[Extracted from Estimates Senate Finance & Public Administration Legislation
Committee Hansard, 27 May 2003, pp. 153-160
ACTING CHAIR-We are now asking questions on output group 3, International policy advice and coordination.
Senator FAULKNER-I have a question about a question on notice, PM3-6. This is 2.1, by the way, Mr Metcalfe. No, it is outcome 1, output 2.1.
Mr Metcalfe-Is this a question on notice from last time?
Senator FAULKNER-Yes. I assumed it would be in the International Division. This might be outcome 1, output 2.1, whatever that means.
Mr Metcalfe-That is social policy advice. Can you tell me the question?
Senator FAULKNER-This is the question I asked about the SIEVX cable.
Mr Metcalfe-That probably should fall within output 2.2. I will see if I can get the officer to come back.
Senator FAULKNER-Yes. Sorry about that.
Mr Metcalfe-It falls within the broad area of the Education, Immigration and Indigenous Policy Branch, so that is 2.2.
Senator FAULKNER-Have you turned up the answer to the question on notice there?
Mr Metcalfe-Yes. I am just getting that now.
Senator FAULKNER-It is PM3-6.
Mr Metcalfe-I have that now.
Senator FAULKNER-So that I can be clear on this for future reference, it says here: outcome 1, output 2.1. Is that right? It says that on the answer.
Mr Metcalfe-Yes, it does. It should be 2.2. I am not sure where that mistake came from.
Senator FAULKNER-That is fine. I am pleased that you also struggle with these things.
Senator ROBERT RAY-We have.
Senator FAULKNER-I certainly admit I do. Then let us go to question PM10.
Mr Metcalfe-Senator, I stand corrected. In some papers in front of me I have a reversal of the output order. Output 2.1 is the correct area. That is social policy. Output 2.2 is women's affairs. There is a mistake in the papers in front of me.
Senator ROBERT RAY-So output 2.2 is on tonight.
Mr Metcalfe-That is correct.
Senator ROBERT RAY-Senator Murray, did you have questions on output 2.1 or 2.2?
ACTING CHAIR-We can deal with all the social policy stuff tonight.
Senator FAULKNER-No, I think we have to be clear here.
Mr Metcalfe-Tonight the expectation is that the committee will be looking at output 2.2, which is the Office of the Status of Women. If you have questions in relation to other social policy issues-
ACTING CHAIR-I will ask some questions on 2.2, so that would be correct.
Senator FAULKNER-Just explain to me why question PM10 is outcome 1, output 4.1, which is effectively the same topic. Sorry, I want to be clear here: this is from the budget hearings, not from the additional estimates round. So this is from 20 November 2002. Have you got that one?
Mr Metcalfe-No, I do not have that one.
Senator ROBERT RAY-This is the one that attaches a cable.
Senator FAULKNER-That is right. I am just trying to find out what the correct output is, because that is outcome 1, output 4.1, which I thought was in Ms Belcher's area. No, sorry, her area is 4.3.
Mr Metcalfe-To enlighten me, Senator-I do not have a copy of PM10 with me, I am afraid-
Senator ROBERT RAY-I will get you one.
Mr Metcalfe-can you tell me-
Senator FAULKNER-Senator Ray might give you a copy.
Senator ROBERT RAY-It is just so that you can familiarise yourself with it. We want it back, but it is just so you know what we are talking about.
Senator FAULKNER-I am struggling a bit here with the outcomes and the outputs. That one is marked `outcome 1, output 4.1' and yet it is on the same subject as the one marked `outcome 1, output 2.1' in the additional estimates round.
Mr Metcalfe-What I am told is that, internally, responsibility for answering question PM10 was allocated to the Government Division of the department, which is output 4, but that the policy issues associated with the broad immigration matters fit within output 2.1. So, in terms of which area was responsible for preparing the advice, different areas handled it at different times.
Senator FAULKNER-The new system is confusing enough. I only make the point you can perhaps understand why from time to time I am even more muddled on this than usual when you see that. But it is a minor point, and thanks for the explanation. Let us go to the substantive issue, which is PM3-6, and the answer to that question on notice. Am I correct in understanding that the listed officers there in this answer to a question on notice-Stefan King, Michael Potts, Ann Jones, Pam Ward, Harinder Sidhu-have accessed some electronic version of the DFAT cable in question?
Mr Fox-Yes, those officers accessed the cable through the SATIN High system.
Senator FAULKNER-Because of the nature of this system, you are able to be absolutely definitive about which officers in your department accessed that particular cable, because of the electronic record; is that correct?
Mr Fox-That is my understanding, yes.
Senator ROBERT RAY-And these are the only ones who accessed it?
Senator ROBERT RAY-What you do not know is whether someone was sitting next to someone who accessed it, though-or do you have rules on that?
Senator FAULKNER-So it is theoretically or hypothetically possible that two people could be looking at one computer screen.
Mr Fox-It is unlikely but possible.
Senator FAULKNER-I just want to understand what this means. Can you print a copy from the SATIN High network?
Senator ROBERT RAY-Is a record kept that there has been a printed copy taken?
Mr Fox-That is my understanding, yes. I will get Dr Ball, who looks after the system.
Senator FAULKNER-The SATIN system is a DFAT system, isn't it?
Mr Metcalfe-SATIN is the DFAT secure communications network. It is the diplomatic cables network.
Mr Fox-I am advised that the system does record who prints as well as accesses the system.
Senator FAULKNER-Are you able to say-and obviously this question does not go to this issue- whether any of the officers who had access to it printed a copy of the cable?
Mr Metcalfe-We would have to take that on notice to give you a definitive answer. We can run a systems check. I suspect, for example, that Pam Ward may well have printed a copy, because she is the assistant to the first assistant secretary and does access the system and pulls off the more important cables that come through. We will need to ask DFAT if we can get an audit trail of what printing may have occurred.
Senator FAULKNER-Let us go to the third paragraph of this particular answer. It says: Mr Matthew Healey, Social Policy Division, picked up the copy of the cable printed by Ms Jones on 24 October. There is no record of which individual officers saw this printed copy. I am assuming that this is an indication that an officer can print off from the system.
Mr Metcalfe-That is correct.
Senator FAULKNER-That is an assumption on my part. Is it a reasonable or an unreasonable one?
Mr Metcalfe-It is absolutely reasonable. You can print from the system. Indeed I would say the system has told us that Ms Jones printed a copy.
Senator FAULKNER-If that is the case, and perhaps you can check that for us, we can perhaps establish if Ms Jones is the only PM&C officer who printed a copy of the cable.
Mr Metcalfe-We will have to do a systems check. We will take that on notice.
Senator FAULKNER-Thank you for that.
Mr Metcalfe-The minister has just been asking me how the system knows that someone has printed.
Senator Hill-Yes, and knows who it is.
Mr Metcalfe-When you are logged on as a particular user, it then records what you do. What I am told is that the system then keeps an audit trail of what has occurred: whether you accessed a particular cable and whether you printed it. I will need to take advice from DFAT on the technical issues around that.
Senator FAULKNER-That is fine but what I am trying to establish is who printed it off the system. We assume Ms Jones did-fair enough, that seems clear from the answer.
Mr Metcalfe-I think we can confirm from the answer that Ms Jones did. We can check to see whether anyone else printed a copy as well.
Senator FAULKNER-Can we establish how many copies there were? Does this system say that you pressed the button for print and that you printed five copies or one copy or 10 copies?
Mr Metcalfe-We would have to check to see whether the audit trail indicates whether you printed multiple copies or not.
Senator FAULKNER-It does not really matter because even if you print one copy-
Mr Metcalfe-you could then walk over to the photocopier if you wanted to.
Senator FAULKNER-Of course.
Mr Metcalfe-So I do not think we are going to get a clear final answer on that.
Senator FAULKNER-Okay, but what we do know is that Mr Healey from the Social Policy Division picked up a printed copy of the cable. I can be satisfied about that, can't I?
Mr Metcalfe-That is what we have said. I suspect the reason for that is that Mr Healey worked in an unsecure area and so probably for him to access the cable he would have had to have asked for a printed copy. I suspect that Ms Jones would have provided that copy to him.
Senator FAULKNER-Did anyone, in answering my question on notice, go to Mr Healey and establish what happened to the printed copy of the cable after he picked it up?
Senator FAULKNER-Can you explain that to me?
Mr Fox-Mr Healey worked in the section that dealt with the matter. He picked up the cable and would have shown it to relevant officers in the branch, but there is no actual indication on the copy as to individuals who saw that copy.
Senator FAULKNER-How can you say `would have shown it'?
Mr Fox-That would have been the normal process.
Senator FAULKNER-So, in answering this question, did someone check with Mr Healy?
Mr Fox-Yes, they did.
Senator FAULKNER-So that is standard operating procedure. Would Mr Healy show it to more senior officers in that division?
Mr Fox-That is correct.
Senator FAULKNER-Do we know who?
Mr Fox-No, it is not clear from the copy of the cable that Mr Healy picked up who actually saw it.
Senator FAULKNER-Would that normally be recorded on the cable?
Mr Fox-No, it would not necessarily be recorded.
Senator FAULKNER-It would not necessarily be recorded?
Mr Fox-It may be, but it is not routinely recorded.
Senator FAULKNER-Have we got any clue about how many officers in that division may have been shown it?
Mr Fox-No, Senator. I have looked at the copy that we have on file and there is no indication as to which officers saw the cable.
Senator FAULKNER-Is the copy that is held on file the copy that was printed off the system by Miss Jones?
Mr Fox-It is not clear whether it is the actual copy, but my assumption is that it is.
Senator FAULKNER-So there could have been other copies of the thing made?
Mr Fox-The copy that I was looking at may have been a photocopy, but it looked to me to be the original that would have been printed by Miss Jones.
Senator FAULKNER-But we do not know that either? Mr Fox-I cannot state that with certainty, but that is what it looked like.
Senator FAULKNER-What is the process? Just explain to me the process from the time Mr Healy would take it to the time this thing is plonked on the file.
Mr Fox-The normal protocol would be that it would be given to the relevant branch head, who would look at it and perhaps distribute it to the relevant section, and then it would get placed on file unless there was any particular action arising from it.
Senator FAULKNER-So it has gone to the branch head. Which branch is that?
Mr Fox-I assume that it would have been the education and immigration branch at the time. The process I was describing was the general one. As I indicated, there is nothing on the particular cable to show who saw it.
Senator FAULKNER-Did anyone check with the branch head of education and immigration?
Mr Fox-That is me now, but it was not me at the time.
Senator FAULKNER-Did anyone check with the former officer?
Mr Fox-I do not know if they checked with her at the time.
Senator FAULKNER-Can someone check and find out what the situation was?
Mr Metcalfe-We can check with that officer to see if she has personal recollection of seeing that cable.
Senator FAULKNER-I have no idea who the officer was.
Mr Metcalfe-It was Ms Bryant, I think.
Senator FAULKNER-You would expect Ms Bryant to have shown it to people in her branch-is that what you are saying?
Mr Fox-Yes. What I was describing was the process basically that I follow now.
Senator FAULKNER-But nobody has checked with Ms Bryant so we do not know. I know she is in another department now. I am not critical of that, because everyone associated with the CMI inquiry has found their way to another department, so there is certainly no criticism of Ms Bryant. Good on her. She is in a different department, along with scores of others-except, of course, Mr Jordana: let us draw a distinction with him. So could you check that?
Mr Fox-I will check with Ms Bryant.
Senator FAULKNER-It seems in answering this question a little bit of initiative about where this thing went would be helpful, if you are able to track it down.
Mr Metcalfe-We can certainly ask Ms Bryant. She may have a recollection, she may not. I suspect it was one of many cables that she saw in an intensive period of time, so whether she recalls this particular cable- she may, she may not. But we will certainly contact her and ask her the question.
Senator FAULKNER-Would you have expected First Assistant Secretary Hammer to have accessed this cable?
Mr Metcalfe-Given the current arrangements and the way that these things operate within the department, I would have thought that a cable like that would have been drawn to the attention of the branch head, the division head and the deputy secretary responsible for the issue. But, as Mr Fox has said, there is no paper record as to who saw it. The record that we have here is able to be proved, because it is drawn down from the system.
Senator FAULKNER-I appreciate that. But does that mean you would have thought Mr Hammer would have had access to the cable?
Mr Metcalfe-I do not know whether Mr Hammer would have had access to it or read it. But in the line area that was dealing with this issue, which was the social policy division, I would have expected senior officers would have had this cable drawn to their attention. We can ask them.
Senator FAULKNER-Was he on the SATIN system?
Mr Metcalfe-Mr Hammer would have been on the SATIN system. He was head of a different branch. He was head of Defence Intelligence and Security branch.
Senator FAULKNER-So you know that he did not access the cable off the SATIN system?
Mr Metcalfe-We know that he did not access the SATIN system and view the cable on the system. Ms Sidhu, for example, works in that branch and we know that she accessed it and we know that Mr Potts was the division head and that he accessed it. What we do know is that Mr Hammer did not read the cable on the system. Whether he saw a printed copy of the cable, we do not know.
Senator FAULKNER-Does the Prime Minister's office have a SATIN terminal?
Mr Fox-My understanding is that they do.
Mr Metcalfe-The answer is yes.
Senator FAULKNER-Does this question then mean-
Mr Metcalfe-We have said in the answer that there is no information that the cable was accessed by staff in the Prime Minister's office using the system.
Senator ROBERT RAY-I think you use the word `evidence'-
Mr Metcalfe-`No evidence', and we have used that because the system has presumably been checked and has told us that no-one in the Prime Minister's office accessed that particular-
Mr Fox-That is correct.
Senator FAULKNER-So you can assure me that is the case, Mr Fox, can you?
Mr Fox-Yes, based on the search that we did there is no indication from the system that anyone in the Prime Minister's office accessed the SATIN high system to get that cable.
Senator ROBERT RAY-They were asleep at the wheel.
Senator FAULKNER-What I would like to do at this stage is chase through what happened to the printed copy of the cable. If you can establish that, I would appreciate it. This might mean that you have to ring some officers who have since found themselves in other departments, but I do not think it is unreasonable.
Mr Metcalfe-No, we will be happy to do that, Senator, to see if they have a recollection.
Senator FAULKNER-Are you absolutely clear that the SATIN network was not accessed by any staff in the PMO? Are you absolutely clear on that point?
Mr Fox-Yes, Senator.
Senator FAULKNER-You have used the words `presumably' and `no evidence' and so forth, and I just want to be clear on that.
Mr Metcalfe-I am assured by the relevant branch head that we ran a report using the system and that there was clear information that no-one in the Prime Minister's office accessed that cable using the system.
Senator FAULKNER-Okay. We will follow this through again, Mr Fox, with the information that you are able to provide to us as we try to nail this down a little further. The secretary of the department is on the distribution list. We now know, as a result of your evidence today, Mr Metcalfe, that Mr Moore-Wilton was obviously not on the SATIN system, was he?
Mr Metcalfe-That is correct.
Senator FAULKNER-He did not have a computer.
Mr Metcalfe-That is correct.
Senator ROBERT RAY-Is that plausible deniability?
Senator FAULKNER-It is certainly very plausible. It is about the limit of our deductive thinking. Just turning to the cable itself, this is the cable marked `Indonesia: sinking of illegal immigrant vessel'.
Mr Metcalfe-This is the one that we provided to the last hearing.
Senator FAULKNER-Yes, that is true. And it says, `Action, Mr M. Moore-Wilton PM&C'. Can you explain to me what that means? Would Mr Moore-Wilton have received a hard copy of the cable? Do we know?
Mr Metcalfe-I think that is likely. I will just check. The advice I have is that merely because the secretary's name appears on the cable does not mean that he saw it. The practice in the department, which is a continuing practice, is that the head of international division, working with his assistant-in this case Mr Potts and Ms Ward-would access highly classified cables and the head of international division would then make a decision as to which small number of cables in his view required the personal attention of the secretary. There would have been a decision for Mr Potts as to whether this particular cable was something he would include in the half dozen or dozen cables that were marked in to Mr Moore-Wilton on a daily basis. That practice continues. It is in the context of the fact that there are literally hundreds of cables every day on a range of subjects. The secretary cannot read everything so those arrangements were put in place for the head of international to make a decision as to what sorts of issues the secretary would normally involve himself in.
Senator FAULKNER-That is true, but there are not too many cables about the sinking of an illegal immigrant vessel with 350 people on board.
Mr Metcalfe-I accept that; I am just providing a context of how things work day in and day out.
Senator FAULKNER-I am interested to hear that because on this cable it says, `For action, Mr Moore- Wilton.' Does that put any more heightened responsibilities in terms of departmental process?
Mr Metcalfe-That is a classification process that the system generates and so it would be known that on this particular issue the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of Defence, the CDF, the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and the Prime Minister's department all had a strong interest and involvement in all of these illegal immigration issues. Just because a cable has that name on it does not mean that the secretary saw it. On the other hand, it does not mean that he did not see it. He may have seen it. He did not access a copy electronically. He may have seen a paper copy. The decision as to whether a paper copy went to him was someone else's decision.
Senator FAULKNER-Has there been any attempt to establish whether any of that-
Mr Metcalfe-In responding to your earlier question about whether copies were made and were other people aware of the issue, we will need to speak to Ms Bryant. We will talk to Mr Potts as to whether he has any recollection of that issue.
Senator FAULKNER-That would be helpful. In relation to the secretary, where it says, `Action, Mr M. Moore-Wilton' and a range of other agency heads, how would such a cable normally be generated? Would that be generated from the SATIN system?
Mr Metcalfe-That is correct. With some of the other carriers of cable, if someone wants a particular individual to definitely see it there may be other markings on the cable, which are not present here, such as `Exclusive for secretary, PM&C' or `Please ensure secretary PM&C sees this'. None of that is present on this cable. This cable has the heads of agencies responsible for the issue and there are then internal arrangements within those agencies as to whether the head of the agency would see that cable or not.
Senator FAULKNER-Then there is the issue of what happens after at least half-a- dozen-but probably more from what you are saying-officers sighted this cable. Has any attempt been made in relation to these officers to establish how they responded to the cable-whether they took any action or not. Has that been asked of the relevant officers?
Mr Fox-As we said, it is not clear which officers saw it so, no, we have not asked them that question.
Senator FAULKNER-Yes, it is.
Mr Metcalfe-In responding to this question of who saw the cable and when, we have attempted to give an answer and are happy-
Senator FAULKNER-I appreciate and accept that, Mr Metcalfe. You see Mr Fox, in part at least it is clear who saw the cable. We know that at least half a dozen people saw the cable and from what you and Mr Metcalfe have told me, it is likely to be at least a couple more in relation to the hard copy that Mr Healey had and took back to his branch, and in relation to the Mr Moore-Wilton copy. We know that there are at least half a dozen and it could be considerably more. So we are able to nail it down to some extent-
Mr Metcalfe-That is correct.
Senator FAULKNER-so it is not reasonable to say, `We don't know.'
Mr Fox-I am sorry, Senator, I misinterpreted. I thought you meant the ones in social policy who may have seen it who we had not identified.
Senator FAULKNER-In relation to those named officers, and the others who may have had access, can we please establish-and I do not expect you to know this now-what action any of those officers took as a result of reading the cable? Can you take that on notice, please?
Mr Metcalfe-We will have to check back. I suspect that to a certain extent some of those issues may well have already been canvassed before this committee or before the select committee, but we can go back in terms of evidence that was given to that committee and we can ask those officers what their recollection is.
Senator FAULKNER-With respect, this cable was not available to the select committee and this information-
Mr Metcalfe-That is right, but the issue was certainly alive.
Senator FAULKNER-Sure, the issue was.
Mr Metcalfe-The point I was trying to make was that it could well have been the case that this issue was discussed, for example at a meeting of the People Smuggling Task Force, but we just do not have the information available to us as to what happened and we can try to ascertain to the best of our ability what did happen as a result of this cable.
Senator FAULKNER-Three of the six named officers gave evidence to the CMI; there is no doubt about that. Now that the department has provided this information-and I thank you for it-can we now try to establish in relation to those who did sight the cable, and there are at least six of them that we know of and I think you are indicating, and I accept, that there will be at least one or two others and maybe more if we are able to establish who they are, what action they took, if any, as a result of reading or sighting the cable?
Mr Metcalfe-We will do our best, Senator.
Senator FAULKNER-Thank you very much. That is all on the DFAT cable.