THE HON MICHAEL DANBY MP
SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION,
SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR THE ARTS
MEMBER FOR MELBOURNE PORTS
Let me turn to the last area I want to identify, and that is claims made by the foreign minister last week in response to the intense questioning from the shadow Attorney-General that somehow during the previous Labor government expenditure on national security was diminished and the opposition was somehow unsupportive of the safety of all Australians.
Nothing could be further from the truth. As we all know, in the last three tranches of national security legislation—including with some intense debates on our own side—we have supported the government to protect Australian people on every occasion and that includes not only in legislation but also in expenditure on non-Defence national security. If you examine expenditure by the Howard government from, say, 2001 to 2014 expenditure on non-Defence national security it goes, in the billions of dollars, from about three in 2001 to seven when Labor finished office and it has remained at that high level under the current government, although I note that it is projected to decline in 2017–18 to six and a half. I am not going to quibble with members of the coalition about what might happen in the future, but all I would say is: over the years, between 2001 and 2007, when the Howard government was in office, there was a slow increase of expenditure in this area. It remained high when Prime Minister Rudd was elected and went to greater heights when Prime Minister Gillard was elected. So the claim that Labor is not interested in legislatively or financially supporting Australian national security is plainly false.
The review of Australia’s counter-terrorism machinery produced a chart that is available from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in their January 2015 report, and it is clear that we were mindful of expenditure in this area because circumstances demanded the increase. I do not think it serves either political party to say that one is more patriotic than the other, if there is no evidence of it. So, both in legislation and in expenditure, Labor has been responsible and supported the government. It is regrettable for a glass-jawed Foreign Minister to be unable to answer questions about what the Attorney-General should have done with national security and to say that we were not spending sufficient money when we were in office or that we did not support them on legislation.
Since we have time in these debates to reflect on things, I might say that the foreign minister and the Attorney-General do not understand these things. That piece of paper from Monis could have been very important for a professional intelligence officer if he had evaluated it. Who knows what other information they had? This might have indicated that this person had become very active when he suggested that he wanted to be in contact with the head of Daesh.
Not everyone reacts like the Attorney-General’s office did. I am not saying the Attorney-General himself. I am sure that if he had seen the correspondence he would have referred it on directly to the security services, not just to his department. I received a letter from a convicted terrorist some years ago. I was alarmed because I thought the person sounded very emboldened. I did not understand why he was writing to me. I not only sent it on to ASIO; I also rang the director-general. I came to the view that the security services found this piece of correspondence a particularly important part of the picture with this individual. That is why all of us, from the highest to the lowest, have a responsibility when these matters come before us to refer these matters directly on straightaway to the appropriate authorities.
It is not good enough to say that former Attorney-General McClelland received a piece of correspondence. The difference is the situation. The security alert was at the highest level it has ever been and it should have been referred. The foreign minister should not be so glass jawed about it.