The recent visit of The Pope, His Holiness, Benedict XVI, has of course involved the provision of adequate security by the Commonwealth and NSW governments.
As a Head of State, The Pope is an " internationally protected person." It is an unfortunate fact that the security requirements concerning this office are high. The actual attempts, and the plots against his predecessor, Pope John Paul II are testament to this.
The practice has developed in recent years of publishing the security costs attributed to visits by The Queen and members of the Royal Family. This was in response to questions on notice about the costs of Royal Visits, usually from Mr. Daryl Melham MP. Similar information would be also sought in the relevant Senate Estimates Committee, often by Senator the Hon. John Faulkner.
This was no doubt done in an attempt to justify the argument that Australia should become a republic, and consequently the amounts were published widely in the press.
When we drew attention to the fact that only the costs of Royal Visits, and not those of visits of foreign Heads of State, were being published, Mr. Melham began to ask questions on notice concerning all state visits.
…demeaning, discourteous and dangerous practice….
The publication of attributed security costs is ill-advised. Not only are such attributions inconsistent and suspect, as Harold Schmauze recently demonstrated (“Accounting anomalies exposed,” 25 June 2008), their publication is demeaning discourteous and worse, dangerous.
These costs are incurred at least in part because of the legal obligations of the Commonwealth to ensure the security of internationally protected persons, which is emphasised in our being a State Party to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes against Internationally Protected Persons, including Diplomatic Agents which is annexed to the Crimes (Internationally Protected Persons) Act, 1976 ( Cth.)
The determination of the level of security provided in each case is, in the final analysis a matter for the Commonwealth, and not for the guest who may or may not be accompanied by personal security agents.
No doubt much depends on confidential advice received at the time from Australian and international sources as to the potential threats which could accompany the visit. Revealing the attributed costs is thus dangerous and may well constitute a breach of security. It is a clear indication of the assessment by the Commonwealth of the likelihood of an attack. Such information would be very useful intelligence to terrorists who could assume that similar confidential advice would be made to other governments in relation to the Head of State.
…not done in relation to other "internationally protected persons"…
For obvious reasons, such information is not usually published in relation to ambassadors and other diplomatic agents. When a country’s diplomatic service is under threat, it is of course unwise to reveal to potential terrorists the specific costs attributed to the diplomatic agent in question, as it would indicate the depth of security cover provided.
It would not, for example, be difficult to calculate from such information as to whether 24 hour cover was being provided. If it were not, a terrorist could make reasonable assumptions as to when an attack should be made.
As these attributed security costs are not available in relation to most internationally protected persons, it seems wrong in principle to make an exception for Heads of State.
It is in our view also discourteous and demeaning to attribute such costs to the visit of a guest of the Commonwealth.
We are not aware of a general practice of foreign governments making and releasing such attributions in relation to specific visits of the Governor-General as Head of State, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, and other ministers and our diplomatic agents; if this is occurring we suggest that Australia should lobby against the practice.
No civilised person would dream of having a guest in their home, and then circulating the itemised costs of entertaining them, adding say attributed proportions of the electricity bill, rates and so on. This would be crass.
To repeat, to publish attributed security costs in relation to visiting Heads of State is dangerous, discourteous and demeaning.
For these reasons we are writing to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister to ask that the practice cease now.