Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (14:17): My question is to the Minister representing the Attorney-General, Senator Ludwig. Last November the United Nations Human Rights Committee sought a response from the Australian government to a complaint made on behalf of David Hicks in relation to his incarceration at Guantanamo Bay and the plea agreement that saw his return to Australia. The government was required to respond within six months, but indicated that it would take a further three months in order to fully address the issues and consult with the stakeholders. Which stakeholders has the government consulted on this matter and what are the outcomes from this consultation?
Senator LUDWIG (Queensland—Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Manager of Government Business in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Attorney-General on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:17): I thank the senator for her question. There were media reports around 21 August that reported details of Mr Hicks's submission to the United Nations Human Rights Committee and these media reports went to a number of claims in respect of Australia and its human rights obligations. One of the demands was for compensation and an apology from the federal government. The government's response to that submission was, I think as correctly outlined, due to be lodged with the Human Rights Commission in May. But this has been delayed until the third quarter of 2011. It is, I am advised, expected to be released very shortly.
I am aware that Mr Hicks has submitted a communication to the UN Human Rights Committee under the First Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The government is at this point preparing a comprehensive response to that communication and it will be provided very shortly.
The government acknowledges that there is a wide range of views in the community on this topic and on the allegations made in the communication. I can say that it is for the UN Human Rights Committee to consider the claims raised by Mr Hicks and the government's response to those claims.
Accordingly, in answer to the question about the broader issue, it would not be appropriate for the government to engage in a running commentary outlining some of the issue raised today. We will be providing a comprehensive response to this matter—
Senator Bob Brown: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. A significant component of Senator Wright's question concerned who it was that the government had consulted. The minister should address that.
The PRESIDENT: I believe the minister is addressing that. If I heard correctly at the end of the question, the minister has 10 seconds remaining.
Senator LUDWIG: I am providing the answer at the moment. Although I will see if the Attorney-General wants to provide any additional information, ostensibly it is not appropriate for the government to engage in running commentary on the allegations or the submission— (Time expired)
Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (14:20): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. It is nine months after the committee initially sought a response.
The PRESIDENT: The question?
Senator WRIGHT: On the basis of that answer it sounds like it may be 10 months before the response arrives—
The PRESIDENT: You need to come to the question.
Senator WRIGHT: Doesn't this failure to respond show a lack of respect for the committee's procedures?
Senator LUDWIG (Queensland—Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Manager of Government Business in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Attorney-General on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:20): Not in the least—
Senator Bob Brown: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. You have called for Senator Wright to state the question rather than make a preliminary statement, which is allowed in standing orders. I asked yesterday about a long series of comments made the day before by Senator Abetz in leading to a question. I ask you, if you would, to look again at the rules regarding preliminary statements to questions and make the judgment from the chair consistent.
Senator Chris Evans: On the point of order, I think Senator Brown raises the other side of the issue that I have raised with you a number of times, which is the way that senators have debated an issue and made derogatory remarks and then asked a question. I think it might be useful for the Senate if you could distribute to all senators a summary of what is acceptable practice as to the framing of remarks in the lead-up to a question, given that there has been quite a bit of debate about this in recent months. Obviously it is up to you to rule on this point of order but I think it might assist all senators if we could pull that together into one piece of advice.
The PRESIDENT (14:22): I will undertake to look at that but I am sticking by the ruling: people should not be making a statement as part of a question. The question should be a question to the minister.
Senator LUDWIG (Queensland—Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Manager of Government Business in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Attorney-General on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:22): Can I say at the outset that the government takes its obligation in this matter very seriously. It is a requirement to address the UN committee. I have no further information other than that the government's response to the submission was due to be lodged with the Human Rights Committee in May but this has been delayed until the third quarter of 2011. I will undertake to seek from the Attorney-General whether or not he will provide any additional information and some further explanation for the senator in respect of the delay until the third quarter of 2011. I do not have anything in the current brief which advises me of the reasons for the delay—whether it is a procedural matter or whether it is due to a range of factors that I do not want to speculate on. I will seek that additional information.
Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (14:23): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given the time delay and given the substantial resources which have been applied to new legal proceedings against David Hicks to seize profits from his book, what are the government's priorities? Is the government more concerned about stopping Mr Hicks profiting from his book or more concerned about curbing his ability to speak out about the role of the former government in his incarceration and plea agreement?
Senator LUDWIG (Queensland—Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Manager of Government Business in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Attorney-General on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:24): The government does take seriously the requirement to lodge a response with the Human Rights Committee and we are in the process of preparing that. It will be lodged, as I understand, very shortly. As to the proceeds of crime legislation, I am aware that the Supreme Court of New South Wales has granted a restraining order in relation to literary proceeds action being taken against Mr David Hicks. The decision to commence literary proceeds action under the Proceeds of Crime Act was made by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions following an investigation by the Australian Federal Police. The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions makes these decisions and not the government, as may have been assumed by part of that question. As the matter is currently before the courts, it is not appropriate for the Attorney-General to provide any additional information. (Time expired)