[Extract from Estimates Senate Foreign Affairs Defence & Trade Legislation Committee Hansard, 4 June 2003, pp. 366-7]
CHAIR - Senator Collins has some questions in the portfolio overview and Senator Bartlett does as well.
We will go to Senator Collins first and then to Senator Bartlett.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS - I have a couple of brief questions in relation to SIEVX. I am asking them in the overview because they are cross-services questions, so they do not fit with a particular service. It may well be necessary for you to take them on notice in any event, but I have passed up a copy of a document provided to the Senate from the Finance and Public Administration Committee, dated 21 May this year. That was when we were provided finally with a copy of the brief that went to the Prime Minister on 24 October 2001. It had, as its headline on the second-last page of the document that I have passed up, the information to the extent that the boat sank in Indonesian waters.
We are advised by officers of PM&C that the information that was presented in that brief to that effect was gathered in consultation with a number of agencies. Defence is the final agency that I wish to ask whether any information they provided to PM&C led to the conclusion underlined on the first page of the brief to the Prime Minister that the boat sank in Indonesian waters. On the basis that I am asking a question which dates back to briefings that were prepared by PM&C to the Prime Minister for 24 October 2001, I will not be surprised if there is no-one relevant to assist me here at the moment.
Senator Hill - We will have to take that on notice. It is not easy to say, on the basis that there has been a constant flow of information between agencies and departments, what was taken into account at what time in preparation of what briefing. This is now a long time ago. We will give you a considered answer.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS - I hope that that consideration will look into whether there was any information at that point in time at hand to Defence that indicated a view or belief that the ship did sink in Indonesian waters, given the absence of any evidence to that effect consequently.
Senator Hill - I would prefer to give a considered answer rather than try to force people. 'Best guess' answers are not appropriate.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS - As I indicated, I anticipated that would need to go on notice. Further to that, another question in relation to SIEVX relates to an answer that I received from the last round of estimates to my question No. W43, which asked for the nature of Royal Australian Navy investigations into the owner of SIEVX. The background to that question was that the AFP had advised us that they believed some of the information in terms of where the vessel may have sunk had been obtained by the Royal Australian Navy from the company found to have owned SIEVX. The answer that I received was that there had been no Royal Australian Navy investigations into the owner of SIEVX. In this round of estimates I have asked the AFP to please explain why they understood that the Royal Australian Navy had found information from the company found to have owned SIEVX when Navy is telling us that no such investigation occurred. I am asking this at the cross-services level now in terms of whether there is any information from Defence regarding the company that owned SIEVX.
Senator Hill - You are asking whether we would wish to reconsider our answer in the light of what the AFP officials have apparently said. We will take that on notice and give you a considered response.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS - There are two aspects. It may have been a way of dealing with the matter to just keep it very neatly within how my question had been framed. My question was: 'Please detail the nature of RAN investigations into the owner of SIEVX.' The answer was: 'There have been no RAN investigations into the owner of SIEVX.' My question on this occasion is a bit broader than that. What I am seeking to understand from Defence is what we know about the owner of SIEVX and the location in which that vessel may have sank.
Senator Hill - The latter of those two has been exhaustively dealt with. I am not sure whether the question of the ownership has been. We will get together the team that spent many months in helping the Senate on this particular matter and see whether they can add something further.