Faulkner & Collins Bat On|
29 May 2003
Senators Faulkner and Collins teamed up again very effectively in Senate Estimates on Tuesday night to question Commissioner Keelty and his minister, Senator Ellison, regarding a range of SIEVX related questions. There were sustained efforts, variously by the chair (Senator Marise Payne, Liberal) and by Senator Ellison, to discourage and limit the scope of questioning to Keelty on the by now familiar grounds that these were 'operational' matters, or that they had been dealt with by the CMI Committee, or that answers could prejudice possible forthcoming people-smuggling prosecutions.
We are very heartened by the determination with which both opposition senators surmounted obstacles and pursued their intended lines of SIEVX-related questioning.
The vigorous tenor of this session is best
illustrated by this exchange between the Chair, Marise Payne, Ellison
CHAIR-I am indicating, Senator Faulkner, that I am not prepared to
see any further questions put to the commissioner in that manner.
Senator FAULKNER-Well, I will ask the questions I want to ask, Chair.
I am really not very interested in your view of them. They will be
absolutely in order.
CHAIR-I don't care, Senator Faulkner, whether you are interested in my
view of them or not.
Senator FAULKNER-I do not require, nor I would have thought any
reasonable person-either a senator in this place or any observer of
the parliamentary process in this country-would expect any senator to
in any way modify important questions on the basis of some prejudice
that the chair might happen to hold. I will ask the questions I want
to ask in the way I want to ask them. I would like to do it quickly. I
thought I would have been out of this committee room by now, but the
more you and the minister interrupt the longer it will take.
CHAIR-You can reflect on the chair as much as you wish, Senator
Faulkner. Putting yourself in the position of a reasonable person is
an unusual position for you to choose, I would have thought. But I am
indicating that I will not be allowing the commissioner to answer any
questions put to him in the format that you have just adopted this
Senator FAULKNER-I will put the questions I wish to put to the
CHAIR-And I will rule them out of order if you ask them in the same
Senator FAULKNER-Let's see what happens if you rule them out of
order. I look forward to that.
Senator Ellison-So do I.
Senator FAULKNER-If I were you, I would think very carefully before I
took that course of action.
CHAIR-If I were you, Senator Faulkner, I would stop providing
gratuitous advice to the chair.
Senator FAULKNER-A more experienced senator than you would think very
carefully about taking that course of action.
CHAIR-Patronising behaviour and intimidation may work in other
committees, Senator Faulkner, but not in this one.
Senator FAULKNER-Thank you. Do I now have the call to ask the
questions I wish to ask?
CHAIR-No. You have the call to ask questions that are in order.
In spite of Ellison's refusal to allow Keelty to
answer or even to take on notice many important questions, Faulkner
and Collins managed to elicit some important information and to get
some questions taken on notice by the Commissioner:
- Federal Agent Leigh Dixon, who blew the whistle to Marr & Wilkinson
regarding the infamous alleged piracy remarks by Minister Ruddock at
the Jakarta Embassy in June 2001 will shortly be leaving the AFP to
take up other employment
- The DIMIA/AFP Joint Strike Team based in Canberra is still operational and has been
currently working on the briefs of evidence in regard to Abu Quassey
and Khaled Daoed.
- A copy of the MOU and the protocol with the INP in relation to
people smuggling has yet to be provided to the Committee despite being
requested on notice more than a year ago.
- Faulkner continued to pursue the issue of tracking devices being placed on SIEVs despite Ellison claiming 'public interest immunity' on most of the questions. Interestingly he did not make specific reference to p.41 of Dark Victory where the authors claim that 'at AFP direction, the Indonesians attached tracking devices to many of the boats before they set out for Australia' - though he did ask a question about this matter, which Ellison said would not be replied to. At one point Faulkner passed a copy of Dark Victory to Keelty (offered on loan till the next round of AFP Estimates!) as he questioned him about information that the Commissioner had provided to the authors.
- The AFP have now interviewed 26 SIEVX survivors. Last time they were
asked about this (in November Estimates) they claimed to have
interviewed only 6 survivors in Australia. And back in August last year
they had only interviewed 5 survivors in total. It appears that the
public campaign to bring Abu Quassey to trial in Australia for his
part in the SIEVX tragedy has caused the AFP to considerably step up
the pace and scope of their investigations. Most of these 26 must be
outside Australia, as we only know of seven survivors living here.
- Faulkner asked Keelty about the photos that were reportedly shown to
survivors in Bogor after the sinking of SIEVX before it set sail. This
question was vigorously objected to by Ellison.
- The Federal agent who interviewed an unnamed survivor in Bogor on
the evening of 22 October 2001 was Glen McEwen. Keelty said that this interview had
been conducted by a phone using an IOM employee as an interpreter.
- Senator Collins continued to question Keelty about his less
than 'fulsome' previous responses to questions about radio
communications on SIEVX. Ellison referred to this as Collins
'grasping at straws' to show that the AFP had not mentioned the DFAT cable in the CMI Committee.
- Keelty claimed that the AFP had no prior knowledge of Quassey's departure for Egypt in April and so were unable to pursue him at that time.
- Senator Collins indicated that she would be asking questions of
Defence next week in regard to who provided the information to PM&C
that was contained in what I have termed the Prime Ministerial 'butt-covering brief'.
- Collins asked Keelty when the Indonesian fishermen who rescued the
SIEVX survivors were questioned by AFP, and did they provide
information on the rescue location.
- A question about the radio distress message reported by
IOM's spokesman Chauzy to ABC and CNN, is being taken on notice.
Persistence and confidence that they are onto something by Labor;
extreme wariness and defensiveness by Ellison supported by Chair.
We are getting down to nitty-gritty issues now.
See Bob Burton's article for a good analysis of this Committee
In other Estimates Committees this week:
Faulkner and Ray closely questioned PM&C as to which officers had seen the
DFAT cable of 23 October 2001. This is a strong indication that Labor is not
going to let this matter rest.
Collins questioned Ellison on Monday regarding the possible
extradition of Khaleed Daoed and Abu Quassey.