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National security must come before politics

Michael Danby is the Labor MP for Melbourne Ports and secretary of the Caucus National Security Committee.

On Wednesday, in our national parliament, I and other opposition members were required to do two quite contradictory things on the same day. All morning, and through to question time at 2pm, we railed against the Howard government′s industrial relations bill, the most far-reaching attack on the rights of working Australians since the squatters starved the shearers into submission in the 1890s. During the stormiest question time for many years, a record 11 Labor MPs were evicted from the chamber. I was one of them. But after all the anger and emotion of the first seven hours of the sitting day, we all came back at 4pm and unanimously passed the Anti-Terrorism Bill 2005 (a bill separate from the major anti¬terrorism legislation), on the joint recommendation of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, after security services briefings of senior members of both the government and the opposition.

I was not privy to those briefings, but I willingly voted for the bill -not because I was afraid of being "wedged" by John Howard but because I trust Kim Beazley and the integrity and professionalism of the security services.

If Mick Keelty says that after the London bombings the Australian Federal Police needs additional powers to save Australian lives, I support giving them to him.

To have rejected the bill out of partisanship would have been harmful to the safety of our fellow Australians.

We are seeing at the moment a strange state of affairs in Australian public life, in which the politicians and the people are in broad agreement both on the nature of the terrorist threat and on what ought to be done about it, while a large slice of the intellectual class is in furious disagreement.

After the September 11, 2001, attacks, after Bali I and Bali II, after Madrid and London, most Australian politicians accept that the terrorist threat to Western society in general, and Australia specifically, is real and dangerous.

That′s why six Labor premiers have worked co-operatively with a Liberal Party prime minister to come up with a balanced package of anti-terrorism legislation, one that will give our governments the necessary powers to protect Australia against terrorism, while preserving to the maximum extent the rights and freedoms that make Australia worth defending.

In working co-operatively to defeat terrorism, Australian politicians are doing what the Australian people want us to do. Every opinion poll shows that the Australian people expect us to do what is necessary, within the framework of our democratic system, to stop those who are planning to commit terrorist attacks as well as those who recruit, finance, organise or incite others to do so.

You would never know this from listening to some ABC commentary or reading some broadsheet commentators. In the world of Alan Ramsey and Phillip Adams and Michael Leunig, all the world′s troubles an the fault of the Western democracies, or a witches′ brew of Zionists and neo-conservatives; terrorism is a myth or a trick by George Bush and Tony Blair to divert our attention while they seize the world′s oil.

This strange disconnect between the people and the intellectual elite is dangerous and damaging. Countries where the majority of intellectuals are alienated from their societies and think the rest of the population are fools and dupes can drift into serious trouble, as France of the 1930s attests.

I have the good fortune to have been raised in an intellectual tradition that is not susceptible to this kind of illusion - the tradition of European social democracy, which was brought to this country by refugees from Europe in the 1930s and 1940s.

Frank Knopfelmacher, who taught me at Melbourne University, was an outstanding example of this tradition, which is deeply hostile to fascism, communism and the totalitarian temptation.

Intellectually, and by the misfortune of the blood of my family, 1 recognise the reality of evil in the world and the necessity of fighting it.

I also represent an electorate that knows something about both totalitarianism and terrorism. It has the highest proportion of Holocaust survivors and their families of any electorate in Australia. It has many refugees from the former Soviet Union and communist Poland and Hungary. It also has families who have suffered from the current manifestation of totalitarian extremism, the terrorist bomber.

The family of the first Australian to be killed by a suicide bomber, Malki Roth, lives in my electorate. Two of my constituents, Donna Croxford and Sue Maloney, were killed in Bali.

My view is that Australia is at war - at war with a new form of totalitarian ideology as evil as the fascist and communist forms that the democracies fought during the 20th century.

It is a not a war Australia sought, nor a war that we can escape by feeding others to the crocodiles in the hope that they will eat us last.

We are told that the cause of this war is Australia′s involvement in Iraq. But even if we concede that Iraq is now exacerbating jihadist terrorism, that doesn′t alter the fact that it began well before Iraq, and it continues after Iraq.

The enemy in this war adopts the rhetoric of Islam but it is in fact quite alien to the traditions of Islam, and particularly to the traditions of Islam as practised in Indonesia. Some call this ideology Islamofascism, others jihadism. Whatever we choose to call it, we know what it looks like and we know what it is capable of. It has already claimed the lives of almost a hundred Australians, in New York, in Bali, in London and in Jerusalem.

That it has not so far claimed Australian lives on our own soil is a combination of good luck and good intelligence work by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and the AFP.

As a social democrat, I believe in a pluralist Australia. I believe Australia should accept, and indeed welcome, migrants and refugees from all countries, including Muslim countries, and that we should prevent victimisation of Australian Muslims. I reject the view that all Australian Muslims are potential terrorists. I am always careful to distinguish Islam from the extremists who misuse it for political ends.

A small number of Australian Muslims are active sympathisers with the jihadist death cult, and some have trained abroad with terrorist-affiliated groups. A few, like Jack Roche and David Hicks, are deluded converts.

Others are immigrants, and they are an urgent problem that the leadership of the Muslim communities must confront. The days are over when a minority of imams could get away with incitement in Arabic on the assumption that the genial Aussies were too dumb to notice.

This week in Canberra, despite all the shouting, we saw a mature democracy at work. When the national interest is at stake, the parties work together to achieve an outcome that both protects Australia from terrorism and protects the safety of Australians.

When a government tries to trample on the long-cherished Australian tradition of fairness in the workplace, the opposition resists tooth and nail.

When improved safeguards have been inserted in the major anti¬terrorism legislation, I will vote for Howard′s bill, and I don′t intend apologising to The Age for doing so. 1 will vote for it not out of political expediency but out of principle. 1 still want the liberals and their industrial relations laws voted out at the next election. That I can hold both these views simultaneously is what makes democracy worth having, and Australia worth protecting.

Michael Danby is the Labor MP for Melbourne Ports and secretary of the Caucus National Security Committee.

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