|[Extract of Estimates Senate Foreign Affairs Defence & Trade Legislaton Committee Hansard,
2 June 2003, pp. 18, 108-112, 150-155]
Senator JACINTA COLLINS - On a completely different subject - and I anticipate you will probably need to take this on notice - this document which I am now showing you was provided to us a bit over a week ago.
It was a brief that went to the Prime Minister through PM&C on 24 October 2001 in relation to the location of the sinking of SIEVX. We have been advised by PM&C that the title in that brief on the last two pages relating to the status of the ship, where it is headed 'Boat sank in Indonesian waters', was produced in consultation with a number of different agencies.
I am asking each of those agencies which are listed at the very end of the brief, on the last page, including DFAT, what, if any, information they provided that might have led to the conclusion in that brief as per the heading, that the boat sank in Indonesian waters.
As I said, I anticipate that you will need to take that on notice. It will be a matter of your reviewing what information was at hand at the time. I am sure you will understand, as it has taken us this long to get a copy of that brief - we received it only a bit over a week ago - that is why I am asking the question at this stage.
Mr Varghese - We will certainly take that on notice and get back to you with an answer.
Senator FAULKNER-I was interested to know whether the interagency people-smuggling group still regularly meets in the Australian embassy in Jakarta.
Mr Varghese-We might have to take that one on notice and get back to you.
Senator FAULKNER-You are not aware whether it does or not?
Mr Varghese-No. My expectation is that it still meets but I need to check that.
Senator FAULKNER-If it does meet, can you indicate how often it meets? If it does not meet, perhaps you can indicate when the group wound up and why it wound up.
Senator FAULKNER-Would you be able to provide that information for us?
Mr Varghese-I will take that on board.
Senator FAULKNER-I do not expect you to have this detail in front of you, but could I ask you to provide for the benefit of the committee, please, a list of those who attended the interagency people-smuggling group's meeting at 8 a.m. on 13 June 2001?
Mr Varghese-This is in the embassy in Jakarta, Senator?
Senator FAULKNER-That is right.
Mr Varghese-I will take that on notice.
Senator FAULKNER-And if you could indicate, please, which agency or department they were from, if that information is available. I remind you that Dr Raby, in a previous round, indicated that there were no records kept of the interagency people-smuggling meetings, so I do not know how easy it will necessarily be to find out this information . I am certainly aware of the evidence that he gave. Can I confirm with you that there is no formal record of that interagency people-smuggling meeting on 13 June 2001? As I say, the only information we have on this is Dr Raby's more general evidence to us that there were no records kept of these meetings.
Mr Varghese-I will take that on notice, Senator.
Senator FAULKNER-That would be helpful. It is a pity that Dr Raby is not here. Does this mean that generally no-one took notes while these meetings were going on? Would that be the case?
Mr Varghese-I do not think I can add anything to what Dr Raby told you at the last estimates committee.
I do not know whether someone would have taken notes in the course of the meeting. I am happy to check that out for you.
Senator FAULKNER-It is pretty unusual, isn't it, going to these sorts of meetings and no record being provided?
Mr Varghese-It is not unusual to have within an embassy meetings of agencies and not have a record.
That is not unusual at all.
Senator FAULKNER-Not even when the minister attends?
Mr Varghese-It is very unusual for ministers to attend interagency meetings, so I would not put that in the general category.
Senator FAULKNER-You might not put in the general category but, on this particular occasion, Minister Ruddock was actually present-so it is not usual. I would have thought that, if a minister were present, notes would be taken-is that right or wrong?
Mr Varghese-I will need to check whether notes were taken on that occasion.
Senator FAULKNER-Yes. But can you outline for me the general protocols or principles involved here.
If departmental officers are involved in a meeting with a minister, is it normal practice to take notes?
Mr Varghese-It would depend on the nature of the meeting. Often a minister would visit a post and have a meeting with A based staff, and it would not always be the case that a record would be done of that meeting. It depends on the nature of that meeting.
Senator FAULKNER-So there is no general protocol in relation to that? If you could you check whether anyone at the meeting took contemporaneous notes, I would appreciate it. This is for the meeting of 13 June 2001. I would also like you to check if there were any file notes or other notes recorded after the meeting.
Would you be able to check that for me?
Mr Varghese-Yes, I will take that on notice as well.
Senator FAULKNER-In relation to Mr Ruddock's program for the remainder of Wednesday, 13 June 2001, could you establish whether anyone from the embassy accompanied Mr Ruddock to his other meetings on that date?
Mr Varghese-I will look into to that.
Senator FAULKNER-If they did attend, could you find out who they were and which meetings they attended? Could you also find out, in relation to those meetings, whether there were any contemporaneous notes or other records of the meetings? Could you establish that for me, please?
Mr Varghese-Yes, I will look into that.
Senator FAULKNER-It may require that you make that request of all the DFAT participants at the meeting-I do not know. I do not know if there were any. Well, I know there were some because I can point out to you that some information has been provided by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs in answer to a question on notice.
Senator Abetz-Do you have a reference for that, just for ease of departmental officials to cross-reference it? If you don't, don't bother; I do not want to delay the proceedings.
Senator FAULKNER-Budget estimates hearing, 29 and 30 May 2002, Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs portfolio `(43) Output: Internal Product'. The reference to the question asked is `(L&C 328)'. I am happy to outline the other meetings, if it is of any assistance. There was the interagency people- smuggling group meeting at 8 a.m.. The other four relevant meetings were: Mr Ruddock met with His Excellency Dr Marsilam Simandjuntak at 9.30 a.m.; Mr Ruddock met with His Excellency Dr Alwi Abdurrahman Shihab at 11.30 a.m.-
Senator Abetz-I reckon Hansard might be looking for some spelling on these!
Senator FAULKNER-I think they would think this is rather expert pronunciation, wouldn't you say, Mr Varghese?
Mr Varghese-I don't know.
Senator FAULKNER-No, I did not think you would say that.
Mr Varghese-I have taken careful notes.
Senator Abetz-Sounds like-
Senator FAULKNER-At 14.30 to 14.45, Mr Ruddock met with Professor Yusril Ihza Mahendra; and at 15.15 Mr Ruddock met with Mr Jakob Tobing. That will perhaps assist you to explore this if you go to that answer to a question on notice provided to another committee. In response to the minister, that is the relevant reference.
Senator Abetz-Thank you.
Senator FAULKNER-Speaking of Mr Mahendra, who was involved in the 2.30 p.m. to 2.45 p.m. meeting with Mr Ruddock on that date, Mr Mahendra is currently in Australia, isn't he, Ms Rawson?
Ms Rawson-Yes, he is.
Senator FAULKNER-He had a meeting today with the Attorney-General, Mr Williams-or he had planned a meeting with the Attorney-General, Mr Williams, today.
Ms Rawson-I understand there was a meeting scheduled, yes.
Senator FAULKNER-Were there Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade representatives at that meeting?
Senator FAULKNER-It has turned into a diplomatic disaster, hasn't it?
Senator Abetz-I do not think that is a fair question.
Senator FAULKNER-Well, what did it turn into? What happened to the meeting?
Ms Rawson-As I understand it-and I do not have the full details-Mr Mahendra was due to meet the Attorney-General at Parliament House. There was an issue with regard to the security procedures for the delegation to enter Parliament House and the minister, Mr Mahendra, decided that it would not be appropriate for the delegation to proceed into Parliament House and the meeting did not take place.
Senator FAULKNER-He was left waiting at the entrance to the executive wing, wasn't he?
Ms Rawson-I am not aware of that. It may have happened but I am not aware of that circumstance.
Senator FAULKNER-Wasn't he left waiting there for half an hour?
Mr Varghese-We are dealing with events that occurred while all of us here in the room remained in this area.
Senator FAULKNER-Yes, of course. But Ms Rawson is always terribly well briefed, as you can see, Mr Varghese. She actually knows something about this, so I am just trying to understand the background.
Senator ROBERT RAY-The reason I am interested in this line of questioning is that I raised at this committee last time or the time before, very briefly, what you do in terms of airport security and other security in relation to foreign visitors. I raised in particular the expression of concern from the Malaysian trade minister-do you recall that? I asked then about how you smooth the way. I am not asking anyone to abrogate proper security checks, by the way, but how you actually approach it to make sure there are no problems. That is why this line of questioning is relevant, even though it occurred today, because we have raised it in the past.
Senator FAULKNER-How was this matter drawn to your attention, Ms Rawson?
Ms Rawson-I received the information that I have conveyed to you from one of the people in my division in the department.
Senator FAULKNER-Do you know how the division was advised of the diplomatic-
Senator ROBERT RAY-Imbroglio.
Senator FAULKNER-imbroglio, stand-off-call it what you will?
Ms Rawson-No, I am not aware of the source of their information, whether it had been conveyed through the media or they had spoken to other officials who were involved in the arrangements for the visit. I do not know the source. It was a very brief telephone conversation with one of the officers from the division.
Senator FAULKNER-So you are not aware of how serious a diplomatic slight this is from Mr Williams to Minister Mahendra?
Mr Varghese-We are dealing here with third-hand information. I would much prefer that we give you good information and take any questions that you have on this on notice. Ms Rawson is basing her comments on a conversation she had with a departmental officer who was not present then. That is what I mean by third hand.
Senator FAULKNER-I appreciate that that departmental officer and Ms Rawson were briefing themselves for the inevitable Senate estimates question that would arise as a result of this problem.
Senator ROBERT RAY-I think Mr Varghese's point has some validity. So can we ask you to get a bit briefed up on it and we will revisit it at 7.30 p.m? You may then indicate to us if you have enough information and we can find out some things; if not, you can tell us you haven't enough information and then you can take it on notice.
Mr Varghese-I will certainly diligently follow up that request, but I would like to point out that there were no DFAT officers present during this incident.
Senator ROBERT RAY-No; I understand that.
Senator FAULKNER-We can at least establish how your officer was informed of this.
Senator ROBERT RAY-Not only that, I assume that arrangements for the visit involved DFAT somewhere. It still goes back to my point about your responsibility and the way we would encourage you to try to make any of these visits smooth by anticipating problems. In any event, you may well be able to come back to us and say, `We had minimal involvement here,' or whatever. I recognise that at 10 past five it may be difficult. You point out that you have been here since nine o'clock this morning. It is difficult; I understand that. But if you get the chance, rather than get the answer on 10 July-because there may be follow-up questions-we might have a chat to you about it at 7.30 p.m. Is that all right?
Mr Varghese-Sure. I will follow it up during the dinner break.
Senator ROBERT RAY-Thank you.
Senator FAULKNER-I was interested in asking some questions in relation to the Ambassador for People Smuggling Issues, to give it its correct title-is that right, Ms Millar?
Ms Millar-That is right, Senator.
Senator FAULKNER-Can you indicate what the main role of the Ambassador for People Smuggling Issues is, please?
Ms Millar-As you will know, Senator, ministers agreed to establish this position in February 2002. The ambassador is responsible for promoting a coherent and effective international approach to combating people- smuggling-I am drawing on the words of the press release issued at the time-particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, and to assist as appropriate in the negotiation of high-level return, readmission and resettlement arrangements.
Senator FAULKNER-At what level is the ambassador?
Ms Millar-He is a SES band 2 colleague.
Senator FAULKNER-What resources or support staff are there for the Ambassador for People Smuggling Issues?
Ms Millar-The ambassador has a personal assistant and otherwise draws on the resources of my division.
Senator FAULKNER-So there is one dedicated staff member-one dedicated PA-is that right?
Ms Millar-That is right, Senator, although I should point out that for the recent Bali ministerial conference we set up a small task force for a short period to assist the ambassador in running that conference, but those resources were absorbed within the department.
Senator FAULKNER-Now tell me this: when was he actually appointed?
Ms Millar-He was appointed just after the first Bali ministerial conference on people-smuggling, trafficking in persons and transnational crime, which took place in April 2002.
Senator FAULKNER-So it was pretty soon after that.
Ms Millar-Pretty soon after that, yes. The position was announced in February 2002 and Mr Buckley took it up, I understand, just after the conference.
Senator FAULKNER-So, as you said before, April 2002 is about right-or thereabouts.
Senator FAULKNER-I assume that most of the ambassador's work is outside Australia. Would that be right?
Ms Millar-He has travelled extensively in the region, primarily to promote the Bali process.
Senator FAULKNER-Can you say to us which countries he has visited?
Ms Millar-Yes, I can. I have a substantial list which I am happy to make available to the committee or I can read the names out-
Senator FAULKNER-I would be happy for you to make it available to the committee. Does this list include the dates of the ambassador's trips?
Ms Millar-Yes, it does.
Senator FAULKNER-That would be very helpful. I would be more than happy, Minister, if the information is just tabled-if you are happy, Mr Chairman. I think we will save committee some time. Thank you indeed.
Senator Abetz-It is part of a brief so it will have to be photocopied-
Senator ROBERT RAY-And cleansed!
Ms Millar-We will give it to you first thing in the morning.
Senator ROBERT RAY-We would not want the footnotes to be left-
Senator Abetz-That happened once before, as I recall.
Senator FAULKNER-Is there a travel budget for this new position?
Ms Millar-Part of the travel costs have been absorbed within the department. I understand also that DIMIA provided some money over a two-year period for travel for this position.
Senator ROBERT RAY-How much?
Ms Millar-$50,000 over two years is my understanding, Senator.
Senator FAULKNER-So DIMIA are making a contribution of $50,000. What is the DFAT contribution to the travel budget for the ambassador?
Ms Millar-I do not have a precise breakdown of that.
Senator FAULKNER-You are going to make that list available but you have not actually made it available at this stage. Is that so?
Ms Millar-I have it with me and I can make it available in a few minutes. I just have to copy it for you.
Senator FAULKNER-I would be very interested if you could explain to the committee the areas of responsibility in relation to people-smuggling the ambassador has both in Australia and overseas. I would be interested to see how this fits into a broader picture in terms of countering people-smuggling.
Ms Millar-Primarily, his role over the past year since he was appointed has been to promote the Bali process, which was a process in the region. It started with a ministerial conference last year in April 2002 and culminated for the first year of its operation with a further conference at ministerial level this year. He was a member of a steering group with other regional countries to work on these issues during the year and he also travelled to help lead and participate in a number of regional workshops and meetings on people-smuggling issues during the course of the year. I am certainly happy to provide details of those to the committee either now or in writing if you would like them.
Senator FAULKNER-You are saying that you would be happy to provide copies of meeting schedules and the like?
Ms Millar-I would be happy to give you those if you would like them. They are on the public record.
Senator FAULKNER-When you say they are on the public record-
Ms Millar-There is a web site set up for the Bali process which details all that information. I think it has been talked about publicly before.
Senator FAULKNER-Is the information on that web site an exhaustive picture of the ambassador's activities?
Ms Millar-That is the web site for the Bali process so it details all the activities of the Bali process under which there are two working groups, one led by Thailand and one led by New Zealand. There are a number of operational and technical activities that took place under the auspices of those workshops. All that is detailed on the web site-which countries participated and so on.
Senator FAULKNER-I am trying to understand whether access to the web site gives someone a fair picture, a broader picture, of what the ambassador has been doing or whether it is an element of the ambassador's work, if you understand the distinction.
Ms Millar-It would give you a sense of the Bali process. Of course, the ambassador has been the principal person driving that for the Australian government. He does undertake other work in Canberra as well.
Senator FAULKNER-What other work would that be?
Ms Millar-We also have quite a lot of details of his activities on the DFAT web site, as my colleague has pointed out to me.
Senator FAULKNER-You have tabled this document, and it seems like a very exhaustive travel itinerary that has been undertaken until the end of April, so I appreciate having that information available. Mr Varghese, how does the department make an assessment of the effectiveness of this new role? I am not suggesting in asking that question that it has not been effective; I am just wondering what performance indicators you have, how you make that sort of assessment.
Mr Varghese-I suppose we would judge the effectiveness of the role by the results that we have achieved to date in terms of stronger regional cooperation to address the question of people smuggling and illegal people movements. The reason why the Bali process has been such a prominent part of Mr Buckley's job is that the convening of that meeting and the working groups that flowed from it has been a very significant step forward in terms of the capacity of regional countries to address this issue in a cooperative way. That was what we were shooting for right from the beginning. Our evaluation of it would be a very positive one. We have made substantial progress in regionalising and internationalising this issue. The ambassador has made a significant contribution to that outcome.
Senator FAULKNER-In this quite exhaustive travel itinerary would the ambassador be meeting with the intelligence services in the region and so forth? Would it go to that sort of level? Mr Varghese-I don't have before me the details of his programs. I don't think meetings with the intelligence community as such would have been a high priority in his visits. I think his focus has been very much on working with those line agencies that are responsible for border controls. I guess he has had quite a bit to do also with police forces in the region, because they have a very important border control function, as well as immigration departments and foreign ministries. I am not saying that he would not have had contacts with intelligence agencies as well. In terms of my understanding of the work that he is doing, I did not see that as being very likely to be his first priority when he goes abroad.
Senator FAULKNER-At what sort of level is the ambassador able to interface with these agencies?
Mr Varghese-His access has been very good. He has had access at a very senior official level. From time to time he has probably also met with ministers in the region. Overall, I would say his access is very good.
Senator FAULKNER-Is there an end point with this position?
Mr Varghese-The government has not taken a decision about an end point. I think now that the Bali process has been well and truly consolidated, we would need to review the medium-term future of the position. As I say, that was clearly the first priority that we placed on the job. I think that has been done. I imagine this is something that the minister would want to think about in the not too distant future.
Senator FAULKNER-That sounds ominous.
Mr Varghese-It was not meant to sound ominous.
Senator FAULKNER-Well it did.
Ms Millar-Perhaps I can add that. What the Bali process is trying to do, from the perspective of our department, is to set up a framework in which a lot of the technical cooperation can take place through line agencies working with counterparts. I think we have seen quite a lot of progress in that respect over the past year.
Senator FAULKNER-Is there a clear statement of objectives for that position that you can point me to?
You have talked about the Bali process, but can we be any more specific about that? Have specific objectives been set down that the government wants to achieve or wants to see achieved by the ambassador?
Ms Millar-As I said earlier on, the government's objectives with respect to this position were set out in the media release issued by Mr Downer at the time. I have a copy here.
Senator FAULKNER-What were they again?
Ms Millar-Basically to promote a coherent and effective international approach to combating people- smuggling, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, and to assist as appropriate in the negotiation of high-level return, readmission and resettlement arrangements. The ambassador was also tasked to follow up the results of the First Regional Ministerial Conference on People-Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime. That is basically the broad mandate of his work.
Senator FAULKNER-Then my question goes to: how do you measure effectiveness in those two or three key areas? Has there been an attempt to measure the effectiveness of the role? I am not suggesting that it has not been effective, but I wonder how you can make an objective assessment of these things.
Mr Varghese-I think one effective assessment is the fact that, through the Bali process, we now have had not only a much stronger element of regional cooperation addressing these issues but also two specific working groups established under the Bali process that have looked at issues such as legislation to deal with people-smuggling, the policy issues involved and a number of the practical implementation issues that are involved. As Ms Millar has suggested, we now have a network of officials who are carrying all of this forward. From our point of view, they are very specific achievements that have flowed since that position was created.
Not of all of it is a result of that position, but the position made a substantial contribution to it.
Senator ROBERT RAY-Thank you for giving us this list of travel. It can be slightly deceptive: it looks like an awful lot of trips but I notice that with a lot of them one flows on to the other. So there might be four visits in the one trip.
Ms Millar-That is right.
Senator ROBERT RAY-Have you done a calculation of what the cost involved with that travel is- airfares, accommodation and other associated costs-for the financial year up until about 30 April? Ms Millar-I do not think I have the exact figure for all the travel here.
Senator ROBERT RAY-There is no hurry. Would you like to take on notice the question of travel, and the associated travel costs, from 29 June 2002 to 30 April 2003?
CHAIR-We might just have a discussion.
Senator FAULKNER-Tea break time.