Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (10:01): I rise to make a brief contribution here. As Senator Milne has said, the Greens do not make these sorts of suspensions lightly. It is not the conduct that we engage in unless the matter is of the utmost importance.
I acknowledge Senator Fifield's comments. I think it would be appropriate for Senator Brandis to join us for this debate, but nonetheless, I acknowledge Senator Fifield's comments this morning. But I take him up on one issue, and that is the issue, crucially, that goes to the reason why we brought the suspension motion forward, that it is not at all apparent to the Greens or, I would suspect, to the general public, that this matter has anything whatsoever to do with national security.
I understand and respect the reasons why ministers of coalition or Labor Party orientations would not comment on matters that would prejudice ongoing national security investigations. If ASIS had been exposed bugging al-Qaeda headquarters or wiretapping international organised crime or money-laundering syndicates, this motion would not be necessary. But what is at stake here is an accusation-and apparently a well-founded accusation that will be tested at a court of arbitration in the Hague this week-that ASIS bugged the cabinet rooms of the government of Timor-Leste during sensitive commercial negotiations that have consequences in the billions of dollars for commercial players like Woodside and then, by extension, the Commonwealth of Australia and the government of Timor-Leste through tax revenues and royalties.
That, I would submit, has nothing whatsoever to do with national security. For that reason the Attorney-General should front us today and explain why he has used the most extreme executive powers that are available to him-calling in intelligence agencies with extraordinary coercive powers, serving warrants on people that they are not even permitted to read and detaining legal counsel and key witnesses for a matter of hours without any explanation at all. You are not then simply able to wave your hand and call 'national security' as the reason a shroud needs to drop.
This parliament, the Australian public and the people involved in these arbitration matters overseas deserve an explanation better than they got last night from the Attorney-General as to why our covert agencies have been called in to exercise some of the most severe powers that are available to Australian agencies.
Minister Downer was the Foreign Minister at the time that these allegations prevailed that ASIS bugged the government of Timor-Leste to, apparently, advance the commercial interests of Woodside, an oil and gas corporation. Minister Downer then goes and sets up his own lobbying company and, lo and behold, ends up on the payroll of that very same corporation. That is the reason that this ASIS operative has decided to take the extraordinary action of appearing as a witness in these arbitration hearings.
As it has been said, this is not some junior operative. For all the mud that has been flung at the US whistleblower Edward Snowden-noting the deliberate use of the term 'traitor' by our Attorney-General earlier this week-this is not a junior subcontractor who has come into possession of documents. This is a key operative who ran technical operations for ASIS at the time that these allegations are said to have occurred. This is somebody not merely with high-level technical knowledge and competence of the operations that were underway; it is somebody with a conscience.
Our people who display a conscience like that and are willing to go on the public record in defence of one of the poorest nations in the region in their negotiations with one of the richest nations on earth should be protected. They should not be subject to arbitrary intimidation and detention by ASIO at the behest of Australia's Attorney-General. Senator Brandis owes it to this parliament, owes it to the Australian people and owes it to the people of Timor-Leste to front this chamber and explain what on earth he is doing. He is already being compared to former FBI boss J Edgar Hoover, and that story did not end well. This appears to be a chilling abuse of executive power. If it is not that then the Attorney-General owes it to us to front this chamber and explain what on earth he is up to.