Senate Select Committee on a Certain Maritime Incident
[date stamped: 'Received 25 June 2002']
Dear Senator Cook
The Defence CDF/Secretary Taskforce has brought to my attention two issues which relate to what the Committee has been referring to as the 'minutes' of the People Smuggling Taskforce (PST) by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
The Committee would already be aware of the limitations of these documents as advised by Mr Jeff Whalan of PM&C in correspondence to the Committee dated 6 June 2002 and again on 21 June 2002.
This correspondence directly relates to both of the issues of concern raised by the Defence Taskforce.
Both letters clearly state that the reference to 'SIEV 8' at the meeting of 22 October 2001 is incorrect. You would be aware that Defence does not allocate SIEV numbers to boats that have not been identified. In fact the title SIEV X was only allocated after Defence became aware that the boat had sunk. The error in the PM&C documents, however, has allowed some to incorrectly allege that Defence was aware of the location of SIEV X when it sank. There have been recent references to this in the media. While I appreciate that the Secretariat handles large volumes of paper, I would ask you that you ensure that when the PM&C documents are made available that the clarifying letters of 6 June 2002 and 21 June 2002 are brought to the attention of those seeking the documents so that they can be read in context. Given the incorrect media reporting to date, I believe that the Committee, in fairness to the reputation of the Australian Defence Force, should make a clarifying statement when it next sits to ensure that these unfounded allegations do not go unchallenged.
The second issue relates to the use of the term 'minutes' to describe the documents tabled by PM&C. The Defence Taskforce has expressed to me the view that this term does not accurately reflect the nature of these documents. I note that Mr Whalan's letter of 6 June 2002, while using the term 'minutes', also highlights the shortcomings of the documents. Indeed, it is these shortcomings that have brought about the problem with the incorrect reference to SIEV 8.
I note Mr Whalan's letter of 21 June 2002 actually corrects the reference and refers to the document as 'notes'. It is clear that these documents are not 'minutes' in the formal sense of the word. The incorrect use of the term 'minutes' has allowed some in the media to give these documents a status they do not deserve. I believe it would be appropriate for the Committee at its next sitting to publicly note the significant distinction between 'notes' and 'minutes' and in future only refer to these documents as being PM&C notes of the meetings of the PST.