Why the lack of transparency? Refusal to list Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as terrorist group

I too rise to speak to this issue, not so much with details about the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

I think anyone listening to this debate would understand that the IRGC has been one of the key backers and supporters of terrorism both in their region and around the world and, as we have seen in recent times, also inflicting terror and totalitarian rule on the citizens of Iran, many of whom have lost their lives or their freedom standing up against a regime that brutally puts its own people down.

I want to talk today though about the process of the parliament being the representatives of the people and holding the executive and its departments to account. Particularly, I come to this as someone who has served on the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security for nearly a decade.

Through that process, we dealt with some thorny issues when it came to listing—for example, the terrorist organisation Hezbollah.

For many years, Australia had listed the external security organisation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation, but not the entirety, because of concerns that parts of Hezbollah were parts of government in other nations and therefore perhaps it wouldn’t be appropriate.

This was a long and involved discussion, with multiple stakeholders who came and presented their perspectives—in confidence, in classified hearings—to the committee. That committee, having considered all of those facts, still made the recommendation that the entirety of Hezbollah should be listed. I’m pleased to report that in 2021 the entirety of the organisation was listed.

In 2022, Hamas was listed. And we have seen in the past, groups like the Islamic State, who were also putting themselves forward as a government for a period of time, have been listed multiple times—the most recent in 2023. But a key point here is that the whole purpose of the PJCIS, established under the Intelligence Services Act, is to enable the parliament, on behalf of the people of Australia, to have oversight over both departments and the security agencies when it comes to decisions such as this.

The practice to date has been disclosure within that classified environment to enable an informed debate to occur.

So this decision of the Albanese government runs against the practice of governments of both sides of politics over many years which saw the PJCIS as a trusted entity to fulfil that function of insuring transparency and oversight on behalf of the Australian people.

The committee has demonstrated over many years that it is capable of dealing with sensitive issues around national security and foreign relations that often underpin decisions around things such as listing, so this decision is bewildering, to say the least.

I would also note that the committee has been largely proven right in its insistence that things like Hezbollah be listed in its entirety. When those listings have been made, the statement of reasons is actually a document which is designed to be released publicly so that the Australian public can get an insight, though perhaps not of every detail and not every consideration—that’s why we have the committee, to consider those things in a classified environment—but it provides the Australian people with a rationale and some insight as to why this decision has been taken.

The fact that this document was developed indicates that the departments recognise that there is a case for listing the whole of the IRGC.

The fact that it is designed as a document to be released publicly means that the request for that to be provided to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security is actually the committee ceding quite a bit of ground, saying ‘We’re happy to deal with this in a classified environment’ when it’s a document that should have been released publicly.

This is a breach of trust with the parliamentary structures which have been set in place to oversee our intelligence and security. I call on the government to be transparent.