigration processing of his asylum or any other claim; and

  (vii) action being taken in relation to his extradition to Egypt and the point of responsibility for ongoing management of this national security case;

(b) review the facts and make an assessment of any failings in the Government’s handling of this case and who will be responsible;

(c) identify and establish the facts relating to the Government’s handling of other cases, involving national security issues including, but not restricted to:

  (i) a Sri Lankan national suspected of murder who was released into the community before being taken to Villawood detention centre;

  (ii) a suspected Iranian drug smuggler who arrived via boat and is now in a mental health facility;

  (iii) asylum seeker claims involving membership of the group the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam; and

  (iv) any other asylum seeker claim that has received a negative ASIO security assessment; and

(d) make recommendations to address issues identified in the review;

(3) the committee consist of seven members, three members to be nominated by the Government Whip or Whips, three members to be nominated by the Opposition Whip or Whips, and one non-aligned member;

(4) the committee may supplement its membership by up to four members, with a maximum of two extra government and two extra opposition or non-aligned members. Supplementary members shall have the same participatory rights as other members, but may not vote;

(5) every nomination of a member of the committee be notified in writing to the Speaker of the House of Representatives;

(6) the members of the committee hold office as a select committee until presentation of the committee's report or the House of Representatives is dissolved or expires by effluxion of time, whichever is the earlier;

(7) the committee elect a government or a non-government member as chair at its first meeting;

(8) the committee elect a member as its deputy chair who shall act as chair of the committee at any time when the chair is not present at a meeting of the committee, and at any time when the chair and deputy chair are not present at a meeting of the committee the members present shall elect another member to act as chair at that meeting;

(9) in the event of an equally divided vote, the chair, or the deputy chair when acting as chair, have a casting vote;

(10) three members of the committee constitute a quorum of the committee provided that in a deliberative meeting the quorum shall include one government member and one non-government member;

(11) the committee have power to appoint sub-committees consisting of three or more of its members and to refer to any sub-committee any matter which the committee is empowered to examine;

(12) the committee appoint the chair of each sub-committee who shall have a casting vote only and at any time when the chair of a sub-committee is not present at a meeting of the sub-committee the members of the sub-committee present shall elect another member of that sub-committee to act as chair at that meeting;

(13) two members of a sub-committee constitute the quorum of that sub-committee;

(14) members of the committee who are not members of a sub-committee may participate in the proceedings of that sub-committee but shall not vote, move any motion or be counted for the purpose of a quorum;

(15) the committee or any sub-committee have power to call for witnesses to attend and for documents to be produced;

(16) the committee or any sub-committee may conduct proceedings at any place it sees fit;

(17) the committee or any sub-committee have power to adjourn from time to time and to sit during any adjournment of the House of Representative;

(18) the committee may report from time to time but that it present its final report no later than 30 June 2013; and

(19) the provisions of this resolution, so far as they are inconsistent with the standing orders, have effect notwithstanding anything contained in the standing orders.

This government has a light touch on our borders and it has a light touch on national security. This inquiry is required, and it is important that standing orders be suspended, because this is an urgent matter. This House sits for just three more weeks before the break. This minister has refused to conduct an independent inquiry when given the opportunity to do so. It seems this minister has not one word of concern, let alone action, in relation to these incredibly serious matters that have enabled a convicted terrorist to sit in a low-grade facility in the Adelaide Hills for a period of seven months without being moved. It was only when the West Australian published details of this that he got out from under his desk, decided to make a decision and put this person in the place he should have always been, which was a high-security facility.

This is a government whose light touch on our borders has resulted in over 700 boats turning up over the course of its tenure—more than 550 under this Prime Minister herself—and more than 200 people turning up on a boat within the last 48 hours alone. There have been 35,000 arrivals since the last election and cost blow-outs of more than $10 billion.

It is a true fact that we spend more today on the department of immigration than we spend separately, net, on the capability of our Navy and our Air Force. We spend more on immigration, dealing with the blow-outs in costs, than we spend on the capability of our Navy and ourAir Force. The time line on these things is an absolute disgrace, because it shows a government that has completely sat on its hands while a convicted terrorist came into the country and was known to be here. ASIO and the AFP advised the department of immigration of the serious nature of this individual and the government thought that this individual should stay in a low security facility under the government's watch—a process that the Prime Minister herself said she was satisfied with, which was a light-touch approach.

That is the standard and that is where the bar has been set for national security issues by this government. That is why an independent inquiry is needed and why standing orders need to be suspended, because this is not the first time. We all remember that Captain Emad could come into this country by boat as a people smuggler and fly out of this country as a people smuggler because, under this government, everybody was pointing fingers in the opposite direction. Nobody knew what each other was doing, nobody was paying attention to what was happening on our borders and, as a result, Captain Emad remains at large and his family remain in public housing here in the ACT, much to the disenchantment of the entire Australian population because that story in itself speaks volumes of the light touch approach that this Prime Minister sanctions, that this minister operates and the ministers before him also operated on our borders. We need an inquiry, because this government does not learn from its mistakes. We see repeatedly in this place, whether it is pink batts or anything else, that this government just never learns from its mistakes.

So we gave the government the opportunity last Friday for this minister to step up and actually do his job and find out what went wrong to enable this situation to proceed for seven months. He said no. I suspect the government do not want to know the answer. They do not want to know how many more risks are out there. They do not want to know how wide the cracks are in the system the government have built over the last six years that have allowed the Captain Emads and an Egyptian jihadist terrorist to come into the country on boats and go into low grade facilities next to a Defence Force facility in South Australia, in the Adelaide Hills, in the electorate of Mayo. The member for Mayo has stood up in this place and in other places and was told by the then Minister for Immigration and Citizenship that only people on low security risk would be in there.

A convicted Egyptian terrorist, with an Interpol red notice, does not qualify as low security. But this government thinks it does. This government thinks it is appropriate, that that is where that sort of a person should be and it is so endemic of the way these national security matters are handled by this government. They are a light touch on our borders and they are a light touch on national security and this minister is a light touch. (Time expired)

3:17 pm

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Justice, Customs and Border Protection) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion. I do so because we are dealing today with one of the gravest national security breaches that have occurred under this government and in recent memory. I say that, because we know a lot about this case. I will list the reasons why I say this is a grave breach of national security. The individual whom we are talking about today is a member of Egyptian Islamic jihad, an organisation that merged with al-Qaeda prior to the September 11 attacks in the United States, an organisation which was headed at the time by Ayman al-Zawahiri, who people will know took over the leadership of al-Qaeda once Osama bin Laden was killed. It also furnished other leadership positions within al-Qaeda, including Mohammed Atta, who led the attacks on September 11 in the United States. Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mohammed Atta, both from the Islamic jihad organisation, share membership of that organisation with an individual whom this government has placed in what is essentially low security detention in the Adelaide Hills, surrounded by the equivalent of a pool fence.

The crimes that this man has not been accused of but convicted of through an Egyptian court, in 1999, include: premeditated murder, destruction of property, firearm possession, possession of explosive devices without a permit, membership of a terrorist group and forgery of documents. He has been convicted of crimes both inside and outside Egypt. He arrived in Australia, apparently, in May last year and was subsequently, within a very short space of time, released in Inverbrackie.

Since then, ASIO and the AFP have both taken an interest in this individual. ASIO went through a process where they formally identified him on 25 August last year and, on 30 August, they notified the department of immigration that, within their low security family facility in the Adelaide Hills, they had a convicted terrorist, a member of Egyptian Islamic jihad. What do the department of immigration do? Absolutely nothing, under the failed leadership of these ministers and the Labor Party.

Subsequently and astonishingly, in November last year the Australian Federal Police, who were apparently conducting a parallel investigation, reported the same facts to the department of immigration that, within their Inverbrackie low security facility, they were holding a convicted Egyptian terrorist. What did the department do? Absolutely nothing. In fact, nothing happened to this individual, even though Australia's domestic security agency and the Australian Federal Police had reported who he was to the department. Nothing happened to this individual until the West Australianpublished a story, on 16 April this year, that he was being held in Inverbrackie. Only subsequent to that story being published was this individual taken from low security and placed in the more secure environment of the Villawood Detention Centre. Once the matter was raised in the newspapers I wrote to the minister in my capacity as the acting shadow minister for immigration. He wrote back to me and he said:

Where further information of a security or criminal nature comes to hand, the department works with relevant agencies to ensure placements remain appropriate.

Does this minister, Minister O'Connor, sitting at the table, seriously believe that Inverbrackie, a family detention facility, is an appropriate place for a convicted Jihadist terrorist? If he does, in one minute's time he will be able to get up and explain to the House why he feels that is appropriate.

If this were the only situation we were dealing with in terms of grave security breaches for people who have come here courtesy of people smugglers then it would be bad enough. But what we know is that there are other cases—maybe many other cases. For instance, a Sri Lankan man accused of murder arrives in Australia courtesy of a people smuggler and he is not released into low security detention; he is released into the community on a bridging visa. And there was a suspected Iranian drug smuggler—again, held in a low security environment.

It is bad enough that we have lost control over who is coming here—and if you cannot control who comes here then you will leave that space open for criminals to take advantage of our border weakness—but when people are dealt with in this way, and when they have been identified as people who surely pose a danger to the Australian community, then we would expect that any government that takes national security seriously would make sure that they are housed in appropriate detention accommodation. But this government have failed to do that, and they have failed this test of national security.

3:23 pm

Photo of Brendan O'ConnorBrendan O'Connor (Gorton, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) Share this | | Hansard source

I have listened to both honourable members, but the reality is that this issue is being dealt with by our agencies. As I say—and it is very important for people to understand this—there have been no offences committed by this person while in Australia, and this person has been in detention all along. Indeed, there is no doubt that there has been monitoring and surveillance of that person in detention.

What we have always made clear is that we are very happy to provide briefings to the opposition. If they choose to actually have briefings—

Photo of Josh FrydenbergJosh Frydenberg (Kooyong, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That is outrageous.

Photo of Ms Anna BurkeMs Anna Burke (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Kooyong is being outrageous.

Photo of Brendan O'ConnorBrendan O'Connor (Gorton, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) Share this | | Hansard source

on information that matters, that relates to national security matters, I can assure you we will provide those briefings. However, on the last occasion we provided such briefings to the opposition, to the shadow Attorney-General, we saw that some of that information was actually used publicly in a manner that was not proper—that was, in fact, improper. So we are very happy to convey to the opposition, so that they are aware of the facts, information in relation to these matters. But what we will not do in this case, or in any case equivalent to this, is to allow the opposition to play with national security like it is a political football. That is not something that an alternative government would ever contemplate doing.

This matter has been, of course, examined in estimates. Indeed, I have answered a question in question time in relation to the person and the circumstances in which he was detained. I also made it very clear that our agencies were involved beyond the detention itself, and I have made clear, too, that the person is now in high security detention.

But the fact is: the reason why this motion is being brought on today is that the member for Cook and the member for Stirling are of course trying to scare the Australian people in a way that really is quite outrageous—they are trying to scare the Australian people. What we know is: when they have nothing positive to say in relation to a whole range of areas of public policy, the opposition leader authorises a number of frontbenchers to try and create fear and anxiety in this country. Well, that is not going to be the appropriate response in this instance, and nor is it the way in which we should be dealing with these matters.

I make it very clear again: if the shadow minister, the member for Cook, or the member for Stirling want to be briefed more fully on this, then I can assure those members opposite that those briefings will be forthcoming so that they can actually be provided with all of the information. And if they have any questions arising out of such briefings, I am certainly happy for those questions to be put—with one caveat, and one caveat only: that that information is not disclosed publicly or used as a political plaything. Yet that is what we have seen done by the shadow Attorney-General and indeed other members of the opposition in recent times.

We have, of course, some very serious issues to deal with here, but it is quite extraordinary that the opposition want to, on the one hand, raise issues of national security and border protection but, on the other hand, not listen to the experts when it comes to dealing with our borders. It is quite extraordinary that they want to raise matters here today but, when it comes to the experts making recommendations about protecting our borders, where are they then? Where is Tony Abbott then?

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Justice, Customs and Border Protection) Share this | | Hansard source

Did you know this guy was in Inverbrackie? Were you even aware?

Photo of Ms Anna BurkeMs Anna Burke (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Stirling is warned!

Photo of Brendan O'ConnorBrendan O'Connor (Gorton, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, clearly, he is not there to support the experts. He has never been there to support a plan that would reduce boats. Indeed, he wants to see more boats come. He wants to see more boats come and rubs his hands every time a vessel arrives in our waters.

This was obviously made even clearer last Friday. Last Friday, the Indonesian ambassador made it very clear that they will not support the opposition leader's plan to turn back boats. He made it unequivocally clear. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition may seek to make a liar of the Indonesian ambassador, but I have to say: it is a pretty outrageous thing to verbal the Indonesian ambassador in such a way.

The Leader of the Opposition is in a situation where he effectively says yes to the country that says no, Indonesia, and no to the country that says yes, Malaysia. What a ridiculous situation! We have a transit country, Malaysia, that wants to transfer arrivals in a safe manner. But the Leader of the Opposition says no to it! Yet we have a country that does not want to see an unsafe way to transfer arrivals on the high seas, in the case of Indonesia, and the opposition leader pretends he has an agreement. Well, if we want to have a debate about national security, let us talk about the lack of responsibility and leadership by the opposition leader in dealing with transit countries and countries in our region in order to put in place a very important regional response to what is a complex regional problem.

We do not have that, of course, because we do not have a compact in this parliament, and we do not have a compact in this parliament because the Leader of the Opposition has yet again refused to accept the advice of the experts. If I were to consider who I might take advice from, would I be taking it from the former chief of the Australian Defence Force, appointed by the Howard government and this government; Michael L'Estrange, a very eminent diplomat and former Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; and Paris Aristotle, with 25 years of refugee settlement history—three eminent Australians coming from different positions, putting a perspective, and forging recommendations for us to consider? And all we get from the opposition leader is: 'No, no, no.' That, of course, has really been exposed as being an absolutely hollow shell, because last Friday the Indonesian ambassador made it very, very clear that that unsafe proposition—unsafe, as has been advised by the chief of our Navy—to turn back boats on the high seas is unacceptable to the Indonesian government, and will not fly. That proposition—

Photo of Jamie BriggsJamie Briggs (Mayo, Liberal Party, Chairman of the Scrutiny of Government Waste Committee) Share this | | Hansard source

Speaker, I rise on a point of order on relevance. This is a motion about the suspension of standing orders for an inquiry as to why there is a terrorist in a low-security facility in the Adelaide Hills

Photo of Ms Anna BurkeMs Anna Burke (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Mayo will resume his seat. The minister has the call and will speak to the motion.

Photo of Brendan O'ConnorBrendan O'Connor (Gorton, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) Share this | | Hansard source

I oppose the motion because, clearly, the opposition are entirely disingenuous when it comes to this issue. They do not seek to find a compact with the government on national security matters. They have always sought to object and oppose anything that might reduce the chances of people endangering their lives at sea. They have always sought to get in the way of policies as recommended by experts which would see a reduction of vessels arriving in our waters. They have done that for political purposes. They have done it with a disregard for the men, women and children on those vessels, and they have done it with a disregard for our men and women on Customs and Naval boats that go out each and every day to interdict and stop those vessels. This disregard for our personnel is outrageous.

On top of all of that, if they think they are going to cut the Public Service by the thousands and not cut the staff of ASIO, the Australian Federal Police and Customs and Border Protection then they are kidding themselves. On one hand they have made it clear they are going to cut public servants; on the other they are trying to pretend that they will ensure those agencies will continue to have the resources they have now. They will not. If we want to talk about undermining national security, if the Abbott government were ever elected and Mr Abbott ever became leader he would be cutting the staff in ASIO, in the Australian Federal Police, in Customs and Border Protection and, indeed, in the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. I oppose this motion because it is put up deliberately to cause concern within our society and to create fear within our community.

3:31 pm

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

Let us make it clear that the reason the opposition want this amendment is because there is another story running on this issue today in The Guardian, which they want to make sure no-one is talking about. They want to suspend standing orders on this and they want to go out there and leak confidential meetings because they have this other attitude about the special, confidential deal they have with Indonesia, the deal that is so confidential that the Indonesian government is entirely unaware of it!

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition knows all too well that she is not simply the only person who knows about the Indonesian deal in Australia—she is the only person in the world, apparently, who knows about this special deal!

Photo of Christopher PyneChristopher Pyne (Sturt, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Education, Apprenticeships and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

Speaker, I rise on a point of order on relevance. We have all been very generous about the elasticity in this debate, but clearly—

Photo of Ms Anna BurkeMs Anna Burke (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The Manager of Opposition Business will resume his seat. The minister representing the Leader of the House will refer to the motion before the Chair.

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you very much, Speaker. It is a rather long motion; it would be hard to find anything on the planet that is not in some way relevant—

Photo of Ms Anna BurkeMs Anna Burke (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The time for the debate has expired. The question is that the motion be agreed to.

3:41 pm

Photo of Julia GillardJulia Gillard (Lalor, Australian Labor Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.