[Extract from Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence And Trade Legislation Committee, 14 February 2003, pp.344-5]
ACTING CHAIR-Senator Collins has advised me that she has some questions pertaining to a matter that she was pursuing yesterday. I have indicated that, if the officers are not here because of the arrangements, those questions can be taken on notice and responded to accordingly.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Dr Raby was part of the discussion we had yesterday and he may be able to assist me in part. This question relates back to the evidence that you provided to the CMI committee in May of last year when the committee was asking about the letter that Minister Hill had written to Mr Crean in relation to SIEVX and, amongst other things, the vicinity in which it may have sunk. At the time you indicated that you did not know of that letter, and a copy of the letter had been tabled and was then provided to the department. A question on notice was then provided. I will give you the reference to the question because the department responded to it. It was question No. 11 of 19 June last year. The question was framed, 'Do the contents of Senator Hill's letter to Mr Crean tabled in the committee on 1 May match DFAT's understanding of events?' The answer that was received was, 'DFAT does not have access to sources of information on Defence and Coastwatch operational issues other than the Department of Defence and Coastwatch.'
We now know the content of this DFAT cable, which provides a fairly significant level of detail leading to the vicinity of the sinking of the SIEVX-although it may still not be fully clear as to where this vessel sank.
Why was the detail of this cable not provided on that issue to the committee in response to that question?
Dr Raby-I do not follow all the links in the question. I think the best thing to do, so that I can review material provided to you some time ago and so we can have a look at what has been provided to you on notice, is that we take this question on notice and have a look at it.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-The issue, just so that you are clear-I understand that there are a few links in the question which, after the amount of time you have had in estimates now, might be difficult to follow on the spot-is that on the face of it, at least from my end, it appears as if the answer the department gave to that question was unsatisfactory on the basis that we now know that information about the vicinity of the sinking of SIEVX was in the hands of the department, as evidenced by the content of this cable of 23 October that the committee received the week before last. I understand that you dealt with the question from the chair of the committee at the time, but that you may not have been privy to that information. You might be able to assist us by clarifying matters pertaining to the cable. You are down as one of the addressees in the cable. Did you see this cable?
Dr Raby-I honestly cannot recall at this stage.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Perhaps you can review that and come back on that issue on notice as well.
Dr Raby-I am happy to do that.