[Extract from Estimates, Senate Legal & Constitutional Legislation Committee Hansard, 27 May 2003, pp. 301-329]
Australian Federal Police
CHAIR-Ladies and gentlemen, we will reconvene this session of the Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee budget estimates with consideration of the portfolio budget statements and budget estimates for the Australian Federal Police. I welcome Commissioner Mick Keelty and officers of the Australian Federal Police to this evening's hearings and welcome back the minister and the secretary of the department, Mr Cornall. I appreciate, Commissioner, your assistance in coming here at seven o'clock, notwithstanding the fact the scheduled time was half past seven. We will begin with questions in this area from you, Senator Faulkner, so I am advised.
Senator FAULKNER-I wonder if I could ask you, Commissioner, about AFP representation in Indonesia in the latter half of 2001. First of all, how many Australian Federal Police officers were involved in the people- smuggling group at the Australian Embassy in Jakarta?
Senator Ellison-Madam Chair, I might at the outset ask Senator Faulkner to establish the relevance of this to budget estimates 2003-04. There might be a comparison between representation of police then and now, but I raise what I raised yesterday. This is budget estimates 2003-04 and we have allowed a fair degree of breadth in questioning, but there are limits to that. I put that to the committee at the outset. If they are questions relating to matters which are irrelevant, there is always the Notice Paper. Perhaps Senator Faulkner has a way of tying it into the budget estimates. We will see.
CHAIR-I take your point, Minister. It is a matter that the committee discussed yesterday on more than one occasion. Senator Faulkner, we have endeavoured to address at least the periphery of most of the issues relating to budget estimates and any assistance in that regard would be appreciated, of course.
Senator FAULKNER-I can assure you that all my questioning will be consistent with the precedents that have been established in this committee and many others in their consideration of all estimates rounds over a long period of time. Of that you can be assured.
CHAIR-Commissioner, is there a response to at least the initial question from Senator Faulkner?
Mr Keelty-I do not have the answer to that with me tonight. I can get an answer.
Senator FAULKNER-Thank you, Commissioner. Of course, this matter has received some public exposure because of the publication of a recent book by David Marr and Marian Wilkinson called Dark Victory. You may or may not have had that drawn to your attention. Was AFP officer Leigh Dixon based in the Australian Embassy in Jakarta in the latter part of 2001?
Senator FAULKNER-Is Mr Dixon still there?
Senator FAULKNER-Is Mr Dixon still an officer of the AFP?
Senator FAULKNER-I do not know Mr Dixon's rank or I would address him more appropriately, but is he a federal agent?
Mr Keelty-A federal agent, yes.
Senator FAULKNER-Mr Dixon is still a federal agent working for the AFP?
Mr Keelty-Yes. I understand he is due to finish with us, but I have not got the date in front of me.
Senator FAULKNER-Does that mean that he is retiring from the service?
Mr Keelty-No, he is taking up other employment.
Senator FAULKNER-But he is leaving the AFP?
Mr Keelty-That is correct.
Senator FAULKNER-Are you able to say to this committee, Commissioner, what Federal Agent Dixon's involvement was in the people-smuggling disruption program in 2001, as the AFP representative in the embassy?
Senator Ellison-Madam Chair, I appreciate that Senator Faulkner may have read a book recently-and we have all read books-but there has been a select committee which inquired into this aspect. This matter was raised at previous budget estimates in November and February. I really do not think that budget estimates centres around whether someone has read a book or not. We have budget estimates 2003-04 here, and I think that we should maintain some sort of relevance to the reason we are here.
Senator Faulkner says there is a precedent for these committees. I have also seen precedents where chairpersons have required that questions have some semblance of relevance to budget estimates. That is what we are here for. We have allowed a fair degree of latitude. A person's involvement in late 2001 in the anti people-smuggling operation in Indonesia is not relevant to budget estimates, especially when you have had all these chances to go through this, not just a select committee, but a previous estimates committee. We have to draw a line somewhere, Madam Chair.
CHAIR-Minister, I have indicated to Senator Faulkner that the committee has-at your prompting and at my prompting-on previous occasions in the last two days considered the relevance of matters being raised specifically with respect to budget estimates. I understand the point that you make. I also understand the point that Senator Faulkner makes. This committee has, at least in the period of my chairmanship, endeavoured to accommodate a breadth of issues and interests to facilitate its better operations. I have not been involved in any other Senate inquiries on these issues myself, but to the extent that we have examined these matters at great length in two previous sets of budget estimates, as you indicate, I really would, Senator Faulkner, seek the application of your questions to the budget estimates 2003-04.
Senator FAULKNER-I intend to ask my questions in accordance with the longstanding procedures and precedents that have been established in the Senate, and I can assure you I will not be asking questions that are outside those parameters. I do not really understand why the minister is making this point, given the nature of the questions being asked.
Senator Ellison-I have made them before in relation to this committee. The fact is that you cannot expect witnesses to bowl up with information, within their own personal knowledge, of events over two years ago. They have come armed to answer questions about estimates.
Senator FAULKNER-Regularly officials are asked at these committee meetings to deal with issues that span back many more years than just two. In a committee I have been in today, events of seven years ago were being canvassed at some considerable length. You would probably have us all drag out a crystal ball and look at what might happen in the future. I want to look at a few issues that have happened in the recent past, as well as some that are going to happen in the future and some current policies.
CHAIR-Senator Faulkner, I do not think there is any suggestion that anybody should be attempting to adopt a crystal ball approach to this or any other committee matter.
Senator FAULKNER-I just want to get on with my question.
CHAIR-I do take the minister's point, Senator Faulkner. We have had no effort to make any reference at all to the budget estimates for 2003-04 so far in this brief period of questioning of the Australian Federal Police. I think it would be appropriate and relevant to do that.
Senator FAULKNER-I do not. With respect, having attended the Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee for two days, no-one has asked a question that has been prefaced by reference to the budget estimates and no-one should be expected to. That is not the way these committees work. With respect, I suggest you go and have a look at the standing orders and guidance that we have available to us in relation to these committees. I realise you may not know how they have operated but you do not want to fall for the first attempt by a minister who for some unknown reason does not appear to want certain questions asked. I intend to ask them. I am going to ask them. I am not going to be stopped from asking them.
Senator Ellison-Do not expect an answer.
Senator FAULKNER-I would ask the minister at the table to be as cooperative as the commissioner has been in answering them. We would be halfway through if-
Senator Ellison-The question will be taken on notice.
Senator FAULKNER-What question will be taken on notice?
Senator Ellison-The one that was asked when I raised an objection.
CHAIR-The question of answering is a matter for the witnesses and the minister. With respect to your freely given and gratuitous advice in relation to the application or otherwise of the standing orders and the scope of questioning, I have had more than ample opportunity in several periods of estimates over the recent past-probably while these questions have been asked-to examine and re-examine those. I am particularly well acquainted with them, happily for all of us. I would ask Senator Faulkner that in the process of asking your questions this evening, and any questions asked by other members of the committee, we do at least at some stage canvass the budget estimates 2003-04. If that is regarded as an unreasonable request from the chair in relation to the examination of budget estimates-as they are referred to and listed in every program available in the Senate, to my knowledge, for this period of two weeks-then I will note that down as an unreasonable request on the chair's part. Senator Faulkner.
Senator FAULKNER-Yes. Does the interagency people-smuggling group at the Australian Embassy in Indonesia still exist, Commissioner?
Mr Keelty-I do not know, Senator.
Senator FAULKNER-I wonder if there is an officer who might be able to assist me. I would like to ask whether the group is in operation and whether there is any AFP representation on it.
Senator Ellison-That is a valid question.
Senator FAULKNER-They are all valid questions. Let's just get on with it.
Mr Keelty-Senator, I do not have the answer but if the deputy does, I will ask him to intercede.
Senator FAULKNER-Thank you.
Mr Keelty-I can tell you that there are two officers in Jakarta, currently posted there as liaison officers. In the absence of being corrected by any of my staff, Senator, I do not know if that task force still exists in Jakarta.
Senator FAULKNER-I am drawing a distinction, Commissioner, between AFP officers working out of the embassy and those who may be working elsewhere. I was focusing my questioning on those working in the embassy in Indonesia. What is the current situation?
Mr Keelty-There are two liaison officers in Jakarta.
Senator FAULKNER-Have we had a situation where at times those liaison officers, or representatives of the AFP, have been seconded to the INP? This does happen from time to time, doesn't it?
Mr Keelty-Not seconded to the INP, Senator. The closest we would get to that is working in joint task forces, as we are with the Bali investigation, or conducting training courses but not as a secondee to the INP.
Senator FAULKNER-But working closely with the INP.
Mr Keelty-That is correct.
Senator FAULKNER-I understand the distinction you draw about secondment. In terms of involvement on groups like the interagency people-smuggling group in the Australian Embassy in Jakarta-or, for that matter, other similar groups-what is the procedure for reporting mechanisms back to your office or the AFP here in Canberra?
Mr Keelty-Normally any LO, if we are talking about today, would report back to a director or commander of International here in Canberra. Previously they did report to what was described as a regional coordinator but that system has been done away with. Now the senior liaison officer reports directly to the Director, International in Canberra.
Senator FAULKNER-When did that reporting process change, approximately?
Mr Keelty-At a guess, in the last 18 months; certainly in the last 12 months, Senator. If it was any longer than that I will let you know.
Senator FAULKNER-Thanks for that. What was the reason for that change in reporting arrangements?
Mr Keelty-It was world wide. We had a number of regional coordinators in charge of or responsible for a number of LOs across a number of countries. We discovered that was probably less efficient than we wanted, so we corrected it and had direct reporting back to Canberra.
Senator FAULKNER-It is an efficiency thing, basically.
Mr Keelty-That is right.
Senator FAULKNER-Efficiency and effectiveness of the operation.
Mr Keelty-That is right, Senator.
Senator FAULKNER-At the end of the day do the key issues come across your desk, or other senior officers, or does it depend on the nature of the issue, its sensitivity and so forth?
Mr Keelty-Normally I would not know the day to day operation or reporting of the LOs. It comes back to the Director, International, who has a general manager or assistant commissioner in charge of him. Then that assistant commissioner or general manager International reports to the deputy commissioner. There might be current operations where I am briefed regularly on a particular operation but it would be extraordinary matters that are brought to my attention.
Senator FAULKNER-What about people-smuggling issues? I appreciate that has a priority. You have said in previous committee hearings that it has a priority in terms of the work of the AFP and I understand that. Do matters arising out of those sorts of operations or issues tend to come across your desk or might it go to a more junior officer?
Mr Keelty-Normally it would go to a more junior officer. It would only be if an extraordinary event occurred, like a major arrest or a major outcome.
Senator FAULKNER-What is the status of the DIMIA-AFP joint strike team? Is that still in operation?
Mr Keelty-Yes, it is, Senator. It is staffed by a permanent team of 15 officers, 10 from the AFP and five from DIMIA.
Senator FAULKNER-That is in Canberra?
Mr Keelty-That is right, Senator.
Senator FAULKNER-From memory, that is pretty similar to when we last heard evidence from you. It was a team of about that size at that time. It has been a pretty constant level of staffing resources going in there.
Mr Keelty-That is correct.
Senator FAULKNER-Has its role evolved at all over a later period of time? Have priorities changed?
Mr Keelty-They have now been working on targets that have been developed out of the intelligence that has come forward from the previous operations. This went from a peak 18 months to two years ago and there is a lot of residual intelligence. They have been working principally on the brief of evidence in relation to people such as Abu Quassey and the more recent arrest in Sweden of a person by the name of Ayoub.
Senator FAULKNER-I do not expect you to have this information at your fingertips, but if you do you can provide it. Could I ask you to take on notice whether you are able to indicate to the committee whether any AFP officers were present at a meeting at 0800 hours at the Jakarta Embassy on Wednesday, 13 June 2001, which was a briefing by Ambassador Smith and the interagency people-smuggling group; if so, the number of officers and who they were.
The details of this meeting have been provided to me in a recent answer to a question on notice that I asked in relation to the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. Specifically, that meeting is mentioned in answer to that question on notice. The reference is L&C 328. I assume you do not know the answer to that question-and I would not expect you to-and I ask you to take that on notice.
A version of events at this meeting has been recently reported in a book that has just been published. It indicates that Federal Agent Dixon of the AFP gave a rundown of Australian work with the Indonesian National Police to attack the people-smuggling syndicates, the success of this and so on. I do not want to mislead you in any way. I think it is possible that Federal Agent Dixon may well have been at that meeting.
It is also reported, Commissioner, that Federal Agent Dixon was allegedly concerned about the direction of the discussion at that meeting. I wonder if at some stage subsequently, or perhaps quite recently, you have asked for any briefing on that meeting or those events. I am not asking you what the content of that briefing might be. I am asking the process question of whether further information or briefing was sought by you.
Mr Keelty-Yes, Senator, if I have got the incident as the correct incident, I was unaware of it. I am not sure how it emerged, whether it emerged from discussions with Marian Wilkinson-I think that is how it emerged, but I stand corrected on that.
Senator FAULKNER-It does appear that might be the case from what I have read.
Mr Keelty-I have spoken to Federal Agent Dixon about that but that was many months after the event. I was unaware of it prior to that.
Senator FAULKNER-Thank you for that. This event took place in June 2001. Would you be able to say to us when you spoke to Federal Agent Dixon about it?
Mr Keelty-I would have to check my diary to give you the exact date.
Senator FAULKNER-Could you take that on notice?
Mr Keelty-Yes, Senator.
Senator FAULKNER-Again a process question on this: hearing what you say about having spoken to Federal Agent Dixon about these matters, can you say to the committee whether you asked for any written brief, record of meeting or other minutes or recorded material on this issue, or was this just a discussion between yourself and the federal agent?
Mr Keelty-I had a discussion with him, but as I understand there was a report made available to his reporting group.
Senator FAULKNER-What was Federal Agent Dixon's reporting group at the time?
Mr Keelty-It was, I think, through a regional coordinator who may have been based in Bangkok. In any event his account of what occurred was reported back to the position then known as the Director, International which was, as I recall, the most senior position in International at the time.
Senator FAULKNER-So to your knowledge there is just that minute. Do we call it that? What is the correct terminology?
Mr Keelty-Yes. A brief that came down to Canberra.
Senator FAULKNER-There was just that one formal brief on this issue that you are aware of.
Mr Keelty-That I am aware of, yes, Senator.
Senator FAULKNER-It does appear there was sensitivity about this because a journalist was asking questions. Would that be fair?
Mr Keelty-That is right. I certainly know of no other report.
Senator FAULKNER-Can we nail down when that brief was dated?
Mr Keelty-If I could take that on notice, Senator, please.
Senator Ellison-Madam Chair, it might help, in view of the detail and time that has elapsed since these events took place, if Senator Faulkner could provide written questions. It is obvious that to expect the commissioner to remember is totally unreasonable-to recall detail of this sort-and he should place them on notice.
Senator FAULKNER-I think you probably misunderstand.
Senator Ellison-Or on the Notice Paper.
Senator FAULKNER-I am not going to. I am more than happy for the commissioner, as you have heard, to take any question on notice. He has been able to answer many of my questions. Some he has not and I have not expected him to and he has taken them on notice. I think you misunderstand. I do not think the brief or the meeting that the commissioner and Federal Agent Dixon had was as long ago as you think it was. In fact it may have been last year. That would be right, would it not, Commissioner? You have just been asked about the date of the brief.
Senator Ellison-That is right.
CHAIR-And the Commissioner has taken that question on notice.
Senator FAULKNER-He has taken it on notice.
Senator Ellison-Madam Chair, it is obvious that Senator Faulkner is going into some of the detail, despite being irrelevant to budget estimates 2003-04, and it could not possibly be reasonably expected that the Commissioner of Police could recall this offhand and give that evidence. There should be notice given of these sorts of questions and they can be replied to.
CHAIR-I appreciate the point that you make, Minister. It is appropriate to inquire, Senator Faulkner, whether it is possible to provide the questions you are asking of the commissioner-given the length of time that has elapsed since the events to which you refer-in writing to place on the Notice Paper.
Senator FAULKNER-As you would appreciate, Madam Chair, answers to questions beget other questions and I think we are going reasonably well. Frankly, I thought we were going reasonably quickly. I do not think the events are too far in the dim distant past at all and, as you have seen from the commissioner's answers, he is perfectly able to answer most of the questions I have asked. The one or two he cannot, he has taken on notice, and I think that is a fair thing. I will just bat on.
CHAIR-Thank you for your assistance, Senator Faulkner.
Senator FAULKNER-My pleasure. Are you able to say to the committee, Commissioner, in relation to the discussions you had with Federal Agent Dixon, whether that included the issue of piracy?
Senator Ellison-Now we are going to the substance of the matter, which Senator Faulkner said he was not concerned with. He was concerned with the process. The question of the substance of this-
Senator FAULKNER-You were objecting to my process questions.
Senator Ellison-Not as much as I am objecting to the substance questions, Senator Faulkner, because I can tell you that-
Senator FAULKNER-The process questions are all right now, are they?
Senator Ellison-where there are operational matters which may be discussed-and it has been a precedent of this committee and others-we do not go into those questions. This is not another certain maritime incident investigation. It is budget estimates 2003-04. If you are going to do a re-run of what we had last year-a Senate select committee and questions which were generously allowed on previous occasions-I am going to object again, Madam Chair. These questions have gone on for half an hour.
Senator FAULKNER-I appreciate you maybe, for some reason, do not want questions asked.
Senator Ellison-You can put all other questions on the Notice Paper.
Senator FAULKNER-I am not going to put them on the Notice Paper, I can assure you.
Senator Ellison-That's too bad! Everything will be taken on notice, Madam Chair.
Senator FAULKNER-Minister, as I understand it-and you tell me if I am wrong-a meeting at the Australian Embassy in Jakarta is not an operational matter for the Australian Federal Police, is it?
Senator Ellison-I am not here to debate it.
Senator FAULKNER-You tell me.
Senator Ellison-Madam Chair, I have made it very clear-and if Senator Faulkner does not understand, he should know better-that Australian foreign missions often have operational discussions at embassies about all sorts of things, mostly national interest matters, affecting this nation. We do not divulge those details, and we will not be on this occasion.
Senator FAULKNER-This is a meeting involving Minister Ruddock at the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, at which I believe-
Senator Ellison-You can ask Minister Ruddock the question.
Senator FAULKNER-I cannot actually.
Senator Ellison-You can. You can get one of your colleagues to put it in the Notice Paper in the House of Representatives. That is the way to do it.
Senator FAULKNER-I can put it on the Notice Paper myself, but I cannot ask Minister Ruddock the question. What I can ask is-
Senator Ellison-Ask him tomorrow when I am representing him.
Senator FAULKNER-The AFP was just one of the agencies present, let me assure you. Unfortunately, we have had in the last couple of weeks the publication of material, none of which has been in the public arena before and, I point out to you, has not been subject to questioning in any committee of this parliament or in the parliament before. This is the first opportunity that has arisen to ask these questions. If you actually read the material-and you have no intention of doing so, which is fair enough, you are entitled not to read it-it is extensively footnoted with AFP references and a whole range of things. It seems to me perfectly reasonable that they be matters subject to questioning here.
CHAIR-Senator Faulkner, the point that the minister makes, which you do not accept, is that the purpose for which this committee is held is for the discussion of budget estimates 2003-04.
Senator FAULKNER-I do accept that.
CHAIR-That is why we bring along the chief operating officer and the acting chief financial officer of the AFP on these occasions. Perhaps it is just to have them sit there and say nothing, but I do not think that is the case. What the minister has indicated is that, in relation to the detailed matters that you seek to raise, it would be of assistance to the commissioner and to the committee if you could provide those questions in writing. You have indicated you are not prepared to do that.
In relation to the operational matters that you choose to raise, the minister has indicated that it would helpful if we could avoid bringing into the public discussion matters which are inappropriate because of their operational nature. You have indicated that you are aware of that practice and I think you indicated that you would try to assist in that case. I do not think the minister is unreasonable in suggesting that we should be turning our minds to the budget statements. If you do, Senator Faulkner, then I guess we agree to disagree.
Senator FAULKNER-We obviously do agree to disagree. I think you need to understand that since the recent publication of this material-literally within the last couple of weeks-things are said in the commissioner's name, and I do not know how they appear in a book. I do not know if they are accurate or not. The commissioner has indicated that he has been approached by one of the authors of this book himself, and that was frank advice and is hardly surprising. Hundreds of people spoke to the author of this book. Given that these things are here in black and white and some are said in the commissioner's name, it is not an unreasonable thing for a committee of the Australian parliament to address, as well as a journalist to address.
CHAIR-I did not suggest for a moment that it was unreasonable either, with respect, Senator Faulkner. My point is that a myriad of documents, books, journals and otherwise are published from day to day in this nation-
Senator FAULKNER-That is right.
CHAIR-being a nation of great literary activity.
Senator FAULKNER-Not all of them about the internal workings of the AFP.
CHAIR-Not all of them require the Senate budget estimates committee's attention.
Senator FAULKNER-This one does, because this one mentions the internal workings of the AFP and a range of other agencies.
CHAIR-So you say, Senator Faulkner.
Senator FAULKNER-Yes, so I do say. I want to quote something to you, commissioner, from page 33 of this book:
Dixon did not tell his police commissioner, Mick Keelty, about this worrying exchange at the time, though Keelty did learn of it from Dixon much later and expressed concern.
Commissioner, do you have any idea how such an alleged expression of view on your part may have appeared in this recent publication? Could you assist us with that? You may not be able to, but if you can I would appreciate it. It may not be accurate-I do not know-and you may care to comment on that.
Mr Keelty-You alluded to the fact that the author had spoken to a number of people. I spoke to one of the authors, Marian Wilkinson, with our media person by telephone. I do not recall the date, but it was around the early to middle part of last year. I might have that wrong, but we did have a conversation. I do not have the details of that conversation now, but I remember the incident. I think the first I became aware of the alleged incident involving Federal Agent Dixon was through, in fact, that conversation with Marian Wilkinson. I recall asking questions at the time as to how she would have had the detailed knowledge that she had of the meeting.
Senator FAULKNER-It is not unreasonable, by the way, for you to talk to journalists and the like. You have to do that as part and parcel of your responsibilities, and I appreciate that. I understand that. It sounds to me as though the decision you took in speaking to her and having present one of your media liaison officers or officials was a good decision to make and a good safeguard in the circumstances, and I would acknowledge that. Can you say whether this is true, commissioner, that you `did learn of it from Dixon much later and expressed concern'? When these things are printed, if they are not accurate, this is an excellent opportunity to correct the record, if it needs correcting.
Mr Keelty-I do not know if I expressed concern then. I think I expressed more concern when I found out from Marian Wilkinson about the incident, because until that point in time I had no knowledge of it. It is not untrue to say that I expressed concern; it is a matter of the point of time at which that occurred. Of course, after I learned of that, I asked for Dixon to provide details of what, in fact, occurred.
Senator FAULKNER-I would point out that the other process issue here is a footnote. I know other people are not as obsessional as I am about these things and probably do not read footnotes; I do. In footnote 4 of chapter 3 of this book it is stated: The account of this conversation comes from senior AFP sources who were privy to Dixon's briefing of his commissioner.
I think you will understand that, when one reads that footnote, a senator might be taken aback a little. It might not be accurate; it may not be right. Can you assist us?
Mr Keelty-No. Could I ask you to read that again, please, Senator?
Senator FAULKNER-Yes. This is footnote 4 to a paragraph about the meeting in Jakarta. At the end of the paragraph and Mr Dixon's role, there is this footnote:
The account of this conversation comes from senior AFP sources-
I interpolate here `sources' plural-
who were privy to Dixon's briefing of his commissioner.
Senator Ellison-Madam Chair, even in the most base tribunals, when something is put to a witness they are given the opportunity to look at what is being put. A paragraph has been mentioned. We do not know what is in the paragraph.
Senator FAULKNER-I am happy to hand up the book.
Senator Ellison-If that can be shown to the commissioner, he can then consider his response. But he will not be answering anything here tonight-nor will any other official-which is put to him and which is in writing and not shown to him. That is a basic rule of fairness. Can I ask for a ruling from you, Madam Chair, on that?
Senator FAULKNER-No need to ask for a ruling. Let me hand the book to the commissioner.
Senator Ellison-Good. Let's get our procedures right.
CHAIR-Let me just clarify something, Senator Faulkner, because apparently you have a book with you.
CHAIR-We have a limited time and a limited opportunity to-
Senator FAULKNER-We would have been through by now if we had just asked the questions and be done with it. Senator Ellison has-and I understand why; I used to do it-
Senator Ellison-It is fairness-
Senator FAULKNER-No, it isn't.
Senator Ellison-In fairness to the witness.
CHAIR-I might in fact finish my sentence, if you don't mind, Senator Faulkner. We have a limited time and a limited opportunity to examine the matters that are appropriately before the committee this evening. I was seeking your guidance as to whether we would have to go through all of the footnotes in the book that you have and all of the paragraphs, or whether you had some more limited application in mind.
Senator FAULKNER-I will ask my questions and that, I think, is rather-
CHAIR-As chair, I am seeking some guidance as to what you are expecting to pursue.
Senator FAULKNER-Look, if you and the minister stop interrupting, we will be through very soon. To assist the commissioner, Madam Chair-
CHAIR-So you are unable to give me some guidance, Senator Faulkner?
Senator FAULKNER-page 298 in this booklet-
CHAIR-Senator Faulkner, I am seeking some guidance on how long you think this will take.
Senator FAULKNER-The more you interrupt, the longer it will take.
CHAIR-I note your point. Thank you.
Senator FAULKNER-But not too long. Okay? To assist you, commissioner, the sentences from the book I was quoting are on page 33 and the footnote is on page 298, if that assists.
CHAIR-Senator Faulkner, watching the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police examining a book that you have handed across the table because you happen to be reading it, I find this to be an entirely inappropriate approach and use of budget estimates and would seek that, if you have specific questions which come from the text of this book, you record those questions and place them on notice to the attention of the Australian Federal Police.
Senator FAULKNER-I have no intention of placing questions on notice, except when it is required.
CHAIR-This is an entirely inappropriate method of questioning, Senator Faulkner.
Senator FAULKNER-That is your view. It is entirely appropriate. I just want to ask the process question about whether others were privy to the conversation.
CHAIR-When we come to your next question, Senator Faulkner, will the commissioner have to hand back the book so that you can find the next question, and then you give it back to the commissioner so that he can read the paragraph which is relevant?
Senator FAULKNER-He can pick it up and read it at his leisure and at some stage at the next round of estimates he can give it back to me. Okay?
CHAIR-That is very kind of you, Senator-and not at all amusing.
Senator Ellison-Madam Chair, Commissioner Keelty has had a chance to have a look at it now and can respond.
CHAIR-Thank you, Minister. Commissioner?
Senator Ellison-That is what happens when you treat a witness fairly.
Mr Keelty-Senator, that is not right, or cannot be right, because there was no-one present when Dixon spoke to me. I also note, Senator, when you passed the book to me, that there is another footnote. I do not know what it relates to, but footnote 25 says:
AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty in a written response to questions from the author-
I do not ever recall writing to the author.
Senator FAULKNER-I cannot comment on that. I did not intend to ask you about that.
Mr Keelty-I am trying to put it into context-that I think there has been some liberty taken in the footnotes.
Senator FAULKNER-There may well be, of course.
CHAIR-It puts into context the difficulty the commissioner faces, Senator Faulkner, in this context. I would suggest and, in fact, would indicate that I intend to rule that I do not want the commissioner to be put in the position of answering questions across the table based on you passing him the odd footnote and the odd paragraph from material he has not had an opportunity to read.
Senator FAULKNER-Why don't you then ask the minister to be quiet and we will just get on with it.
Senator Ellison-I haven't said anything!
Senator FAULKNER-You asked for the material to be handed to the commissioner. Are you that ignorant you don't even know what you're doing?
Senator Ellison-I am staggered by that.
CHAIR-Entirely fairly, in fact, Senator Faulkner, the minister asked for the material to be-
Senator FAULKNER-You, in fact, minister, asked for that to be handed to him. It has been handed to him.
Senator Ellison-Yes. He asked for it.
Senator FAULKNER-The commissioner has indicated-
Senator Ellison-You don't like the answer.
Senator FAULKNER-I just got an answer.
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 evening.
Senator FAULKNER-I will put the questions I wish to put to the commissioner.
CHAIR-And I will rule them out of order if you ask them in the same manner.
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.
Senator FAULKNER-Thank you very much. In relation to the matters we have been trying to canvass, Commissioner, apart from the brief that was generated by Federal Agent Dixon-the conversation you had with Federal Agent Dixon-are you aware of any other AFP activity around that meeting; in other words, any other complaints, any other communications or concerns? That is what I am keen to know: whether the engagement you had-I am not talking about journalists here, by the way; I am talking about AFP or government agency involvement, not from journalists or the like. I just wondered if you are aware of any other communication that the AFP has had on this issue, either internally or from another government agency.
Mr Keelty-Not off the top of my head, Senator, but can I take that on notice and check our records.
Senator FAULKNER-Yes. Thank you very much. I have asked you at a previous hearing, Commissioner, about the cancellation of the AFP-INP protocol in September 2001. You would recall that issue we canvassed previously. The status now, I understand, is that it is back to a good or better than good working relationship. That is true, isn't it?
Mr Keelty-That is correct, Senator. We entered into a new memorandum of understanding between ourselves and the Indonesian National Police. I think it was in June last year.
Senator FAULKNER-You have been to Indonesia on a number of occasions and visited there in September 2001 to try and sort out those issues in relation to the protocol. That is correct, isn't it?
Mr Keelty-Yes, Senator.
Senator FAULKNER-It is true that occurred about five days after the protocol was cancelled?
Mr Keelty-I would have to check on that, Senator. It was in a period not too long after it had been put aside by DEPLU, the Indonesian Department of Foreign Affairs.
Senator FAULKNER-What has never been quite clear to me is whether that was an anti people- smuggling protocol. That was the focus of it, wasn't it? I have assumed that but I think that, just for the record, you might indicate that to us.
Mr Keelty-There was an existing memorandum of understanding with the INP and the protocol was developed out of the memorandum of understanding specifically to deal with people-smuggling. That is my recall.
Senator FAULKNER-Effectively, after your visit and after these issues settled down, is it fair to say that it was agreed that the elements of the disruption program would continue on a case by case arrangement? It is shorthand but is that a fair summary of the situation?
Mr Keelty-Yes, Senator, from my recollection.
Senator FAULKNER-You might recall that about a year ago I asked question on notice 132 at the hearing of 28 May 2002. You were asked if you could provide a copy of the original MOU and protocol with the INP. I received an answer to that question which said: The content of the documents is formed with the input of both the AFP and the INP. As such the documents are not solely the property of the AFP and, therefore, can't be released without the express permission of the Indonesian National Police at this stage. I wonder if you are able to indicate whether or not there has been any change to that situation. In other words, I wondered if someone had sought the permission of the INP for release of that material.
Mr Keelty-No, Senator. I do not think there has been a catalyst to then carry through to a direct request of the Indonesians.
Senator FAULKNER-This is the MOU dated 5 August 1997 and the protocol under the MOU dated 15 September 2001. This has been an issue; it is a question on notice that has been hanging around for basically a year now, so I wondered if we could move it along a bit.
Senator Ellison-There was not a question: would the commissioner go and ask permission of the INP? The question was, `Are you able to provide it?' The commissioner said, `No, it's not our prerogative without their permission.'
Senator FAULKNER-I am aware of that, so what I have asked is whether the AFP had asked the INP for permission to release those two documents. The commissioner said no, they had not done it. I understood the spirit of the answer I received was that this is not just a matter for the AFP; it is also a matter for the Indonesians.
Senator Ellison-And the government of Australia. There are two governments involved. We will take it on notice.
CHAIR-Thank you, Minister.
Senator FAULKNER-My question is: could you indicate to the committee, given there has been no movement on this, if the AFP could seek permission of the INP, if that is required, for the release of the MOU on the protocol?
Mr Keelty-Yes, Senator.
Senator Ellison-We will take that on notice because we will have to check with the Minister for Foreign Affairs as well.
Senator FAULKNER-I also asked previously about the issue of tracking devices in suspected illegal entry vessels. Comparatively recently, on 23 November 2002, possibly as a result of my questioning, you were quoted in the Melbourne Age as saying:
SIEVX was not tracked by anyone in the AFP.
I wonder if you could, just for the record here, confirm that is the case, that it did appear in the Melbourne Age. Would you be able to confirm that for the benefit of the committee?
Mr Keelty-Yes, Senator. As I recall, that was not your question of me in the line of questioning in May last year or whenever it was.
Senator FAULKNER-It was one of the questions I had intended to ask. You are right to make that point. I asked a broader question in relation to the placement of tracking devices in suspected illegal entry vessels, in the broad. I did not, as you quite rightly say, identify the vessel that has now become known as SIEVX. Yes, you are absolutely right.
Mr Keelty-I can confirm to you that, to the AFP's knowledge, there was no tracking device placed on SIEVX, because we did not know the departure point of SIEVX.
Senator FAULKNER-Are you able to now deal with the broader issue of whether tracking devices were placed in some suspected illegal entry vessels?
Mr Keelty-I think I have said before that how we operate, the methodology that we use, is something that we do not publicly discuss. Because the specific question was put to me by a journalist on that occasion and there was some consternation about whether we had a tracking device on SIEVX, I took the line of answering that question. If we had had a tracking device on SIEVX, it would have indicated that we knew where SIEVX departed from. Of course, first and foremost we did not know where it departed from; secondly, it was only after it departed that we knew where it was, on the water.
Senator FAULKNER-Yes, but my concern goes to having a specific answer on SIEVX and no answer in relation to the broader issue. I think you understand the distinction. I think it is perfectly fair to give the unqualified answer you have in relation to SIEVX, but, in the context of my broader question, I am afraid that that loses some credibility; particularly, at the time there was a suggestion that there was to be some public interest immunity.
Senator Ellison-Madam Chair, that is it. That is the claim of the government and we make it on that basis. It is operational and it goes to methodology. The one question does not; the other does.
CHAIR-And you have made that observation before, Minister, as I recall.
Senator Ellison-That question will not be answered, for those reasons.
CHAIR-Thank you, Minister.
Senator FAULKNER-Can you explain, then, Minister, why, on the one hand, the commissioner-or you, or whoever is responsible-asked for public interest immunity in relation to a broad question about tracking devices on suspected illegal entry vessels when, on the other hand, clear statements can be made about SIEVX?
Senator Ellison-Answering `No' to SIEVX, which is truthful, as the commissioner has said, does not disclose whether or not certain methodologies are employed. It is much like someone asking whether there was electronic surveillance on a person; you say, `No'; and then the next question is, `Do you engage in electronic surveillance?' We are not going to answer that, because it reveals operational matters. The first question does not reveal any operational aspect whatsoever. It does not even reveal whether or not you have the capacity to do it. The second one does. That is why, for a very obvious reason, we are not about to disclose that, and that is the end of it, Madam Chair.
CHAIR-Thank you, Minister. Any further questions, Senator Faulkner?
Senator FAULKNER-Yes. Let me ask for the record again, Minister, whether tracking devices were placed on asylum seeker vessels by the Indonesians, in the knowledge of the AFP?
Senator Ellison-I think that is a little different from the question you asked to begin with. That was whether there were tracking devices employed, and the commissioner answered that appropriately. I am of the view that his response is appropriate, for the reasons I have outlined. You have now asked another question.
Senator Ellison-And that is whether there were tracking devices used by the Indonesians. That is something which is not within my knowledge. Madam Chair, that is something I will just take up with the commissioner. That will be taken on notice, Madam Chair.
CHAIR-Thank you, Minister. Senator Faulkner.
Senator FAULKNER-Thank you. As you have taken that question on notice, could I ask whether tracking devices were placed on asylum seeker vessels by the Indonesians at the request of the AFP or supplied by the AFP?
Senator Ellison-Again, that is indirectly the same question as the first one Senator Faulkner asked, and that concerned what the AFP does, as opposed to the other question, which concerns what the Indonesian police do. That one we have taken on notice. This is in the same category as the one that we have declined to answer on the basis of public interest immunity. We are not about to disclose what the AFP's modus operandi is in relation to what it does, and what it does via anyone else, if it does do that.
CHAIR-Thank you, Minister. Senator Faulkner.
Senator FAULKNER-You might also, then, take on notice, Minister-
Senator Ellison-I have not taken that on notice. I have said we will not answer it, for those reasons. There is only one question we have taken on notice, and that is your question as to whether the Indonesians did place tracking devices on these vessels. I have said in relation to the two questions as to whether the AFP did it or the AFP caused the Indonesians to do it that those are both declined on the basis of public interest immunity. That goes to operational matters, for the reasons I have outlined, in relation to what the AFP may or may not do.
CHAIR-Senator Faulkner, your next question?
Senator FAULKNER-Yes, I have a number, but hopefully will not be too long now. I want to ask a question about the interviews of survivors of SIEVX, if I can. I would hope, Minister, that you would treat this very seriously. There has been quite a bit of media debate about this issue. Could I ask if the AFP interviewed survivors from the SIEVX in Jakarta on 22 or 23 October 2001? I believe it did, and that has been reported, but just for the sake of the record could that be clarified, please.
Mr Keelty-I do not know that we interviewed in the sense of a witness statement or similar, Senator, but my recollection is that there was a telephone conversation. Either a survivor or somebody who was close to a survivor spoke to Federal Agent Dixon in the office in Jakarta, but it was not a witness statement per se. As I recall, it was a telephone conversation.
I stand corrected on that, Senator. It appears we did not speak directly to the person, but it was through the Indonesian national police. It was not with Federal Agent Dixon. I have just been told it was with Federal Agent Kelsey.
Senator FAULKNER-When we say the AFP interviewed survivors, I appreciate that at these interviews I would certainly expect the actual dialogue to be conducted by Indonesian speakers. That would be correct, would it not? The issue is not whether the AFP was directly involved but whether it may have been present or have knowledge of them, as opposed to directly conducting an interview. I do not want to get caught here on a technicality that the AFP were in fact not directly conducting the interview, if you understand the distinction I am drawing. I would not expect they would have. I would have thought it would have been done by Indonesian speakers.
Mr Keelty-I am not sure that that survivor was an Indonesian. Therefore it might not have been Bahasa.
Senator FAULKNER-Yes, fair enough.
Mr Keelty-I do know that there are 26 people whom we have since interviewed, one of whom is the person who made that phone call. We now have a formal statement from that person. But the date you mentioned, I think, was 23 October.
Senator FAULKNER-That is what I thought the date was. I had read a report of 23 October.
Mr Keelty-The information I have is that there was a phone call on or about the 22nd to our federal agent in the office in Jakarta.
Senator FAULKNER-I thought I may have said the 22nd or 23rd. If I said the 23rd, I apologise for that. I am pleased that that date has been clarified.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Mr Keelty, did you just say that you now do have a formal statement?
Mr Keelty-Yes, Senator, that is correct.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-As at what date?
Mr Keelty-I do not have the date but it is in relation to the brief of evidence against Quassey and in relation to the brief of evidence against Daoed. He has been tracked down.
Senator FAULKNER-The two SIEVX survivors I am aware of-and your point about the Indonesian language is correct-are Ali Hamid and Karim Jaba Hussein or, a shortened name, Abu Amad.
Mr Keelty-I do not have the names in front of me, Senator.
Senator Ellison-Madam Chair, I would remind the committee that we are in the process of seeking the extradition of Mr Daoed from Sweden and that he faces charges in relation to this matter. We are now talking about witness statements. I say to the committee that I think we have gone as far as we can without now transgressing what, hopefully, will be a prosecution in Australia and the subject of proceedings. If this was any court proceeding or prosecution in Australia, we certainly would not be asking the police who we had obtained statements from.
CHAIR-I appreciate that advice, Minister. This is a matter we raised in discussion with Senator Collins yesterday and I think it is a point well made. I am sure the commissioner will indicate the extent to which he is able to go in this regard.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Can I say at this stage that I think it was our understanding yesterday that the commissioner would be the best person to be able to judge where such matters might be compromised and to inform the committee as such.
CHAIR-That may be your view, Senator Collins. I do not think it detracts from the point the minister made, which is that these matters are at a particularly sensitive stage.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-No, I am not arguing with that point.
CHAIR-Commissioner, if there is any information you can provide the committee we would gratefully receive it. If there is not, on the basis of the matters the minister has raised and your own concerns, then so be it.
Mr Keelty-The witness who made the telephone call through an IOM employee has been tracked down and is a potential witness in the Daoed matter, so it would be inappropriate to talk about the evidence that person might give.
Senator Ellison-And their identity.
Senator FAULKNER-That is fair enough.
CHAIR-Thank you, Commissioner.
Senator FAULKNER-I accept we need to be careful about that. It is important, and certainly most reasonable people would hope any action we were able to take against any of these people smugglers would be successful, so I will be very sensitive about that issue. The process issue here is one that has some notoriety, and it does not go to the substance of statements or the like. It goes to the issue-and you may be aware of this, Commissioner-of whether survivors were shown photographs of the suspected illegal entry vessel SIEVX. I do not know if this issue has been raised.
Senator Ellison-Madam Chair, I must object to that question most strongly, because that, no doubt, will be an issue that could be taken by defence counsel. I must say there are a number of reasons for that objection, not the least of which is that evidence given in privileged circumstances can be objected to in subsequent proceedings. In any event, process is one of the basic aspects relied on by any defence lawyer. You can rule out evidence by objecting to process. It is not just the substance, the identity. Process is very much an issue which is taken up in criminal trials and I really object to this question on that basis.
Senator FAULKNER-If you had just waited until I finished, I do not think you would.
Senator Ellison-You asked a question on identification of the boat.
Senator FAULKNER-No, let's try it for size. I do not expect you to know this at this committee hearing, Commissioner. The issue that has been raised that I am interested in is not the witness statements or the like. It is if there were AFP agents involved in the interview or seeking of statements or telephone conversations et cetera in relation to survivors from SIEVX. I may be interested in whatever the statements are, but the point of my questioning goes to the involvement, if any, of AFP officers. I do not expect you to have that knowledge at your fingertips. What I wondered is whether you could please take that on notice, taking account of the serious concerns in relation to prospective extradition proceedings, and at an appropriate stage respond to the committee.
If there is an issue in relation to this that arises because of the imminent proceedings, you might indicate that in a response to the committee. In doing so, you might care to seek some internal agency advice on that matter. But, be clear, my interest here goes to the reports of the involvement of Australian federal agents in the interview process with the survivors. I cannot imagine that offends the principles we are speaking of but, if it does, you might let me know.
Mr Keelty-Yes, Senator.
Senator FAULKNER-Depending on the nature of those answers, we might need to follow them through at a later stage-and, for that matter, a range of other answers. I think you would agree, Minister, the question is unlikely to offend the principles you have outlined, which are important ones. But if it does, no doubt the commissioner can tell us.
Senator Ellison-I am sure the commissioner will. As I said, Madam Chair, we are very mindful of our intended prosecution on this matter.
Senator FAULKNER-But be mindful of the fact that my questions go to the role of the AFP.
Senator Ellison-The role of the AFP is one of the most often referred to aspects in defence.
Senator FAULKNER-You have heard the question in its entirety.
CHAIR-The question has been taken on notice and the commissioner has undertaken to examine that and answer to the best of his ability in the circumstances in light of the impending extradition proceedings.
Mr Keelty-Madam Chair, can I just correct the record? It has been brought to my attention that the telephone call I referred to in answer to Senator Faulkner's question, which was made by a survivor through an IOM employee, was to Federal Agent Glen McEwen and not Federal Agent Kelsey as I had indicated.
CHAIR-Thank you for making that correction, Commissioner.
Senator FAULKNER-The federal agent, I assume, is one of the federal agents based in the Jakarta embassy. Would that be right?
Mr Keelty-That is correct, Senator. He was with Federal Agent Dixon in Jakarta.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Mr Keelty, is he the AFP liaison officer that was discussed with respect to the cable?
Mr Keelty-He is the one who took the phone call. Sorry, Senator?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-The position, as I recall it, was described as an AFP liaison officer.
Mr Keelty-Yes, he was a liaison officer but Federal Agent Dixon was a liaison officer at the same time, so I am not quite sure which did what.
Senator FAULKNER-For completeness of the record, are you able to say from whom this phone call was taken?
Mr Keelty-It would be known, Senator, but I do not have the name here.
CHAIR-Perhaps I misunderstood the minister's point earlier, which related to people who may be witnesses in this process, and that may be a relevant name. Both the minister and the commissioner had indicated that in that case it would not be appropriate to place it on the public record, Senator Faulkner. Is that not the case? Did I misunderstand that?
Senator Ellison-No, perfectly on point.
CHAIR-Thank you for clarifying that, Minister.
Senator FAULKNER-If it is the case, no doubt the commissioner can tell us. All the commissioner has said to us is that there is a phone call.
CHAIR-Yes. I thought that question had been asked and answered. That was my position.
Senator FAULKNER-Yes, to do with who received the phone call.
CHAIR-Asked and not answered, in fact.
Senator FAULKNER-I think we understand its nature.
Senator Ellison-Any more questions?
Senator FAULKNER-Does Senator Collins have some questions on this issue? I will let Senator Collins take a bit of the bowling for a while.
CHAIR-Do they pertain to the budget estimates, Senator Collins, by chance?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Most certainly they do. They follow questions related to the previous budget estimates, to which we have had responses that require further questions.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Yes, they do.
CHAIR-I wait with interest then.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-To further the process, I in fact put some questions on the Notice Paper in relation to a suggestion Senator Ellison was making that we might be able to do to forward some of these matters. I want to deal with the response to one of those in part, which relates to previous estimates hearings, regarding the issue of radio communication from SIEVX. Mr Keelty, you would be aware of question 181 on the Senate Notice Paper to which I recently received a response.
CHAIR-Do you have a copy of that?
Senator Ellison-Yes, I have a copy here. I answered that question.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Mr Keelty, can I take you back to the actual question that refers to, a question on notice from a certain maritime incident. I would like to read to you the question concerned there:
Does the AFP have ex post facto knowledge from talking to survivors? Are there survivor reports that there was communication between SIEVX and the mainland?
Can you explain to me, with respect to those questions, how the AFP determined that the question was narrowed down to the issue of distress calls?
Mr Keelty-Yes, Senator. The answer was not prepared by me personally but I did kick off on the answer. It was the context of the questioning that you were making beforehand. When we went back through Hansard it was thought the question you were asking related to distress calls.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Mr Keelty, I could understand if the AFP's original response to my questions was misinterpreted as relating to distress calls. I would have hoped that would have been clarified by the question as it was later framed on notice, which made no reference to distress calls. But I am concerned, from this answer to the most recent questions that I put on the Notice Paper, that the AFP still seems to be attempting to reframe my question in the most limited form to justify why a full answer was not given, now that we are aware of the information that came forward in the cable that was finally released.
Senator Ellison-Madam Chair, we do not want to mislead here and I think Senator Collins should be careful not to. In the context of that Hansard of 11 July-and again we are going back to not an estimates hearing but a certain maritime incident. The question was-
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Later raised in estimates, Minister.
Senator Ellison-This is what it all went to:
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-The issue may well be that a distress call had been made but was not conveyed further than a certain point.
Mr Keelty-Yes, and I will undertake to give a reply to Senator Cook on what our knowledge is, ex post facto or otherwise.
That was the point that was taken on notice. Let us get things straight. The question to me, 1381, concerned why that did not reveal that a survivor's statement disclosed that there was radio contact between the crew of SIEVX and Abu Quassey at a time when there was apparently apprehension about the ability of the vessel to remain afloat, implying a distress call? I gave an answer which answers that very clearly. When you look at the answer that was given by Commissioner Keelty, he answers the question. The question was:
Does the AFP have ex post facto knowledge from talking to survivors? Are there survivor reports that there was communication between SIEVX and the mainland?
The answer was:
The AFP has interviewed five survivors from SIEVX and, of those, four statements have been taken. These are out of a possible approximately 45 survivors who have since been relocated to various countries since the sinking in 2001. Efforts, however, are continuing to obtain statements from as many survivors as possible. In addition the AFP is in receipt of hearsay accounts of information. In those accounts there have been no specific references to radio distress calls. One statement has referred to the presence of a radio being on board the ship.
That covers the issue. What Senator Collins is doing is grasping at straws here to say, `Why didn't you talk about a cable which was subsequently released by Prime Minister and Cabinet and to which questions relate?'
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Which detailed radio communications.
CHAIR-Let the minister answer. Senator Ellison-I have answered the question.
CHAIR-Please let the minister complete his answer, Senator Collins.
Senator Ellison-I can tell you right now that we are not going to play semantics all night. That question was asked and answered, and it is clearly explained in question No. 1381. That is the end of the matter.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-It might be the end of it for you, Minister, but I am still asking questions on this matter. I am to some degree satisfied, now that Mr Keelty has alerted me to the fact that he himself did not frame this answer, because I am most concerned about how this answer has been framed. It indicates, for instance-
Senator Ellison-Well, it-
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Can I finish my comment now, Minister-that it is apparent from the transcript at the time the question was taken on notice that Senator Collins was already aware of the communication, as she referred specifically at the time of her understanding from survivor reports that there was communication between SIEVX and the mainland.
Senator Ellison-Which you said in Hansard.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-That was why I was asking the question, Minister, and that was why the question taken on notice says:
Are there survivor reports that there was communication- not distress calls; communication- between SIEVX and the mainland?
Through you, Minister, if the response back to the Senate was limited to its most limiting nature, then that comes back to you. My concern is if the AFP itself is not responding to questions of this committee in a more fulsome way.
Senator Ellison-Madam Chair, the question has been asked.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Yes, the question has been answered. Mr Keelty was not responsible for this answer.
Senator Ellison-There has been more than ample reference to the cable that Senator Collins has referred to. In subsequent questions, it was tendered to the committee, and the whole aspect of the question from that day, 11 July-and I again repeat, in another select committee-was around a distress call.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-And subsequently in this committee, Minister.
Senator Ellison-Madam Chair, we are now going into a select committee and what went on in a select committee.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-No, subsequently in estimates committees, Minister.
Senator Ellison-We are not going to go down the path of regurgitating the evidence given at a select committee. I have objected to some of the questions that Senator Faulkner has put. Some of them have related to contemporaneous actions and situations. This is squarely going down the path of a select committee which was held last year. Please can we stick to budget estimates? This question has been answered; it relates to not budget estimates but a select committee, squarely.
CHAIR-You will note, Minister, that I sought some assurance in relation to estimates matters at the beginning of Senator Collins's questions and Senator Collins has directed, as I understood it, a question to the officers which related to a matter on which you had provided an answer. You have clarified your approach to that answer. In the latest iteration that Senator Collins has made, I did not identify a further question, so shall we move to the next question?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Yes, I am happy to move to my next question.
Senator FAULKNER-All answers are provided through the minister, aren't they?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Yes, but it is not often, Senator, that the agency or the department indicates they were not responsible for it.
CHAIR-I am not sure we need to have an exchange across the table. If you would rather ask a question, Senator Collins, then please go ahead.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Thank you. One final question I have on the issue of radio contacts at this stage, which arises from further information provided to the Senate after the certain maritime incident inquiry was concluded-more relevant to perhaps the cable, the most recently released advice that went to the Prime Minister on 23 October; only very recently released, Minister-is whether the AFP can explain why there were two media reports on 23 October, shortly after the sinking of the SIEVX, indicating that there had been a distress call made. They were quoting Jean-Philippe Chauzey, the IOM spokesman in Geneva, on the Monday night in Geneva on 22 October. One was a CNN report and the other one was an ABC AM report. I quote Jean- Philippe:
... the captain reported that the boat was having major engine problems and the boat was taking water ...
CHAIR-Senator Collins, can I seek some clarification. What are you reading from?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-I am reading from some references to some quotes that I just mentioned, from the AM program and from a CNN program dated 23 October.
CHAIR-I have indicated before that, if the commissioner is to be expected to answer questions from material that is read into the record from external material such as that, I would appreciate it if you had a copy of it made available to him.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-If the commissioner needs to take it on notice on the basis that I am reading one, two, three, four, five, six, seven-
CHAIR-There is no need to count.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-about 10 words, I am happy for him to take it on notice on that basis.
Senator Ellison-He is allowed to see the context in which they are made.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Yes, I am happy for that as well.
Senator Ellison-It is another basic aspect of fairness when questioning a witness.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-And I am happy for him to take it on notice on that basis, too. All I am saying is that I am aware from two programs on 23 October that Jean-Philippe Chauzey, the IOM spokesman in Geneva, was quoted as having indicated that a distress call had been made by the captain, reporting that they were having a major engine problem and that the boat was taking water. On the basis of what has subsequently been provided in relation to this incident, I am asking if the AFP can inform us further.
Senator Ellison-That will be taken on notice. We will have a copy of the context in which that statement is made.
CHAIR-Thank you, Minister. Thank you, Senator Collins.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-I move back now to the issue of Abu Quassey in the context of the discussion that we had yesterday, Minister. One question raised yesterday was whether there was any attempt to arrest Abu Quassey en route to Egypt, which I think we left pending on the basis of whether it compromised any operational matters or whether it was a matter more appropriately dealt with by the AFP.
Senator Ellison-I think there was an operational aspect to this. We said it was best to put it to the AFP and see if they could answer it, that is correct, but I did not say, either way, whether it could be.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-No, I am not suggesting that, Minister. I am just re-presenting the question on that basis.
CHAIR-I am sorry, Senator Collins?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-No, it is okay. The commissioner is considering the matter.
Mr Keelty-If I understand the question, Senator, it is whether or not we attempted to arrest Quassey between Jakarta and Cairo. The answer to that is no, because we were unaware of when he departed Jakarta.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-We had no prior indication that that was occurring?
Mr Keelty-The AFP did not, to the best of my knowledge.
Senator Ellison-We had, I might add, placed alerts in 41 countries, at 41 possible points of transit.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Minister, yesterday A-G's indicated that they had instigated an extradition request to Egypt in relation to Abu Quassey. Are you able to detail for us the charges that that relates to? Is it similar to Mr Daoed?
Senator Ellison-Yes, we can give you the details of that. We will lay our hands on them shortly, but do you want to continue with other questions?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Fine. I understand Abu Quassey is being held in Egypt until 15 June.
From yesterday, I also understand that we are not aware of precisely what charges he is being held under. My query is this: do we understand what arrangements might apply beyond 15 June or what actions are being taken to ensure that Mr Quassey will be held beyond that date?
Mr Keelty-Senator, I have a different date. I have a date of 16 June.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-The suggestion I think I had, Mr Keelty, was that he might be free on 16 June.
Mr Keelty-Beyond that, could I come back to you on the second part of that question, unless the department has something?
Senator Ellison-We are just trying to find those charges for you.
Mr Cornall-Senator, my recollection is that these charges were detailed by Ms Blackburn yesterday.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Yes. They were the charges to Mr Daoed. I am asking if they are similar-
Senator Ellison-You are asking about Abu Quassey, aren't you?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Today I am, yes.
Senator Ellison-Yesterday was Daoed.
Mr Cornall-The briefing note in respect of Mr Quassey mentions charges under three warrants relating to breaches of section 232A and section 233(1)(a) of the Migration Act.
Ms Frost-That is correct, Senator. The charges relate to sections 232A and 233(1)(a) of the Migration Act 1958. I also understand that there were charges relating to money laundering offences.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-The money laundering applies here as well.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Thank you. Have we got any further on the issue of what might happen to Mr Quassey post 15 June? Am I correct in my understanding that Mr Quassey is being held in Egypt only until 15 June and can you inform me of what arrangements, if any, are in place to deal with his pending freedom as of 15 June?
Mr Cornall-Senator, my briefing notes say that he has been remanded in custody in Egypt until 15 June 2003. The notes go on to say that this period can be extended for a further 45 days.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Would I be correct in understanding that that relates perhaps to the Egyptians determining what charges they may well pursue in relation to Mr Quassey?
Ms Frost-Senator, the information I have available to me is that that is correct.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Which partly explains why today we are still unaware of precisely what those charges may be.
CHAIR-Because the Egyptians are still pursuing that.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Yes, that is what I am seeking to clarify.
CHAIR-That is my understanding of the officer's evidence.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Mr Keelty, a question that I was asking yesterday-which may compromise operational matters-which I have deferred until today related to the two brothers that were assisting Mr Daoed in relation to the SIEVX, allegedly. One of those brothers was imprisoned by the Indonesians at the same time as Mr Daoed under the name Miythem Kamil Radhia and released at around about the same time, also into the care of the UNHCR, and, I understand, given refugee status elsewhere. Was there a provisional warrant against this man as well? Senator Ellison raised the question of whether it might compromise operational matters if that information was made available.
Mr Keelty-Yes. Similar to the activity in relation to Daoed, we purposely did not herald what we were going to do there until after the event occurred. I would ask, Senator, for your forbearance in allowing us to keep the operational detail confidential at this stage.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Another related issue is the Mandaean travellers on the SIEVX who were part of the group that departed the vessel prior to it sinking and a claim that some of these Mandaeans are now in Australia. Are you aware of that?
Mr Keelty-No, I am not, Senator.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-That is fine, I will take it up with Immigration. Do you know when the AFP may have been involved in interviews of the Indonesian fishermen that rescued the SIEVX survivors?
Mr Keelty-I do not have that here with me tonight, Senator. If it does not fall into the caveat of future prosecution, I ask if I could take that on notice and get that answer for you.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Another question I have which follows from that is this. What detail was taken as to the location at which the survivors were rescued as a consequence of those interviews?
The final matter is in relation to the issue of SIEVX ownership, which I am in a little quandary over. There was an answer to question No. 58 from the AFP-this was about November last year-which indicated that some of the information about where the vessel sank, I think, was obtained by the Royal Australian Navy from the company found to have owned SIEVX. I subsequently asked Defence what investigations they had undertaken into the company that owned SIEVX and they claimed that no such investigations occurred. I will be following this through further with the Navy next week, but on the basis of that answer from the Navy could you advise me, from the AFP end, why the Navy might be denying that any investigation into the company that owned SIEVX had occurred?
Mr Keelty-I am advised that we do not know who the owner of SIEVX is, but are continuing inquiries, because it still forms part of the brief in relation to Daoed and Quassey.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-This answer was to question No. 58 from estimates, so it was around about November estimates-
Senator Ellison-Madam Chair, we were having a big argument about the ownership of a certain vessel we seized the other day and the country that is allegedly involved with it; the ownership of the vessel could well be a matter for the proceedings.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-I appreciate that, Minister. All I am seeking to do is get an explanation about some information provided in the past.
Senator Ellison-By the Navy, yes.
CHAIR-By the Navy?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-No, this was provided by the AFP.
CHAIR-I am sorry, I misunderstood you.
Senator Ellison-But you say that the Navy said they did not do it and the AFP said they did.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-No, what I am saying is that the AFP answered a question of mine from November 2002, which was, `Please detail the nature of investigations to ascertain where precisely SIEVX sank?' I am advised that information was also obtained by the Royal Australian Navy from the company found to have owned SIEVX. I then asked Defence if they could advise what investigations occurred in relation to the company that owned SIEVX, and was advised recently by the Royal Australian Navy that there were no investigations by them into the owner of SIEVX.
CHAIR-I understand the point that you are now making, Senator Collins. It was not clear to me before. Mr Keelty, are you able to answer that or would you rather take it on notice?
Mr Keelty-Yes, Senator, I see the dilemma. Could I take that on notice so that I can clarify that?
Senator Ellison-If we can, we will. If it is a problem for any impending prosecution, we will-
CHAIR-Senator Collins's question does not go to the name or the identity of the owner of the vessel.
Senator Ellison-There was an inquiry made.
CHAIR-It goes to the discrepancy between the questions.
CHAIR-If that could be clarified for Senator Collins, that would be helpful.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Some of the issue here may simply be the language. I used the language about what investigations had occurred. When the AFP said to me `information obtained by the RAN from the company found to have owned SIEVX', you may have meant something else-I do not know-but I am giving you the opportunity to clarify that.
Senator Ellison-It may be that the question can be answered in a way which does not prejudice any prosecution and sorts out your problem.
CHAIR-We will have an abundance of clarity by the end of it though.
Mr Keelty-Senator, that was our belief at the time, and that may have changed subsequently. That is the advice I am getting now, but I will confirm that with you.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Thank you, Commissioner. That concludes my questions.