Threats need urgent response
By Prime Minister John Howard
IMAGINE if the Attorney-General and I had not revealed to the public our plan to introduce an urgent amendment to Australia's counter-terrorism laws.
Our security and law-enforcement agencies advised us that they needed greater capacity to effectively respond to potential terrorist threats and they needed it urgently. The only way to do this was through a change in the law.
If we had not announced the plan, what would the public have thought when they eventually found out the Government was secretly trying to change the counter-terrorism legislation?
And how would the Australian people have reacted when it was made known the changes were needed urgently because of specific information about a potential terrorist threat?
Of course I had to announce the proposed changes and explain why they were needed.
Early last week, the Government received specific intelligence and police information which gave cause for serious concern about a potential terrorist threat.
After a briefing from the relevant agencies to the National Security Committee, I talked to all of the state premiers. I also provided the Leader of the Opposition and the Shadow Minister for Homeland Security with the detail of the intelligence. I provided Mr Beazley with exactly the same material that I was given by intelligence agencies and we talked it through with them.
I was satisfied, on the advice provided, that having Parliament pass the amendment immediately would help our law-enforcement agencies better respond to the threat. All of the premiers agreed. So did the Opposition. Parliament passed the amendment on Thursday.
Some people have queried why I announced the changes to the Australian public.
It's just not possible to amend an Act of Parliament urgently and recall the Senate without giving a reason. Others have asked whether I have risked tipping off the terrorists. Again, you are damned if you do, damned if you don't. Those risks were discussed with relevant security agencies.
I took the decision to disclose to the public as much information as possible, consistent with protecting the operations of law-enforcement agencies.
I am sure Australians can understand why I cannot get into operational detail. Revealing details might jeopardise intelligence and security operations and that is not a risk I am prepared to take.
The Government must strike a balance between maintaining security and keeping the public informed about any threats.
The Government is acting against the background that a terrorist attack is feasible and could well occur in Australia without warning. This is the assessment of our intelligence agencies. In the past week, the national security service ASIO publicly acknowledged the threat of home-grown terrorism.
At all times, the Government aims to keep the public informed of threats and of any steps they can take to assist authorities and protect themselves and their families.
I think this is am important message and one that needs to be shared.
When John Howard announced the changes to anti-terrorist legislation being rushed through senate, he consistently refused to give specific details of the threat. Or 'so-called' threat according to a lot of commentators.
It was all over the news like a bad case of hives, and while my thought was that there must be something serious going on, the letters pages were full of the same old moonbat whine about the Industrial Relations changes, and how propitious the timing of the 'threat' was. Or there were comments about it just being another day in the life of 'Jakcboot Johnny'. The talking heads on the teev were pretty much the same. Snide remarks about the IR legislation and wasting of taxpayers money, a majority parliament abusing its majority.
Hello, Brackistan calling. Toll-free roads, anyone? Speed cameras that so aren't about revenue that they are often placed on freeways where the road is wide, and open and smooth.
But I digress.
A quick look at what's happening around the world would surely knock a bit of sense into people. Paris burning, riots in Denmark, schoolgirls decapitated in Indonesia. Surely there is cause for concern.
Then again, with none of these being addressed with any sort of depth or consideration by the television stations or the daily papers, why wouldn't anybody think that the government have a hidden agenda?
Heaven forbid that there might actually be a legitimate reason behind the PM's actions.