House of Representatives Debates Gay Marriage Resolution

An impressive debate began in the House of Representatives tonight on a motion by the Greens member, Adam Bandt, calling on parliamentarians to gauge their constituents’ views on the issue of marriage equality.

Bandt’s motion reads:

That this House:

(1) notes there is:

(a) a growing list of countries that allow same-sex couples to marry including the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, SPain, Canada and South Africa; and

(b) widespread support for equal marriage in the Australian community; and

(2) calls on all parliamentarians to gauge their constituents’ views on the issue of marriage equality.

Speaking to the motion, Bandt said, “there have been many attempts through history to limit love and all have failed”. The text of his speech is at the end of this page. [Read more…]

Kelvin Thomson Resigns From Shadow Ministry Over Mokbel Reference

The ALP’s Shadow Attorney-General, Kelvin Thomson, has resigned after admitting he wrote a reference in 2000 for the fugitive crime figure, Tony Mokbel.

Kelvin Thomson, ALP Member for WillsAt a press conference today, the Leader of the Opposition, Kevin Rudd, said: “On Tuesday my office received anonymous information that the Member for Wills and Shadow Attorney–General, Mr Kelvin Thomson, had provided a letter of support of some sort to Tony Mokbel. On Wednesday after my office spoke with Mr Thomson, I was briefed that the matter concerned a letter of support for a Victorian liquor licence application in 2000 for Mr Mokbel. Mr Thomson has since stated that a request was made for a letter of support for Mr Mokbel from Mr Thomson, as Mokbel’s local Member of Parliament in 2000 in support of a liquor licence application. Mr Thomson subsequently provided that letter of support.”

Rudd said: “It is unacceptable for a person to be Shadow Attorney-General and the first law officer of the Commonwealth to have provided a letter of support of this nature. That is also Mr Thomson’s view.”

Of Mokbel, Rudd said: “Mokbel has been described as a senior crime figure, a fugitive, and also someone who is wanted for murder. I’m advised that by 2000 Mokbel had a range of convictions including unlawful assault, including assault occasioning bodily harm, firearms offences and handling stolen goods.”

Thomson has been the Labor member for the Melbourne electorate of Wills, based on Coburg, since 1996. Previously, he served nearly two terms in the Victorian Legislative Assembly as the member for Pascoe Vale.

He has held a variety of shadow portfolios since 1997. He was the shadow minister for Human Services during 2005-06 and was appointed shadow Attorney-General when Rudd became leader in December 2006.

Thomson’s resignation comes at the end of a week which began with allegations about Rudd’s meetings with Brian Burke. This was followed by the resignation of the Minister for Human Services, Senator Ian Campbell. Then three Queensland Liberal backbenchers came under police investigation over possible abuses of their electorate allowances.

  • Mar 09: Listen to Kelvin Thomson Comment on his Tony Mokbel Reference.

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  • Mar 09: Listen to Kevin Rudd Comment On Kelvin Thomson’s Resignation.

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  • Mar 09: Listen to Attorney-General Philip Ruddock Comment On Kelvin Thomson.

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  • Mar 11: Listen to Foreign Minister Alexander Downer Sledge Thomson And Rudd.

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  • Mar 11: Listen to Treasurer Peter Costello Sledge Rudd And Thomson.

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This is the reference Kelvin Thomson wrote for Tony Mokbel.

*

This is the text of a media statement released by the Leader of the Opposition, Kevin Rudd.

On Tuesday my office received anonymous information that the Member for Wills and Shadow Attorney-General, Mr Kelvin Thomson may have provided a letter of support of some sort to Tony Mokbel.

On Wednesday after my office spoke with Mr Thomson, I was briefed that the matter concerned a letter of support for a Victorian Liquor Licence application in 2000 for Mokbel.

Mr Thomson has since stated that:

  • A request was made for a letter of support for Mokbel from Mr Thomson (as Mokbel’s local Member of Parliament) in 2000 in support of a liquor licence application.
  • Mr Thomson subsequently provided that letter of support.

Mokbel has been described as a fugitive senior crime figure, who is wanted for murder. I am advised that by 2000, Mokbel had a range of convictions, including unlawful assault, assault occasioning bodily harm, firearms offences and handling stolen goods.

Mr Thomson has stated to me that he had no recollection of the provision of this letter of support.

Mr Thomson has resigned today from the Shadow Ministry – effective today.

It is unacceptable for a person to be Shadow Attorney-General and the first law officer of the Commonwealth to have provided a letter of support of this nature. That is also Mr Thomson’s view.

I have asked incoming ALP National President Senator John Faulkner and senior Victorian Senator Robert Ray to examine this matter with a view to making recommendations on the future provision by MPs of letters and references.

I have appointed Senator Joe Ludwig as Shadow Attorney-General. Arch Bevis will be given the added responsibilities of Shadow Minister for Justice and Customs. Deputy Manager of Opposition Business will be Bob McMullan.

*

This is the transcript of a press conference held by the Leader of the Opposition, Kevin Rudd.

Rudd:

Kelvin Thomson has resigned today as a Member of the Shadow Ministry and as Shadow Attorney-General. That resignation is accepted as of today.

It is unacceptable for any person who would be the alternative Attorney-General and the alternative first law officer of the Commonwealth to have provided a letter of support of this nature. Mr Thomson also accepts that position. The circumstances surrounding this matter are canvassed in a written statement which I’ve just distributed and there are as follows:

On Tuesday my office received anonymous information that the Member for Wills and Shadow Attorney–General, Mr Kelvin Thomson, had provided a letter of support of some sort to Tony Mokbel. On Wednesday after my office spoke with Mr Thomson, I was briefed that the matter concerned a letter of support for a Victorian liquor licence application in 2000 for Mr Mokbel. Mr Thomson has since stated that a request was made for a letter of support for Mr Mokbel from Mr Thomson, as Mokbel’s local Member of Parliament in 2000 in support of a liquor licence application. Mr Thomson subsequently provided that letter of support.

Mokbel has been described as a senior crime figure, a fugitive, and also someone who is wanted for murder. I’m advised that by 2000 Mokbel had a range of convictions including unlawful assault, including assault occasioning bodily harm, firearms offences and handling stolen goods.

Mr Thomson has stated to me that he had no recollection of the provision of the letter of support. In addition to the action I’ve taken in relation to this matter I have also asked incoming ALP National President, Senator John Faulkner, and senior Victorian Senator, Robert Ray, to examine this matter with the view to making recommendations on the future provision by MP’s of letters and references. On machinery arrangements, they are as follows:

I’ve appointed Senator Ludwig as Shadow Attorney-General. Arch Bevis will be given the added responsibility as Shadow Minister for Justice and Customs in addition to his existing responsibilities of Homeland Security and Territories. Deputy Manager of Opposition Business will be Bob McMullan. I’m happy to take questions.

Journalist:

Are you going to ask all your MP’s to confirm to you now that they have not provided letters of reference to underworld figures?

Rudd:

It would be appropriate now for there to be an audit of references provided in support of liquor licence applications and any other relevant application by individuals for support from any agency of Government and that audit will occur in the days ahead.

Journalist:

Have you provided any such letters?

Rudd:

To the best of my knowledge, no.

Journalist:

Shouldn’t these matters be a simple a matter of commonsense?

Rudd:

Well, the question here is this: that when it comes to having, as the alternative Attorney-General and alternative first law officer of the Commonwealth having provided a letter of this nature, it is not acceptable. It is unacceptable and that’s why Mr Thomson has resigned.

Journalist:

(inaudible) any Ministers or any Members of Parliament should be writing references at all?

Rudd:

When it comes to references in support of community organisations, I would assume that Members of Parliament, both Labor and Liberal across the country, may have done so from time to time, particularly when it comes in support of local charitable and community activities. When it comes to individual recommendations or letters of support for regulators concerning particular matters, that’s a different matter and that’s why we’ll be conducting an audit in the days ahead.

Journalist:

Will he be able to return to the frontbench, Mr Thomson?

Rudd:

I would need to be presented with a very strong argument indeed for that to occur, a very strong argument indeed for that to occur.

Journalist:

Will he be remaining as a member of the Labor Party?

Rudd:

On the basis of the information that I have available to me at present, Mr Thomson will remain as a member of the ALP and will remain of course as the Member for Wills.

Journalist:

Have you sacked Mr Thomson?

Rudd:

Mr Thomson tendered his resignation. It was accepted. The reason for that was that it is unacceptable to have Mr Thomson as the alternative Attorney-General and the alternative first law officer of Australia having provided a letter of support of this nature, even though it was provided some six or seven years ago.

Journalist:

If he faces such a (inaudible) task to regain a place on the frontbench, isn’t he, in effect, a lame duck Member for Wills and does that call into question his position for a candidate then?

Rudd:

On the basis of the information available to me, it would not be inappropriate for Mr Thomson to recontest, as I said, that’s on the basis of the information at present available to me.

Journalist:

(inaudible)

Rudd:

Well, politics is full of ups and downs and we’ve had a few challenges in recent times, this is one of them I accept that. The important thing is that once these matters have been put to us and we have investigated them internally and established the facts, as best we know them and to act and to act decisively, we’ve done that.

Journalist:

But it is a very bad look in the light of the recent Brian Burke problems, is it not?

Rudd:

When it comes to a key position such as the alternative Attorney-General of Australia and a key position as the first law officer of Australia, we cannot have a person in that position who has provided a letter of support of this nature. Let’s be clear about this. Mokbel is a fugitive. Mokbel is charged with murder. Mokbel is an individual who is engaged in wide-ranging criminal activities. For those reasons it’s unacceptable for any letter of support to have been provided to such a person. We should be mindful of the fact that there were a range of criminal convictions prior to 2000, that those are also in part of a violent nature.

Journalist:

Did Mr Thomson ever meet Tony Mokbel?

Rudd:

Mr Thomson has stated that he has no recollection of meeting Mokbel and I refer you to his statement today to that effect.

Journalist:

(inaudible) been a suggestion that perhaps one of his staff members may have written this reference without Kelvin’s knowledge and (inaudible)?

Rudd:

My understanding is that the reference from – I think, Mr Thomson has made this perfectly clear in his statement – that this reference was completed in his office. In terms of the details surrounding the completion of the actual reference, that question had best be put to him. My concern is this. The letter of reference has been provided and that when it comes to the standards which we are expected to uphold concerning who should be the first law officer of Australia, who should be the Attorney-General of Australia, if a letter of support of this nature exists, then there is no alternative but to act in the way in which we have acted. And we’ve done so decisively.

Journalist:

Do you know if Mr Thomson physically signed off on that letter?

Rudd:

I’m uncertain as to whether the signature in question is directly Mr Thomson’s or whether it’s been provided by some other electronic device.

Journalist:

Did you ask him to stand down?

Rudd:

Mr Thomson voluntarily resigned. I accepted his resignation for the reasons I’ve outlined.

Journalist:

In general terms, does the airing of dirty laundry (inaudible) on your orders and how did this come out?

Rudd:

As stated in the statement which I’ve circulated, on Tuesday this week there was an anonymous source of information which related to this matter. On Wednesday and Thursday and this morning these matters were then discussed in detail with Mr Thomson. We established the facts, as presented to you, and action has been taken concerning Mr Thomson remaining as Shadow Attorney-General.

Journalist:

Was this anonymous source a member of the public, a parliamentarian?

Rudd:

An anonymous source from the public. And what we do when we receive anonymous sources, and you’ll be surprised to know there’s a few of those both in politics and journalism, is that when information comes in we check things out, and we did so, and after several days of discussions we established these facts.

Journalist:

Were you influenced in your thinking by the fact the Prime Minister recently dismissed a Minister for an apparently harmless meeting with Brian Burke?

Rudd:

When it comes to Mokbel, we are dealing with a major figure of organised crime in Australia and we’re dealing with Mokbel, we’re dealing with a person who is a fugitive, we’re dealing with a person who is responsible for violent crime. And therefore, the standard I’ve applied to this is that any letter of support for such a person means that the person providing that support could not possibly become the first law officer of the Commonwealth or possibly become the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth.

Journalist:

Is it a fair point, though, isn’t it, that in the last few weeks we’ve had a lot of almost all knee-jerk reactions with certain situations and people have been summarily dumped whereas in recent years there hasn’t been any of that. Why do you think in the last few weeks we’ve suddenly seen State and Federal Members going?

Rudd:

Well, on this question, my responsibility relates to the suitability for office in the position of the Attorney-General of Australia of a person who has provided a letter of support for an individual such as Mokbel. I think that is self-explanatory, given Mokbel’s background, and given the fact that Mokbel remains a fugitive, and given that Mokbel, as of today, based on my advice, is being charged with murder.

Journalist:

Is it embarrassing to the Federal Labor Party?

Rudd:

Well, there are certain things you’d rather not happen and this is one of them. I accept that. But when these things present themselves you investigate them and you establish the facts, you take the necessary action. That’s what we’ve done in the last several days and we’ve acted decisively today.

Journalist:

(inaudible)

Rudd:

Mr Thomson, in my experience of him, has been a first- class Member of Parliament and when it comes to this decision relating to his future in the Shadow Ministry and as the Shadow Attorney-General, of course it’s an outcome which he regrets. But when it comes to us going to the people and presenting an individual as the alternative first law officer of Australia, you cannot, you cannot play around with this. This is a serious position. Mokbel is a serious figure of organised crime in Australia. There can be no compromise on these questions and there is none. Thank you.

Howard Rushes Amendment To Counter Terrorism Legislation

Indefinite Article Wins The Day

‘The’ becomes ‘a’ in an urgent amendment the Federal Government is rushing through Parliament today. The rush to substitute the indefinite article for the definite article has been justified by claims of a ‘potential terrorist threat.’

Addressing a press conference late this morning, the Prime Minister, John Howard said: “The reason for this amendment is that the Government has received specific intelligence and police information this week which gives cause for serious concern about a potential terrorist threat.”

Howard said: “All the detail of this information has been provided by me and the Attorney General to the Leader of the Opposition and to the Shadow Minister for Homeland Security. The Government is satisfied on the advice provided to it that the immediate passage of this amendment would strengthen the capacity of the law enforcement agencies to effectively respond to this threat. We are acting of course, against the background of the assessment of intelligence agencies reported in the annual ASIO report.”

The Labor Opposition has announced that it will support the amendment. [Read more…]

Howard In Davos For WEF; Comments on Habib, Beazley

The Prime Minister, John Howard, is in Davos, Switzerland, for the latest meeting of the World Economic Forum.

Speaking to journalists, Howard criticised European wheat subsidies, but was otherwise non-committal on Mamdouh Habib and the ALP leadership.

According to its website, the World Economic Forum is “an independent international organization incorporated as a Swiss not-for-profit foundation”. Its members “represent the world’s 1,000 leading companies, along with 200 smaller businesses, many from the developing world, that play a potent role in their industry or region”.

The forum aims for “a world-class corporate governance system where values are as important a basis as rules”. It argues for “entrepreneurship in the global public interest”, and believes that “economic progress without social development is not sustainable, while social development without economic progress is not feasible.”

This is the transcript of the doorstop interview given by the Prime Minister, John Howard, at the Belvedere Hotel in Davos, Switzerland.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, this is your first trip to the World Economic Forum, why have you come this year?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it’s not my first trip to the World Economic Forum, I went to the one in New York, it’s the first one I’ve come to in Davos. I think this is an appropriate time given beginning of a new term, there are a lot of major economic issues to be discussed, I’ll take the opportunity for example of expressing my concern about the decision of the European Union to resume subsidies for the export of wheat, that’s a matter of very great concern to Australia, it seems to run completely counter to all the rhetoric we’ve had about more open trade, if this is their idea about more open trade well Australia is deeply disappointed. There’s a lot of rhetoric at the moment about helping under-developed countries, nothing would help under-developed countries more than the removal of trade subsidies and trade barriers and if the nations of Europe and North America and others that have highly protected agricultural policies wanted to really help many of the developing countries then they could do more to help them in changing their trade policies than they could through official development assistance.

JOURNALIST:

So will you be seeking some bilateral discussions with European Union officials?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I will talk to anybody I can get hold of on all manner of subjects, I’m having a lot of bilateral discussions and I’m sure the opportunity of discussing that matter will come up.

JOURNALIST:

Mamdouh Habib arrived back in Australia today, will the Government be keeping a close eye on him?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look Mr Ruddock is dealing with that, let him speak for the Government on that issue.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think in general though given that the possibility of charges being pressed has now receded, if it fair enough to say that the man’s innocent?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m not going to express a view on that, Mr Ruddock is handling it back in Australia.

JOURNALIST:

What do you think of the election of Kim Beazley as Opposition Leader?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it was inevitable wasn’t it? Let me congratulate Mr Beazley, like all other leaders of the opposition I won’t be taking anything for granted in dealing with the Labor Party under his leadership. His responsibility now, as mine has been in the almost 10 years that I’ve been leader of the Liberal Party, is to be accountable to the Australian people. The Australian people will want to know from him, as they do from me, what he stands for and what he intends to do. You are accountable in public life for what you believe in and what you do, not what you say.

JOURNALIST:

Ten years ago you took over the Liberal Coalition in a similar position, have you got any advice for Mr Beazley?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I’m not giving Mr Beazley any advice. That’s a matter for him. Look, he’s been made leader, I don’t treat anybody lightly, I’ve told my party not to get complacent, we have to work very hard to retain the confidence of the Australian people, you can never take anything for granted in politics and I can assure the Australian people that I do not take them for granted, I work hard in their interests and that’s the message I send to all of my colleagues.

Thank you.

Habib To Be Released From Guantanamo Bay Without Charge After Three Years

Mamdouh Habib is to be released from Guantanamo Bay prison, according to the Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock.

Mr Habib was arrested in Pakistan in October 2001, accused of aiding the al-Qaeda terrorist network. He was moved to Guantanamo Bay in May 2002, where he has been held since without charge.

  • Listen to Ruddock’s Announcement.

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  • Listen to Habib’s Lawyer, Stephen Hopper.

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This is the text of a joint release by the Attorney General, Philip Ruddock, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer.

STATEMENT ON MAMDOUH HABIB

Since Mr Mamdouh Habib was detained in May 2002, the Australian Government has consistently urged the United States either to bring charges against him or to release him. The Government has repeatedly impressed on the United States our desire to see his case dealt with expeditiously and fairly.

The United States considers Mr Habib to be an enemy combatant who has been detained in accordance with the laws of war.

However, the United States Government has now advised that it does not intend to bring charges against Mr Habib. In these circumstances the Government has requested Mr Habib’s repatriation to Australia. The United States has agreed to our request.

We have requested the United States authorities to inform Mr Habib of their decision not to prosecute him and of the agreement to repatriate him to Australia. Australian Government officials have informed his family. The timing and logistics of Mr. Habib’s return to Australia remain under discussion.

It remains the strong view of the United States that, based on information available to it, Mr Habib had prior knowledge of the terrorist attacks on or before 11 September 2001. Mr Habib has acknowledged he spent time in Afghanistan, and others there at that time claim he trained with al-Qa’ida.

The specific criminal terrorism offences of being a member of, training with, funding or associating with a terrorist organisation such as al-Qa’ida did not exist under Australian law at the time of Mr Habib’s alleged activities. For this reason, on the evidence and advice currently available to the Government, it does not appear likely that Mr Habib can be prosecuted for his alleged activities under those Australian laws.

It should be noted that following the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, the government enacted comprehensive counter-terrorism legislation. That legislation created a new offence of terrorism and a range of related offences. It also made it an offence to be a member of, to train with, or to provide funds to, a terrorist organisation. Later amendments to this legislation also made it an offence to associate with a person who is a member of a terrorist organisation. These terrorism offences carry substantial penalties of up to life imprisonment. The bulk of these terrorism laws came into effect in early July 2002.

Those terrorism offences are not retrospective and therefore cannot apply to Mr Habib’s alleged activities and associations prior to his capture.

The Government takes Australia’s security seriously. Australia now has comprehensive laws enabling our police and intelligence agencies to deal with security threats. Australian authorities will continue to do everything in their power to ensure that Australian citizens do not engage in, or support terrorism.

Mr Habib remains of interest in a security context because of his former associations and activities. It would be inappropriate for me to elaborate on those issues.

Because of this interest, relevant agencies will undertake appropriate measures. Consistent with long standing practice, the Government does not intend to detail the nature of these measures.