[Extracted from Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence And Trade Legislation Committee, 13 February 2003, pp.274-289]
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-The questions I have relate to the DFAT cable of 23 October relating to the A Certain Maritime Incident Committee, which was finally made available on Monday of last week, I believe. Which officers at the Australian Embassy in Jakarta were involved in compiling and writing the DFAT cable that was sent out of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta at 10.49 on 23 October 2001?
Dr Raby-I do not wish to identify individual officers involved in the preparation of the cable. It was a cable produced by the embassy in Jakarta.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-How about, rather than identifying the individuals, you identify their roles. Which components of the embassy staff were used? For instance, did it involve the AFP-DIMIA strike team that was based in the embassy? Which other embassy officers, without identifying individuals, were involved?
Dr Raby-I am not sure about the strike team. There was a committee that met in the embassy-I think we have had this conversation on previous occasions, Senator. I am not familiar with the term `strike team'; it does not mean anything to me. The cable was prepared in the embassy under the direction of the ambassador and relevant areas of the embassy were consulted as necessary and as preparation.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Were any AFP officers involved?
Dr Raby-I do not know.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-So, you can tell me that the ambassador was involved?
Dr Raby-It was prepared under the direction of the ambassador. The ambassador would make the decision on who was consulted and not consulted. I do not think we can go into that any further.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Sorry?
Dr Raby-I do not think we can go into that any further. It was the ambassador's decision on who to consult.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Who to consult from within the embassy or from outside the embassy?
Dr Raby-From within the embassy.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-So at this stage you cannot tell me what other agency advice, beyond the embassy, might have been involved?
Dr Raby-When we say `the embassy', the embassy involves Foreign Affairs officers and attached agencies. They are all part of the embassy. When I use the term `embassy', I mean all agencies that are at the embassy.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-You cannot tell me which agencies might have been involved in preparing this cable?
Dr Raby-I do not know. That it is not a question I would be prepared to answer given that, as I said, it was prepared in the embassy under the direction of the ambassador, and all relevant agencies would have been consulted. So you can draw your conclusions from that.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-What would all relevant agencies be for the preparation of such a cable? Which agencies are represented in the embassy at Jakarta that would have been relevant to the preparation of this cable?
Dr Raby-I think it is fair to say that, in addition to Foreign Affairs, it would be DIMIA and possibly the AFP. But, again, I do not know for sure. The normal consultative process would have involved those relevant agencies. DIMIA and AFP together with Foreign Affairs would be obvious candidates.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Do you believe that the process under these types of circumstances would have been coordinated at the direction of the ambassador?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-I understand that you do not have direct knowledge of the preparation of this cable, so we are talking about what you understood would have been likely to have occurred. Is that correct?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-If it ends up being different to how you have described you believe it would have been likely to have occurred, then I would ask that you provide us with that different information on notice. Is that reasonable?
Dr Raby-I note that.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Was the DFAT cable based solely on survivor statements from the ship?
Dr Raby-I really do not know.
Mr Doyle-The cable drew on a number of sources and, as was discussed at the estimates hearing on Monday, those sources are contained in the paragraphs that were deleted in the declassified version of the cable that was released to the Senate.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Let me make sure that I understand exactly what you are saying. The paragraphs that were deleted, such as on page 1, were related to the sources?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-The paragraphs after paragraph 12 were also deleted?
Mr Doyle-At the end of the cable, yes.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-They related to the sources as well?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Let us deal with that very general question: were there sources other than survivor statements that were drawn upon?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Did some of those sources reveal information from prior to the departure?
Mr Doyle-I am not sure about when the information became available to those who compiled the cable, but of course they did the work after the event.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Yes, but that is not my question.
Mr Doyle-I am not sure I understand your question.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Did the sources who provided information for the preparation of this cable provide information that pertained to the time prior to the departure of the vessel?
Mr Doyle-The information was not provided for the purpose of producing the cable. The authors of the cable drew on a range of information which had been provided at various points. It was their general knowledge of the way that the people smugglers operated in addition to specific statements about this vessel.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-I am more concerned about those specific statements about this vessel, and I ask again: did some of those specific statements about this vessel pertain to information that related to the vessel prior to its departure?
Dr Raby-We just don't know. I think that is the long and the short of it.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-How is it that you cannot know that, given the amount of information that was sought and dealt with during the process of the CMI inquiry?
Mr Doyle-The cable was sought during the CMI inquiry and then released after it. I am not sure what information you are referring to that came out of the inquiry.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-For instance, the assertion made on many occasions that we knew nothing about the departure of this vessel until we had information from the survivors. This cable clearly shows, in my view, that there was some information that was known by some sources that informed this cable.
Mr Doyle-You are quite right that there is information known about the people smugglers who are suspected of organising this venture. But, as far as I am aware, there was no intelligence about exactly when the vessel would depart and where it would depart from.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Let us use one of the examples-paragraph 3. The makeshift upper deck had been added. How did we know that?
Dr Raby-We could just as easily have known it ex post existante. I am not sure.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Not with the description of how the survivors were taken to the vessel. The survivors themselves would not have known whether the vessel had a new deck or did not have a new deck because they had no prior knowledge of the vessel, but it appears as if some of the sources had some prior knowledge of the vessel because they tell us that a deck was added. So my concern is: when did we receive such prior knowledge of the vessel and how? The assertion made quite strongly during the whole CMI process was that we had no prior knowledge. This cable clearly indicates otherwise.
Mr Doyle-Each statement is not individually sourced, so it seems quite a consistent reading to me to say that the survivors would have noticed that there were additions to the vessel.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-How? They had no prior knowledge of the vessel.
Mr Doyle-Just the structure of it, I presume.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-That is a fairly large presumption.
Mr Doyle-I do not know how.
Dr Raby-We just have to say that we do not know the source material. Senator, you have one reading of it. The advice we have given on previous occasions is that we had no prior knowledge of the vessel. I do not think that anything that you have raised now would suggest otherwise.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-I understand that Mr Doyle might not have the direct knowledge of this. Unless we can be assured that information in this cable relates solely to the survivors' reports, such as this information about a makeshift upper deck that had been added, that is a long way from being clear. And that is even before we get to the issue of why it took so long for this cable to become available. It is a long way from being clear. Any reading of this cable gives you a fairly clear idea that the blanked-out paragraphs show sources that had knowledge of this vessel prior to its departure. The question that I think needs to be answered about this cable is: when did that information about the vessel prior to its departure become known to Australian agencies? If you want to assure me and say to me that the information in this cable became available to Australian agencies only in the immediate moments before this cable was sent, that is one issue, but that assurance is yet to be given.
Dr Raby-We will take that on notice and see what we can do.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Is there any national security reason for why all of the sources need to be blanked out in this cable?
Mr Doyle-That is not a national security reason; it is a law enforcement issue.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-So you are concerned that, for instance, the pursuit of Abu Quassey might be compromised if some of the sources here are revealed?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Does that apply to all of the sources?
Mr Doyle-That were in the cable, yes.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-So all sources that are in this cable, if revealed, could compromise that case?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Then we will have to try and deal with some of these questions in a slightly different way. Let me get specifically to the knowledge of the adjustments to the vessel. How did we know that the vessel had had a makeshift upper deck added with the afterdecks enclosed by chipboard, presumably to enhance seaworthiness?
Mr Doyle-I am not sure of the precise source of that information but, as Dr Raby has mentioned, we could try and find that out for you.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-And when did we know that information? When did we know-I am sure you are aware that this was an issue on Monday night in the A-G's estimates hearing-about radio communication? And how did we know about the radio communication?
Dr Raby-We will also take that on notice.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Mr Doyle might be able to assist us without compromising investigations.
Mr Doyle-I am sorry, but unfortunately no.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-There is nothing you can comment on in relation to the radio communications from this vessel without compromising investigations or you simply do not know?
Mr Doyle-I do not have that knowledge, to answer your question.
Senator FAULKNER-Mr Doyle, were you aware that it was common practice for tracking devices to be placed on suspected illegal entry vessels?
Mr Doyle-Those sorts of intelligence and police method issues are not really within my responsibility.
Senator FAULKNER-I appreciate that. I am asking whether you were aware that it was common practice for tracking devices to be placed on suspected illegal entry vessels. I am not going to the detail of it; I am going to a very broad issue.
Senator FAULKNER-Were you aware of that, Dr Raby, in your role with the People Smuggling Task Force?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Mr Doyle, you seem to have some understanding about what has been discussed in estimates previously in relation to this cable. Given that you are aware of the A-G's estimates, can I ask why you are not in a position to comment at all on the radio communication?
Mr Doyle-I have not sought additional information from the authors and, as far as I know, nor has any other agency since we have received the cable.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-But, as you indicated earlier, you observed the questioning that occurred on Monday in relation to this cable and you are aware that there is a significant issue of contempt of the Senate in relation to questions we had asked about radio communication on this vessel and that we are awaiting answers from the Federal Police Commissioner with respect to them. Why did you not seek to clarify further information about these radio communications that we were never apprised of?
Dr Raby-These are operational matters and this goes to the previous questions that were asked. There is no reason for us to follow up those issues because we are not responsible for operational matters like that.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Not responsible for which operational matters?
Dr Raby-The knowledge of radio contact or whatever. All I am saying is that that is not something that we-
Senator FAULKNER-Who is we in this instance?
Dr Raby-Me and Mr Doyle basically-would have expected to prepare for today. We are happy to take it on notice and have a look at it, but we have not prepared for that because we do not feel that is our area of responsibility. But we are very happy to look at it.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-The area of responsibility that is relevant here is that significant information in relation to SIEVX was withheld from a Senate committee and from Senate estimates for quite some time, it was withheld by your department and it contained critical information in relation to this vessel. That, Dr Raby, was your responsibility.
Dr Raby-Sorry, what aspect of that?
Senator FAULKNER-This cable.
Senator FAULKNER-That is what Senator Collins is referring to.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-A component of that issue is that this cable contained information which demonstrated incorrect information previously provided to the Senate. Mr Doyle was aware of that, but Mr Doyle has sought no explanation that can correct the information previously provided to the Senate in relation to radio communications. I ask why that has not been the case.
Dr Raby-For the reason that I have said: that we did not expect that this was an area for us to respond to. But all I can say is that we are very happy to have a look at it and get back to you on that.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Dr Raby, you may not have been listening to Monday's estimates but Mr Doyle was, and Mr Doyle would have heard that we were told by A-G's that, since it was your cable, it was a matter for you. Do you recall that, Mr Doyle?
Mr Doyle-My recollection is the questions about a DFAT cable were more about the addressees issue than the radio communication. As Dr Raby has indicated, there is a number of agencies at the mission in Jakarta which would have provided input to the cable. It is a DFAT cable in the sense that DFAT dispatched the cable, but we are not the sole contributors or authors.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-I understand that, but the message clearly given to us earlier in the week was that questions about the content of this cable, since it is a DFAT cable, should be asked of DFAT.
CHAIR-Can I interrupt, Senator Collins, at this stage. We will take our dinner break now.
Proceedings suspended from 6.30 p.m. to 7.48 p.m.
CHAIR-Dr Raby, I understand you wish to add to an answer you gave to Senator Cook this morning.
Dr Raby-Yes. I invite Nick Warner, the First Assistant Secretary of the South Pacific, Africa and Middle East Division to correct the record.
Mr Warner-During this morning's session, Senator Cook asked a series of questions of me and other officers about whether the department had made assessments of what Australia's trade relationship might be with Iraq, and/or the Middle East as a whole, after a possible war with Iraq. With respect to Iraq and, as Senator Cook put it, the `restoration period', I answered no. For the sake of completeness, I would now like to add to that answer. There has been, as I said this morning, no such formal assessment but preliminary work is being done at desk level on the prospects for Australian trade with Iraq once the current stand-off is resolved.
CHAIR-Thank you. We are proceeding with the portfolio overview still. Senator Collins?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Thank you, I have a few more questions in relation to this cable. Mr Doyle, given the break in time, are you able to inform us any further on the issue of radio communications from SIEVX?
Dr Raby-No. We would like to take that on notice, mainly because I am not sure whether we are the right agency to respond. I have been able to establish the information forming the basis of paragraph 3, for example. You raised the issue of the additional deck being added. All that information and virtually all the information in the cable was based on survivor sources.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Virtually all? You cannot assure us about all of it?
Dr Raby-Almost in its entirety, but I cannot at this stage give you an unequivocal answer that it was 100 per cent from survivors, but I do understand that it was predominantly based on survivor interviews.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-It is the small components that may not have been based on survivor interviews and that may relate to prior information about the departure which-I am sure you understand- concern us quite considerably. So assurances about `predominantly' in terms of the content do not really solve that problem at this stage.
Dr Raby-It does take us some way there. For example, I have been able to establish that the material you read out before the dinner break with respect to the size and shape of and modifications to the vessel had all been based on survivor reports. You raised the question, though, of prior knowledge. On that I can say unequivocally that we had no prior knowledge and that there is nothing in this cable that was based on sources that had prior knowledge of the departure of the ship.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-So there is no knowledge of this cable that you later became aware of from other sources who had prior knowledge of the departure.
Dr Raby-That is my understanding.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Even some of the information in this cable that may have come from other than survivors who may have had prior knowledge and later came to the awareness of AFP officers, for instance-you do not rule out that type of knowledge, do you?
Dr Raby-All I can say is that there is nothing in this cable based on prior knowledge.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-I do not think you quite said that. I think you said this cable is predominantly based on survivor reports-
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-and you cannot rule out information that might have come from other sources that may have involved some prior knowledge.
Dr Raby-I think I have-
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-You said that you do not believe the information in item 3 relates to that.
Dr Raby-With respect, Senator, I said that the information in item 3 came from survivor sources in its entirety. What I did say which does rule out your hypothesis of sources that may have had contact with others who had prior knowledge is that there is nothing in this cable that is based on prior knowledge. So that would rule out the possibility that you are proposing.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-I am trying to get beyond what relates to prior knowledge by DFAT or even Australian agencies to something that might have involved prior knowledge by Indonesian agencies, for instance. Can you rule that out?
Dr Raby-My answer does that, I think.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-This is what I am trying to clarify.
Dr Raby-I have been advised that there is nothing in this cable-and that would refer to different sources-that was based on prior knowledge of the departure.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-And you are absolutely confident of that?
Dr Raby-That is my advice.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Where is your advice from?
Dr Raby-My advice has come from officers involved in the preparation of the cable.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-What can you tell me about those officers involved in the preparation of the cable?
Dr Raby-I am not prepared to discuss individual officers, Senator.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-What can you tell me about the level of officers and the agencies from which the officers came in relation to the preparation of this statement?
Dr Raby-My conversation has been predominantly with an officer from the embassy at the time, but I am not prepared to go into details of that.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-So one officer who was at the embassy at the time and participated in the production of this cable assures you that there is nothing in this cable that relates to prior knowledge?
Dr Raby-That is right. But in addition I say that you also have a letter in the Canberra Times from the ambassador published last year which made it absolutely clear there was no prior knowledge of this.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-I do not recall that letter. Can you provide me with it, please?
Dr Raby-I think my recollection of the letter is correct.
Mr Doyle-It may have touched on that issue but it was predominantly about allegations that Australian officials may have been engaged in sabotage.
Dr Raby-I see. It is my recollection. I apologise, Senator.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-I recall the one that Mr Doyle is referring to, but I am yet to be assured that we have no prior knowledge and I remain concerned about some aspects of this cable. I ask you, Dr Raby, why you feel so assured that you can tell this committee now that you are assured from talking to one officer who participated in the production of this cable that there was no prior knowledge. Did you ask that officer whether he was aware of all of the information that informed the other agencies that provided information to this cable?
Dr Raby-That is the best advice we have at this time, Senator.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-So you may not be assured or confident.
Dr Raby-I am personally reassured and I cannot say more than that.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-And you cannot advise us on why you are personally assured and when I question you about one aspect of that assurance it turns out that the letter written by the ambassador was on quite a different matter. I ponder on why you are so assured.
Dr Raby-Senator, please. I have admitted that my recollection of that letter, which was last November or whenever, was not well based, but my colleague Mr Doyle was here to correct me on that, as he so ably did, and his recollection of the letter concurs with yours. I have confidence in the advice I have that there is nothing in this cable based on prior knowledge.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-With respect-and I know that much of this is not the direct responsibility of Foreign Affairs-I have much less confidence particularly when I have been assured about the issue of radio communications from this ship previously and I read this cable and I discover it is quite a different matter. I know that you may or may not be able to answer my questions on radio communications now but I will put them clearly on notice, and I suspect it is probably in the interests of all parties if a response to those questions comes sooner rather than later in the process. Going to the first issue of radio communication, which was not put before the CMI committee, at point 4 of this cable we discover: The vessel stopped approximately 5 kilometres from the point of departure, during which time the crew was in radio contact with Abu Quassey. The vessel then resumed its passage ... From what you told me a moment ago, I assume-and correct me if I am wrong-that we know this through survivor reports.
Dr Raby-That is my understanding.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-How do we know through survivor reports that it was Abu Qussey that the crew were having this conversation with?
Dr Raby-I cannot answer that. It is operational, relating to other agencies. We are not responsible for the information.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Do we know whether there were any other radiocommunications from the SIEVX?
Dr Raby-I have no idea.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Let us move on to the more concerning component of it. This is at point 8:
The crew of the first boat contacted their Chinese owner for instructions-
presumably while they were collecting the 44 survivors. I think it is a fair presumption that contact probably occurred by radio. So the very big question about these 350 deaths is what radio communication might have occurred as the boat was sinking. Is there any information you are aware of to that respect?
Dr Raby-None that I am aware of.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Are you able to take that issue on notice?
Dr Raby-Happily, Senator.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-I understand you might need to refer this committee to the Federal Police to deal with an answer on that. In part I have somewhat predicted that and have already put those questions on notice directly to the Federal Police. I do not want to get caught in committee to committee dialogue which could take this committee-on top of the CMI committee-another 12 months before we get a satisfactory answer on that issue. The next question I asked AFP-and to the extent that DFAT is able to assist us I ask you to take this on notice as well-is: if we are aware that the crew of the first boat contacted their Chinese owner for instructions, why can't we be aware of the coordinates they did that from?
Dr Raby-I will take that on notice.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Please also take on notice whether there are any other communications from either the vessel itself or the vessels that rescued survivors-there were two of them-that provide more information than we have previously been given during the certain maritime incident inquiry. I want to move on to how this cable was handled. At the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, what priority was given to the 23 October cable, given the significance of the event of the death of 350 asylum seekers and the international media that was occurring at the time?
Dr Raby-I will have to take that on notice as well.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Okay. I notice that in the cable next to Mr Smith's name-and I imagine that is Ric Smith, the ambassador at the time-there is the word `action'. Can you tell me what that would mean? It is the `action' at the bottom.
Dr Raby-That is Rod Smith, not Ric Smith. There have been a lot of Smiths in the department.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Which Smith is this Smith?
Dr Raby-This one is Rod-not ambassadorial level but branch head. He is the ex-head of the International Organisations Branch in the International Organisations and Legal Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He is based in Canberra.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-This is an officer who is Canberra based?
Dr Raby-Canberra based.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Let us go back to the Jakarta embassy and, without dealing with individuals, the priority that was attached to this cable and then what priority was attached to it in Canberra. We understand so far, from evidence before the certain maritime incident inquiry, that an AFP officer woke up Ms Halton at 2 a.m., I believe, because this cable was regarded as having such significance. I am interested to understand what significance your department attached to this cable and how it managed its communication to government.
Dr Raby-I am sorry, could you repeat the last part?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-How you managed its communication to government.
Dr Raby-How we managed the communications?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Of this cable to government.
Dr Raby-I am sorry, I just did not hear that last bit.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Is there something wrong with the microphones?
Dr Raby-Maybe we are all getting tired, or my ears are wearing out.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-So what would that `action' there mean for Mr Rod Smith?
Dr Raby-He is the relevant officer to decide on further action on the cable.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-After having received it from the embassy?
Dr Raby-Yes. All cables come in this form. All cables will have one or two action officers, maybe more on occasions, but usually one identified as a person who has got primary responsibility within the department to follow up anything that may need to be followed up in the cable.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-So this officer may have been-you need to take this on notice-the officer who informed the Federal Police officer who then woke up Ms Halton in the middle of the night?
Dr Raby-I will take that on notice but, in terms of distribution, I notice that it also went to Mr Keelty.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-It went to a lot of people. It went to the Prime Minister.
Dr Raby-We will ask Mr Smith whether he informed an AFP officer or whether it was done through AFP's own line of command, having received the cable itself.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Part of that question is: what action did your department take with respect to this cable? In the context that it has been so difficult for the Senate to get access to this cable, I would like you to respond to-and you may be able to do it now-why a report on Indonesian business on the web, ibonweb.com, of 23 October 2001 recounts this cable almost word for word in some parts. That may relate to some of the source material or it may relate reports, as reported in this article, from the Australian Federal Police. The thing that alarms me is that some components of this report read this cable word for word, yet other aspects of this report have remained an illusion to this parliament for 16 months. This is why I am interested as to how the cable was managed both at the Jakarta end and at this end of the process. Can you make any comment on that issue at this stage?
Dr Raby-Not at all.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-I hope you have been briefed on the discussions we have had previously in relation to why it has taken so long for this cable to be released. Would you care to comment on that issue from the department's perspective?
Mr Doyle-My recollection is that the question was originally taken on notice by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet during the CMI hearing, I think, in late July.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-June or July, yes.
Mr Doyle-After that, PM&C sought our advice on whether it was possible to release the cable and, if so, whether we would have to delete some parts of it to make it able to be released. I suspect that PM&C asked us because they assumed that the starting point would be national security grounds or damage to bilateral relations. We then coordinated an intergovernmental process and provided PM&C with advice on what we thought should be deleted from the cable to make it able to be released. That advice was provided in August.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Which advice was that? From whom?
Mr Doyle-The advice on how we thought the cable needed to be amended to enable it-
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Yes. Whom did you receive that advice from?
Mr Doyle-We were providing the advice to PM&C. We provided that advice in August last year.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-In August last year, you provided advice that the addressees should not be revealed?
Mr Doyle-That is right.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Then you had further dialogue with PM&C on that issue. When was that, because ultimately the cable we got did have the addressees included?
Mr Doyle-I am not absolutely sure, but I think that discussion occurred after the issue was raised at PM&C's estimates hearings in November. PM&C raised with us the issue of including the addressees in the release cable, and we agreed.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-What was the basis of the advice to not indicate the addressees?
Mr Doyle-Purely on privacy grounds.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-The privacy of whom?
Mr Doyle-The recipients.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Which recipients needed their privacy protected in a matter such as this?
Dr Raby-Some of the departmental officers are not especially senior.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Okay, so why could you not just remove the addresses of the more junior department officers?
Mr Doyle-It was an error of judgment on our part that we thought that privacy was a sufficient ground to delete people's names. When PM&C's experts in government division queried this, we agreed that the names should be released.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Privacy grounds on that matter would protect the Prime Minister against the plasma television. As you say, it is an error, but it astounds me that the department would feel it inappropriate to indicate the addressees with respect to communications such as this. I accept the junior officer issue and I have respected Dr Raby to the extent that he does not want to name junior officers. But when we deal with Defence, when we deal with sit reps and when we have dealt with almost every other aspect of information in the CMI process, it has not been an issue. But when we come to Foreign Affairs with this one cable, it seems to have held up the process for a considerable amount of time. The only significant issue with respect to this cable, as compared to the many other restricted or even higher security communications that were released to us, is that this one names as its first item the Prime Minister. Was that a factor?
Mr Doyle-No, Senator.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-This cable names, in the first item, the Prime Minister. It then includes information that was not presented to the CMI inquiry. How can you assure me that there is not a conspiracy here?
Mr Doyle-I am not aware of one. We were not a party to anything. As I said, our advice was based purely on privacy grounds. It turned out not to be the best advice. PM&C questioned it; we agreed with them.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Is it the basis of past behaviour, or is just a one-off bad call?
Mr Doyle-I am not sure that it is a regular occurrence for us to declassify cables.
Dr Raby-No, it is very unusual.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-It is very rare that you declassify cables, is it?
Dr Raby-And release them in this way, yes.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-How about when you declassify other materials? I am sure that must happen.
Dr Raby-Different status than a cable.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-This is only a restricted cable. It is not a significant status.
Dr Raby-It is a national security classification.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-So for a fairly low status cable you might contemplate privacy grounds in relation to the addressees, but other communications that you might declassify, you would not do that for. Is that correct?
Dr Raby-I am just trying to think of what sorts of communications we might have which would list individual recipients, which had been classified and were now being declassified. I am just trying to think of the case that you might have in mind.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-I am just wanting to be assured that this one-off call was not for one-off reasons. As I said, my cynicism is based on the fact that the No. 1 item on this list is the Prime Minister, and that information that should have been presented to CMI was not. Let us move on to an area where some commentators-I will not express my own opinion here-are cynical about the government's seriousness in relation to the pursuit of Abu Qussey. This is again related to SIEVX. What role, if any, is DFAT playing in the government's attempts to extradite Abu Qussey to Australia?
Mr Doyle-I am aware that this issue was raised with Senator Ellison at the A-G's and AFP hearings on Monday as well. I recall that Senator Ellison catalogued a number of occasions on which he, Mr Downer, the ambassador-designate and a number of senior officials have had detailed discussions with the Indonesian government and its representatives about our interest in extraditing Abu Qussey.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Yes, but I asked what role DFAT is playing.
Mr Doyle-I will start with the ambassador-designate, as Senator Ellison mentioned. We are a part of the group at the embassy that works on these issues. We support the work of A-G's in Canberra to extradite Abu Qussey.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Who from the Australian embassy in Jakarta is involved? Not individual names.
Mr Doyle-The main agencies would be AFP and DFAT.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Was DFAT involved in the discussions with the team of lawyers that went over?
Mr Doyle-I think a DFAT official accompanied the delegation, yes.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Can DFAT say what discussions have taken place between Australian and Indonesian officials about extraditing Abu Qussey, beyond what Minister Ellison indicated on Monday?
Mr Doyle-Not really, Senator. As he pointed out, the delegation that was there last week had detailed discussions and presented a request for provisional arrest, and that matter remains with the Indonesians at the moment.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Mr Doyle, what I would be interested in is seeing a chronology of activity from Australian agencies with the Indonesians on this issue. I know that Minister Ellison gave, as you have said, an overview and perhaps a representation of more recent activities, given some of the conflicting messages on this matter that have been in the media. But, to the extent that you would be able to produce it without compromising issues, could you prepare for me a chronology of the dialogue that has occurred with the Indonesians in relation to this matter.
Dr Raby-We can only do that with respect to DFAT officers.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-I understand. But I also understand that often there would be a DFAT officer participating in those activities.
Dr Raby-Yes. We are happy to do that.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-If there was no DFAT officer present, DFAT would be aware that other dialogue had occurred.
Dr Raby-I think that is information for the relevant agencies to provide.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-I do not want the detail of it. If DFAT is aware that the dialogue occurred, simply indicate that.
Dr Raby-We will do what we can.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Can DFAT outline whether Australia is in contact with the Egyptian government about Abu Qussey?
Mr Doyle-Yes, we have been in contact with the Egyptian government.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Is it true that Egypt wants Abu Qussey to return to Egypt, his country of origin, where they have promised he will be prosecuted for his crimes relating to the deaths of those on board SIEVX?
Mr Doyle-There have been discussions. I am not sure that the Egyptian government has reached a formal position. If it has, that has not been formally communicated to us.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-So at this stage no formal position has been communicated. I have not read international press recently. Has there been in recent times any update on what is to occur in relation to Abu Qussey and the Indonesian government?
Mr Doyle-Not that I am aware of. I think our request is with the Indonesians, and we are awaiting their response.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Some of the media reports indicated that they intended to make a decision before the Prime Minister arrives there tomorrow.
Mr Doyle-There were earlier reports that they would make a decision by 7 February as well.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-But you have heard nothing?
Mr Doyle-I am not sure when they will make a decision.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-With respect to the news reports about the Indonesian justice minister's comments, can you explain why the Indonesian justice minister is reported as indicating that he had had no contact from the Australian ambassador, when it is indicated here that that has occurred?
Mr Doyle-I cannot answer for the Indonesian justice minister.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-I am asking if you can give any explanation for the reporting of that issue.
Mr Doyle-Which reporting?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-The reporting that no contact had occurred, when quite clearly, from the evidence given by Minister Ellison and with respect to Minister Downer, such contacts had occurred.
Mr Doyle-They certainly have occurred, but I cannot comment on what erroneous media reports are based on.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-What was the outcome of the discussions with the representatives that DFAT participated in last week?
Mr Doyle-The purpose of the visit was to explore avenues that might be available to us to formally request Abu Qussey's extradition to Australia. As Senator Ellison mentioned, and as I mentioned earlier, a request was formally presented to the Indonesian government. The next step in the process is to await a response to that request.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-What can you tell me about the status of a provisional warrant? What is the correct title?
Mr Doyle-I think it is a provisional arrest warrant.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-What can you tell me about the status of that?
Mr Doyle-Not a lot, unfortunately. I am not an expert in extradition issues. As you know, that delegation was led by A-G's, and they are the ones who handle that side of it.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-So you were advised that the decision would be made by the 7th?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Sorry. By which date?
Mr Doyle-There were earlier reports that the decision would be made by the 7th. I merely mentioned that in response to your question about whether we expect a decision to be made before the Prime Minister's arrival. The answer is that we do not know.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-What is the date today?
Mr Doyle-The 13th.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-So, as far as we know, to date no decision has been made.
Mr Doyle-That is correct.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-The Prime Minister arrives tomorrow.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Has he been briefed on this matter?
Mr Doyle-A briefing was provided to PM&C for inclusion in his briefing material.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Do you think it will arise in discussions between the Prime Minister and the President?
Dr Raby-It is not for us to comment; it is for the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-With respect to the change of policy by the Indonesians regarding the extradition that we were alerted to by the A-G on Monday, are you in a position to explain why that change of policy might have occurred?
Mr Doyle-No, although it is most welcome. It is not clear why there is that change of approach.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Given that we have now issued this provisional warrant, is there a view that the delegation that we sent over there, predominantly from A-G's, was successful in exploring options that will be fruitful?
Mr Doyle-The process remains in train. It obviously has not come to an end yet.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-I think I will have to wait for most of this on notice. That concludes these questions, thank you. [8.21 p.m.]