Parliament and Passports

May 26, 2010 by J-Wire
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The stoush between Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and Shadow Foreign Minister Julie Bishop over Australia’s forging of passports was performed in the media arena yesterday.

J-Wire publishes the official comments in full…

The following was issued by the Foreign Minister’s department at 5:28 p.m yesterday. It was a response to a question without notice in Parliament.

Mr STEPHEN SMITH—The question was about the fraudulent use of Australian passports, the risks to the integrity of the Australian passport system and the risks to Australia’s national interest, as my statement to the House yesterday refers.

The Government is in no doubt that Israel was responsible for the fraud involving Australian passports connected with the assassination in Dubai of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. While Israel is and was a firm friend of Australia, this action was not the act of a friend, and I have made that point consistently.

Regrettably, this was not the first time that Israel has misused Australian passports. That occurred previously. As a consequence of that breach, an understanding was reached between Australian and Israeli agencies that this would not be repeated. So what has occurred is in express and direct breach of an understanding reached between Australian and Israeli agencies during the period of the previous Government.

The Government’s decision and judgement in this matter have been based at all times on national security considerations and, importantly, on the advice of relevant national security agencies—the Australian Federal Police, ASIO, ASIS and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Both the Government’s consideration and those agencies’ considerations have involved very careful, exhaustive investigations and assessments, careful consideration and the weighting of the importance to Australia’s national security of the integrity of our passport system. No Government can guarantee that any passport system is foolproof, but equally, no Government can stand idly by and turn a blind eye when anyone, including a foreign Government, another country, fraudulently abuses the integrity of our passport system and abuses our trust and our confidence.

The advice that was given to me and to the National Security Committee of the Cabinet yesterday was in substance the same advice given to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs. She received a briefing yesterday. It is the second briefing that she has received in this matter; she received a briefing from agencies when the matter first came to public attention.

I was surprised in March when the Leader of the Opposition in response to a newspaper interview before the completion of the AFP inquiry and before, as I understand it, any briefing he had, made the public comment that he did not believe the Government should take any action in this matter. I thought that was unwise. In these matters I think that you are always best off carefully considering, acting on advice, weighting that advice, and weighing up the heavy responsibility and often difficult judgements about national security considerations.

If I was surprised by the Leader of the Opposition, I must say that I was shocked by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition’s response yesterday—absolutely shocked. As I said, yesterday before I got to my feet in the Parliament she had received a briefing from relevant security agencies—the Australian Federal Police, ASIO, ASIS and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade—and the substance of the briefing was exactly the same as the substance of the briefing which the Government itself received.

I am asked about risks to these matters. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has said that the Government’s decision was wrong because it was based on political considerations, that it was done for United Nations Security Council purposes, that there is no evidence or proof that Israel was responsible for these matters, and that the Government’s decision in asking Israel to remove one of its officials from the embassy was an ‘overreaction’.

Mr Speaker, I choose my words carefully. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition makes a point about evidence. She is aware, as a result of the briefing that she received yesterday, that while the decision was not based on evidence of a kind which could lead to law enforcement action before a criminal court, it was a decision based on a considered judgement shared by relevant Australian security agencies. It was also a decision which, she well knows, included reasons and information which, for reasons of national security, I could not share with the Australian public, but which were shared with her by our security agencies. That is why I was absolutely shocked when she conducted herself in the manner in which she did. The decision and the judgement which the Australian Government have made have at all times taken into account the national security considerations of the Commonwealth.

She is now complaining that I am asserting that she breached the confidentiality of the briefing. I am not saying that. In the face of a briefing, you went out and said that the reasons the Government has made this decision are, firstly, political considerations; secondly, United Nations Security Council considerations; and, thirdly, it was an overreaction. Let me make this point to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition: when she received the briefing from the national security agencies, as did the Government, none of those national security agencies had in their minds when they were carefully weighting their advice to the Government what she would describe as ‘political considerations’ or the United Nations Security Council.

They had in their minds, as did the Government, the integrity of our passport system, the protection of our national security interest, and what you have done in your response yesterday and today has shown that you are not fit to occupy a position of trust in the national security environment.

I have also seen the assertion that somehow this was the first occasion in which an Australian Government has asked the Israeli Embassy to remove an officer. This is not true. I am not saying that you said it. I have seen the assertion. The assertion was made to me on television. In 2004 when the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition were Cabinet Ministers, the previous Government on the advice of the national security agencies asked the Israeli Embassy to remove an officer for national security reasons of which, for example, the member for Berowra is well aware. On that occasion, Mr Speaker, there was no assertion from anyone that somehow this was done for political considerations or other motivations.

Historically in this place people have understood the framework of national security considerations within which we work. I do not like to see national security considerations become a political football, but that is what the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has done. That is not the context in which the Labor Party when in opposition responded when for national security considerations on the basis of national security agency advice the previous Government asked the Israeli Embassy to remove an officer. We did not turn that into a political football—and the examples are comparable. When Governments seriously, sensibly, carefully make national security considerations they do so after carefully weighing up the advice from the national security agencies and that, Mr Speaker, is what we did.

I am asked about risks. There is a substantial and significant risk to the national security interests of the Commonwealth. There is a substantial and significant risk to the integrity of our passport system. If what we have seen and if what we have considered is not enough for the Leader of the Opposition or the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to regard appropriate action being taken, action more than an expression of concern, what is required in their view? What do we need to see to destroy the integrity of our passport system? What do we need to see to destroy our national security interest? What do we need to see to have an attack upon our sovereignty before they would act? The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has shown by her response to this matter that she is not fit to occupy a position sitting around the National Security Committee of the Cabinet.

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At 5:30 p.m., we received this from Julie Bishop’s office:

I did not state that Australian intelligence agencies have forged the passports of other nations, during my interview with Fairfax online this afternoon.

My responses were referring to the fact that forged Australian passports have been used previously, as noted by the Foreign Minister today.

I have no knowledge of any Australian authority forging any passports of any nation.

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At 5:55 p.m, Stephen Smith via the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade published this…

Comments made by Ms Julie Bishop

In an on-camera interview with Fairfax journalist Mr Tim Lester today, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Julie Bishop, asserted that Australian intelligence agencies used forged passports.

BISHOP: It would be naive to think that Israel was the only country in the world that has used forged passports – including Australian passports – for security operations.

LESTER: What? We do?

BISHOP: Yes.

On Melbourne Talk Radio earlier today, Ms Bishop made similar comments:

BISHOP: And it wouldn’t be the first time that another country forged passports for a particular operation. And I would include in that Australia.

It is a fundamental principle of long standing that successive Australian Governments do not comment on intelligence matters, and in particular, do not comment or speculate on operational practices.

Ms Bishop has shown that she does not respect that principle of longstanding which has served our national security interests well.

I have not and will not be drawn on intelligence practices of Australian intelligence agencies.

What was in issue here is not any suggested practices of Australian agencies, but that a foreign intelligence service has misappropriated the identities of a number of Australians and, in so doing, has undermined the integrity of Australia’s passport system.

That is not something that any Australian Government can turn a blind eye to.

What is in issue now is Ms Bishop’s conduct.

The Opposition has shown that it is not capable of making the tough decisions required to protect the integrity of Australia’s passport system and Australia’s national security interests.


Comments

One Response to “Parliament and Passports”
  1. Troy says:

    Another instance of grandstanding! Sadly she has no concept of the sensitive nature of matters pertaining to her portfolio, but then, what’s new?

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