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Crean Outlines ALP Perspective On ASIO Legislation

December 13, 2002

This is the transcript of a press conference held in Canberra by the Leader of the Opposition, Simon Crean:

CREAN:

Well, it's been a very long night, and not much sleep. We spent a lot of time in the Parliament and in discussions. I'm very angry today that we haven't got the Bill that was presented to the Government, a Bill that would have given unprecedented powers to ASIO, the toughest investigative powers in the history of this country to combat terrorism, and the Government won't support it.

This Bill is not passed today for one reason, and one reason alone because John Howard doesn't want it. John Howard wants to play to the fear of Australians. He doesn't want a solution. Now I say to him today, because there's still an opportunity: when this Bill comes back from the Senate to the House of Representatives, pass it. Pass it here, now, today, and this country will have the toughest powers for ASIO ever in its history. But when you give those powers to ASIO, there have got to be safeguards. This is a security intelligence organisation. There has always been a suspicion in the public about it. The Labor Party established ASIO, but there have always been safeguards associated with it. The Bill that came to the House last night, and will come back again this morning, gives them the additional powers, but provides the safeguards. That's the Bill we want, and I challenge John Howard again today: don't play on the fear of Australians over the Christmas and into the future, give them a solution. And the Bill provides that solution. Pass it here, now, today.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Crean, do you think that it's dangerous for Australia not to have this Bill in whatever shape or form over the coming summer period? Do you think it's dangerous to rise today without that?

CREAN:

Australia needs this Bill. There is no question about it. And I tell you this: I know that there was support on the other side of the Parliament for this Bill. And how do I know it? Because members of the Liberal Party have participated in two committees that have supported the amendments that comprise the Bill that's come to us. The divisions are on their side of the Parliament. Now, do you know what happened? When we were debating it last night, John Howard was not in the Parliament. John Howard did not participate in this debate in the Parliament. All he did was to participate in the final vote this morning, and then went out on radio and a press conference to play to people's fears.

If John Howard were genuine about finding a solution to this, he would have taken notice of what his own people in his own party are saying. He would have listened to the concerns that have been expressed in the committees. He would have looked at the reports that have led to the amendments that have come to the Parliament, and he would have supported them.

We also know that Daryl Williams simply wanted a questioning regime, not a detention regime. He told our negotiators that. Who's changed his mind? John Howard. John Howard alone has prevented this legislation being passed. He has vetoed the toughest legislation against terrorism and in terms of powers for ASIO in this country.

JOURNALIST:

Is your side united on this?

CREAN:

Absolutely. And I can say this without equivocation, and I'll say it in the Chamber when we come back to debate it. This legislation, and the Bill that came to the Parliament, has been through this Caucus on at least three occasions. It's been through the Shadow Cabinet on as many occasions, and it's been to the Caucus committees. On every occasion, the support in the Labor Party for it was unanimous. That can't be said of the Liberal Party, because the Liberal Party has people that express severe concerns about the lack of legal advice. They express severe concerns about the questioning regime being over seven days.

And what does our Bill propose? When I say ours, not just the Labor Party's, but a Bill that includes members of their own party. It proposes a questioning regime where people can be questioned for up to 20hours, up to 20 hours. Now think about that. That's 20 hours total in questioning. Now, if you can't, as an intelligence-gatherer, work out that you've got a suspect after 20hours of questioning, then I think I think there is something wrong with the assertion that you can't achieve it after 20hours. What they want is a full seven days.

Now, in the end, what John Howard should be doing is accepting that this is the toughest legislation, and adopting it. He should be adopting it, because we can have this legislation today.

JOURNALIST:

This isn't what John Howard says. It's what Chris Richardson, er, Mr Richardson says from ASIO.

CREAN:

Dennis Richardson. Dennis Richardson, obviously, is the head of ASIO. He can't involve himself in the political debate. We have to make political decisions. We can't have this country run by ASIO, Dennis. We have to provide the framework and the laws by which ASIO operates. The Parliament has before it a Bill that gives the toughest regime, the toughest environment, the toughest powers, to ASIO in its history. That's the opportunity that is being vetoed by John Howard.

JOURNALIST:

Did you agree that to compromise would endanger the lives of Australian children, as the Government has suggested?

CREAN:

The Labor Party has compromised, and it has compromised with members of the Liberal Party, in presenting a Bill to the Parliament that gives unprecedented powers to our intelligence-gatherers with safeguards. That is the appropriate outcome for this nation. We have listened to the advice, we have listened to the evidence, and we have come forward with proposals that have the support of members of the Liberal Party.

We know, in the discussions that Daryl Williams has had with us, that he wants a solution. It is only John Howard that won't provide the solution. He will play on the fear, but he doesn't want a solution. He can have the solution today, and he knows it. The Bill can still pass, and it can happen within the next couple of hours.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Crean, do you think that those members of the Liberal Party that have expressed concerns for example, Marise Payne in the last committee investigation should now take some more active role in this debate to promote these compromises with the Prime Minister?

CREAN:

I do, and I think that other members

JOURNALIST:

Have you spoken to her?

CREAN:

My colleagues in the Senate, obviously, have continued to speak, but I haven't spoken to her. But it won't just be her. There are significant divisions within the Liberal Party about this. This is a Prime Minister running a one-man show. This is a Prime Minister ignoring the advice of members of his own party. This is a Prime Minister that doesn't participate in parliamentary debate, but he plays to the fear of Australians and he simply does it through media. Now I think he had an obligation to be in the Parliament to debate this, I really do. I was in there all night, and so were my colleagues. And we are serious about getting a solution.

We understand the fear that Australians have. We understand the new environment in which we find ourselves. That is why from the beginning we have been prepared to give the additional powers to ASIO with safeguards.


We have been entirely consistent in that direction. We have been prepared to compromise in the process but, in the end, the solution has to contain those elements the additional powers but with safeguards.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think the Government is trying to use this as a sort of a new Tampa-like incident or not incident, but issue?

CREAN:

Look, I am interested, Michelle, in the solution, and so should the Government. No one should question the patriotism or commitment to defending this nation of me or the Labor Party.

JOURNALIST:

John Howard did that, though.

CREAN:

Of course John Howard does, because he plays that sort of politics but look at the history of the Labor Party. It was John Curtin that left the legacy of the free people, free nation. It's Labor that has always stood up for the defence of this nation and the security of this nation. And it is those values that have guided us in terms of the Bill that is before the Parliament today, a Bill that has the support of members of John Howard's own party. And it is the Prime Minister alone that has vetoed it. And I say to the Prime Minister: stand up for the national interest, not just your own political interest. It is in the national interest that this Bill be passed, and it still can be.

JOURNALIST:

Does Labor have a problem with [inaudible] John Howard keeps talking about the New South Wales law that Labor has [inaudible].

CREAN:

No, because if you look at the New South Wales laws, it is about arrest and search powers for the Police. The Bill we are talking about is detention powers for ASIO. We want them to be questioning powers, but there are fundamental differences between a policing authority and an intelligence-gathering authority. Police have these powers in New South Wales to use against suspects. This Bill is about questioning detention for non-suspects, and it is too harsh a regime in those circumstances.

What we need is the capacity for the intelligence-gatherers to determine whether they have the suspects. And if you are going to give them those powers which we will then there must be safeguards. That is what our Bill proposes and that is what should be passed.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Crean, did you get any sleep last night, and how much?

CREAN:

I had an hour and a half on the couch. I was going to go home, and my colleagues suggested I should. I didn't know what time this was coming back, so I didn't I stayed here. But there were divisions on other matters so it was a pretty restless sort of a sleep.

JOURNALIST:

Your parliamentary colleagues [inaudible] up all night just to liaise on the ASIO Bill?

CREAN:

Absolutely, there were discussions going. I had a call, a discussion with John Faulkner, I think around about three-thirty, four o'clock. But we were in constant discussion between the two Chambers.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Crean, does it worry you that the way the Prime Minister is trying to shift the responsibility for Australians going to Christmas without any Bill in place? Does it worry you the repercussions that that could have?

CREAN:

It worries me but, more importantly, it makes me very angry. This is a Prime Minister who has got a solution staring him in the face a solution that will provide the additional powers today and over Christmas and beyond, powers which will last for three years and can continue, obviously, if they are required. Now, that has been passed up by the Prime Minister. What worries me is why he is not prepared to give this nation those powers, why he is not prepared to support the Bill that members of his own party support, why he is not prepared to allow his Attorney-General to negotiate a questioning regime, and insists on it being a detention regime. Why one man, and his view as to what the outcome should be, should determine the national interest. That is what worries me and it makes me very angry, because he has got to govern, he has got to govern in the national interest, not as a loner. And I say to him, govern in the national interest, adopt the bill, pass it here, now, today.

JOURNALIST:

Why do you think the PM didn't participate last night in the debate?

CREAN: I don't think he is interested in the parliamentary process and the scrutiny that it involves. You only have to look at his ignoring of the facts in terms of the issues we were raising during the week. He's not an accountable Prime Minister in the Parliament, and he wasn't last night. This is the most important piece of legislation that this Parliament has debated in a long time. So far as intelligence-gathering, it's the most important piece of legislation ever passed since ASIO was established and he wasn't there. And he has got the gall to talk about the numbers of the Labor Party there today. Where was he last night debating this Bill? What he was there today doing he didn't even speak today just voted against it, ran straight onto the ABC and then straight into a Press Conference. That is not the way you govern for the nation. That is about creating fear in people's minds, not providing a solution. I stand for a solution. I want a solution. I am prepared to talk to people about what that solution involves, and we have done that. And we have delivered a Bill to the Parliament that provides that solution. It can still be there. And I say to the Prime Minister, put aside your individual basis of operating politics by fear, and support the solution.

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