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Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee - 11/12/2014 - Estimates - ATTORNEY-GENERAL'S PORTFOLIO - Australian Federal Police

Australian Federal Police

[09:44]

CHAIR: I welcome Commissioner Colvin to the Senate estimates committee hearing. I am not sure if you heard my introduction, Commissioner, but I know you and your officers are well experienced, so I will not repeat—

Mr Colvin : Sorry, Chair; I am having trouble hearing you.

CHAIR: You did not miss much!

Mr Colvin : I am sure that is not the case.

CHAIR: You are experienced before estimates committees of parliament, so I will not read you your rights, as one might say. Minister and witnesses, there is a request from the media to take photographs. Does anyone have any objection to that? No? That is fine then. Thank you. As long as you get me on my good side!

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Which one is that?

CHAIR: That is a good point! Commissioner, did you want to make an opening statement at all?

Mr Colvin : No.

CHAIR: We might get straight into it. Senator Collins.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Welcome back, Commissioner.

Mr Colvin : Thank you, Senator.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: We will be having a private briefing this afternoon on the armoured vehicle tender, but there may be some subsequent questions to that that I will put on notice. I will just give you notice of that. Senator Bilyk has apologised for not being able to be here today, but once we have had that private briefing I will judge what may or may not be problematic and then move on from there.

When we get back to the department, I will be asking some questions around data retention, but I am interested to hear from the AFP your perspective on what data we need to address to enable it to be retained.

Mr Colvin : Certainly we have put a lot of material on the public record before in relation to the importance of metadata to police investigations across a range of different investigations. The legislation that has currently been introduced to the parliament and is now before the PJCIS for review and for hearings clearly outlines the categories of data that are contemplated to be retained. As we have said before, this largely relates to those identifiers of who was using the data and does not touch on actual content of the data.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: One of the concerns I have had raised with me in relation to the legislation is that it leaves for subsequent regulation how we define metadata, so I am keen to understand from an AFP point of view, at a practical level, what types of data you think such regulation would need to provide for.

Senator Brandis: If I may, I think we are getting a little ahead of ourselves. When the legislation was introduced into the House of Representatives by Mr Turnbull, the government published a draft dataset for the purposes of discussion with the telcos and with the industry. There was input from various stakeholder agencies, including the Australian Federal Police, into the content of that draft dataset. Those discussions are occurring at the moment, so that is where we are. Given that those discussions are going on at the moment, we have an initial position, as it were, that the government has proposed that the metadata to be retained should be as described in the draft dataset, but there is discussion, as I say, with industry about the particular descriptions contained within that document. So I do not think, frankly, it would be very helpful for the commissioner, or indeed anyone, to be commenting on what is a current discussion. The position of the government and of all the agencies of the government is as revealed in that document, but that is under discussion.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Do we have a copy of that document?

Senator Brandis: We can get you one. In fact, Mr Moraitis has one here.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Good. I may have a look at that when we have a break, because I have some further questions. What date was the tabling in the House?

Senator Brandis: It was about two weeks before the end of the parliament, I think, that Mr Turnbull introduced the bill, and the draft dataset was published on that day.

Mr Moraitis : It was on 30 October that it went onto our departmental website.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: The only other area of questioning I have for AFP—and thank you for returning to what will hopefully be a shorter session of estimates on this occasion—is the training exercise in Sydney where the AFP's canine detection unit left a bag with 230 grams of plastic explosives in the lost baggage area. Mr Colvin, you will be aware of some of the reporting of that incident, but can you update me on what has subsequently transpired.

Mr Colvin : I can. I do not have any particular material before me on that, so anything further I can certainly provide to you on notice. Let me say at the outset that that was a regrettable incident that should not have occurred, and there has been a review by the AFP and by our professional standards team into the circumstances that led to that training aid being left in a suitcase. Of course, as soon as we became aware that that had occurred—and we thank the people involved who brought that to the attention of the local police—we spoke to them as well as obviously the local police, and we also spoke to the airline operator, and clearly we also have spoken to our members involved.

Our procedures and practices that should be adopted and should be adhered to by all members in dealing with items of that nature are very clear that that is a controlled item. And, by nature, a controlled item needs to be accounted for and acquitted at all times, and that clearly did not occur on this occasion. I might leave it at that. I do not have all the details in front of me, but if there are any specific questions that you would like me to take on notice I am happy to do that.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Okay. Just let me understand the facts of the matter firstly. It seems in some ways it was a comedy of errors. A controlled item was left behind after a training event.

Mr Colvin : That is correct. It was a quantity of explosives.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: In a bag?

Mr Colvin : Yes.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: That was then held by the lost property office, I assume?

Mr Colvin : As I understand it, the bag that was used was provided to us by the airline. It was a bag that had been handed in as a damaged piece of luggage by a previous passenger. The airline had held that, they had lent it to us for use, and then we provided it back of course to the airline after the training exercise.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Okay. That now makes it clearer why the bag was then passed onto a further passenger—

Mr Colvin : That is right.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: As far as the lost property office was concerned, it was a spare bag—

Mr Colvin : Exactly right.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: that was available for whatever purpose they felt.

Mr Colvin : Exactly.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I am interested in the outcome of the review from the professional standards team. You do not have those details before you at the moment?

Mr Colvin : No, and I am not aware of them, but I will definitely take that on notice and we can provide the committee with the outcome of the review and the investigation.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Given the nature of the incident, I am keen to understand where the failure was seen to have occurred and what has been put in place subsequently to ensure that it does not happen again.

Mr Colvin : Absolutely, and, as I said, it is regrettable; it should not have happened. It is not consistent with my expectations nor our guidelines and practices. Beyond that, I will wait and see what the actual investigation has found out.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: So you have not seen that yourself yet?

Mr Colvin : No, I have not.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: But it has concluded?

Mr Colvin : I would have to check.

Mr Wood : It has not concluded yet. My understanding is that the investigation itself in terms of the gathering of evidence and talking to everybody involved is concluded, but then reaching a recommendation on the actual action to then be taken is not yet finalised. So it has not come to me yet either.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: All right, then I think I will be a bit more cautious about asking any more questions. I do not want to pre-empt the consideration of the review. Answers to questions are not due in until February, so perhaps if you could anticipate my questions and forward us the outcomes of that decision.

Mr Colvin : And given the time frame that has already occurred, it would be my expectation that the matter would be very close to finalisation, and we will have something for you by February.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: All right. That concludes my questions, thank you, Chair.

CHAIR: I have a couple of questions. Did you have anything to do with the human rights awards night last night?

Mr Colvin : We were providing event based close personal protection for the Attorney. In terms of the actual event itself and the organisation of the event, no, the AFP was not involved in that.

CHAIR: Did you consider there was some risk for the Attorney or others that were there?

Mr Colvin : The Attorney, like several ministers of cabinet, is provided with event based security by the AFP on the basis of a risk and threat profile. We consider events and consider whether we believe there is a potential that close personal protection may be appropriate. We thought that was appropriate for last night, and the Attorney was provided with close personal protection. The protection is for the individual. The event itself—the security for the event—is an overlay provided by the event organiser, which we obviously work with where possible, but we do not have visibility of, for instance, in terms of last night, the actual guest list for the event.

CHAIR: So did you know who was going? Do you get a guest list?

Mr Colvin : No, not normally. Where possible, depending on the event, depending on how much lead time we have for the event and depending on whether the event is an exclusive, invite-only or a public event, we may. Our focus is on providing security for the principal, the person we are protecting on that occasion, and that security we provide is independent of who we think may be there because of course we work on the basis that, if there is a threat against the individual, we need to act against any threat.

Senator Brandis: I might say, Senator, I was provided with a list of attendees in the event brief I was given by my department.

CHAIR: Okay. Were either of you aware that a guy who in his own book confessed to having trained with al-Qaeda, Mr Hicks, was going to be there?

Senator Brandis: I was not. You do not expect to run into a terrorist at a human rights awards event. Mr Hicks's name was not on the list that was provided to me.

Mr Colvin : Chair, I can confirm—I checked this morning—that the AFP were not aware that Mr Hicks would be at that event.

CHAIR: Do either of you know whether he was invited to the event or whether he just turned up?

Senator Brandis: I do not know the answer to that question. The event was put on by the Australian Human Rights Commission, so that is really a question—if you are interested, Senator—that could be explored with them in the future. The list of attendees provided to me was quite long—about five pages I think—and I did read it. I infer from the fact that there was a list of attendees provided that there must have been a process of invitation and acceptance by RSVP, but I am really speculating I guess.

Mr Colvin : Chair, it is my understanding that, as the Attorney says, it was invited guests but invited-plus-one, if you like, so the plus-one opens the potential that there would be people there who the event organisers may not have been aware of prior.

CHAIR: Do either of you know who actually runs those events? Does the Human Rights Commission get an outside event organiser to do it or do they do it internally?

Senator Brandis: I do not know the answer to that question, Senator Macdonald. The event was at a venue that is hired to the public. I know the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. It is quite a glamorous venue. I have been to other functions there in the past. It is a quite well-known venue. What the arrangements between the Australian Human Rights Commission and the venue were I could not tell you, but I would be fairly sure in saying that the invitations came from the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Mr Colvin : Likewise, Chair, the Australian Federal Police were not involved in the event organising so we are not aware of that.

CHAIR: It is of some concern to me. Senator Brandis, you are not everybody's favourite person, but I understand from media reports that Mr Hicks is not a fan of yours and he has, as I said, in his own book confessed to training with al-Qaeda. I am not blaming the AFP for this but this does seem to be a bit of a security breakdown.

Senator Brandis: I am not going to comment on security. I have always felt very satisfied with the service that the AFP provides in close personal protection. There is no doubt that David Hicks, both in his book and in his plea bargain document, confesses to acts which under Australian law, in particular section 101.2 of the Criminal Code, we define as terrorism offences. He has, as is well known, sought to impeach the plea bargain, although I might say that throughout that process he was represented by independent counsel, Major Mori. Nevertheless, for various reasons he now impeaches the plea bargain. He has not, as far as I understand it, walked away from some of the somewhat boastful claims he makes about his role of training with terrorist organisations in Afghanistan in that particular memoir.

I might say too that—and it must be a slow news day today—although quite a bit has been made of this event in some of the media, particularly the ABC, there was not any particular disruption. What happened was I gave a speech. I reached the end of the speech and there was applause. I began to walk away from the lectern back down into the body of the room. As I was walking away from the lectern, I heard some shouting from the left-hand side of the room. What was being said, I could not hear. There seemed to be only one voice. I had no idea who it was. It was a matter of several minutes later, when I was back in the body of the room watching the further progress of the awards event, that one of my staff said to me, 'Apparently that was David Hicks.' That was the long and the short of it, really.

Mr Colvin : Chair, if I may respond regarding your question of whether there was appropriate security, for what I am briefed, our officers acted quite appropriately. There was no direct threat to the Attorney-General. Obviously, we are always, and should be, concerned about the dignity of an individual and the dignity of the office as well. Mr Hicks was spoken to by AFP on the night and was quite cooperative. As I understand it, he left the stage. So, as to the security, I think on many levels the fact that we were there and we had assessed that event as one at which the Attorney should require some close personal protection and the way the matter was handled on the night reflect that security from the AFP perspective was well managed and well dealt with.

Senator Brandis: I want to endorse that from a non-expert point of view. There was no point whatsoever when I felt even remotely threatened. The closest I came to the man who was shouting, who turned out to be David Hicks, was at least 10 or 15 metres.

CHAIR: I have every confidence in the AFP and know that the security would have been—

Mr Colvin : Thank you.

CHAIR: Commissioner, did you say that Mr Hicks was on the stage?

Mr Colvin : No, I am just told he was not on stage.

Senator Brandis: No, he was not; he was in the body of the room. It is quite a large room, more like a hall, actually—a very high-ceilinged room. The noise that I heard as I walked away from the rostrum appeared to come from the left-hand side of the room, looking down into the room from the stage. As I say, I assumed it was a heckler, which, of course, it was. What he was saying was not distinct. I had no idea what he was saying, I had no idea who it was and I did not for a moment feel threatened by it.

Mr Colvin : If I may say, there are different reports as to whether he was on the stage. The Attorney was there, so he would certainly know best.

Senator Brandis: No, he was not on the stage.

CHAIR: Was this event open to the public?

Senator Brandis: I do not know. I think it was an invitation event, but whether or not members of the public could show up I do not know. It was a catered event—the champagne was flowing freely, as it tends to at Human Rights Commission events. So I imagine that there was an expectation that only invited guests and people accompanied—

CHAIR: Can anyone tell me if there was anyone on the door actually checking invitations or checking passes?

Senator Brandis: I do not know. I was met by the president, and she kindly escorted me in, so what the procedure was for the guests I do not know.

Mr Colvin : I have asked a number of those questions this morning just for my own information so I can satisfy myself, but at this stage I understand—and I will correct the record if necessary—that there was no screening at the door.

CHAIR: This event was in Sydney?

Senator Brandis: Yes.

CHAIR: Where does Mr Hicks hail from?

Senator Brandis: I do not know where Mr Hicks lives these days. Originally, I understand he came from Adelaide.

CHAIR: Thanks for that. As I say, without going into too much detail, I know the AFP do a magnificent job in those sorts of things. I can well understand that you would always feel safe when the AFP are around, Senator Brandis, but I was just responding to news reports that I heard about that incident.

Senator Brandis: Really, I do think some of these news reports take this way out of proportion. There was a random individual who turned out to be a terrorist yelling at the side of a room for about three seconds.

CHAIR: I am surprised to hear that because, on my reports from the ABC, it leads the news items. I thought it was much more serious than what you are telling me.

Senator Brandis: I gather that is right. One could draw all sorts of conclusions from that, but I did not regard it as a particularly significant event other than, of course, because of the identity of the person who was the heckler.

CHAIR: Okay, then we might move on. But Senator Brandis, you know we all love you, even if some don't!

Senator O'Sullivan interjecting

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I think you only speak for yourself, Chair.

CHAIR: Well, I heard Senator O'Sullivan comment in support. Is that correct, Senator O'Sullivan?

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Yes, that is correct. But I just have a couple of questions if I might. Attorney, do you know who actually pays for these events—where the funding comes from?

Senator Brandis: It is put on by the Human Rights Commission. I believe that sometimes these events are sponsored. So, whether the Human Rights Commission recouped, in whole or in part through sponsorship, the cost of the event, I do not know.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: And how is the Human Right Commission funded?

Senator Brandis: The Human Rights Commission is an agency within the Attorney-General's portfolio and it is funded, like all agencies, out of the budget.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: So am I entitled to draw the inference, to assume that my tax dollar has somehow funded an event where a terrorist has turned up and heckled the nation's Attorney-General? Is that a fair assessment?

Senator Brandis: In fairness to the Human Rights Commission, there is no reason to believe that they were involved in inviting Mr Hicks, because, as I said before, he was not on the list of attendees that they provided to my office. He may have accompanied one of the invited guests, I imagine. But I do not think it would be fair to the Human Rights commission to infer that he was there because they asked him to be there. As to the cost of the event, as I said, I understand that it is not at all uncommon for the hospitality at these events to be donated by a private sponsor. I am not sure whether that was the case on this occasion. It was a very glamorous event, I might say. It was a very nice event, with lots of champagne and wine and hors d'oeuvres. But whether that was paid for privately or by the taxpayer I do not know.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Well, that is a line that I can follow with them. I now have a question for the commissioner. I am particularly interested in what funding may now be allocated to the initiative to do with violence relating to women and children. We had that wonderful launch, in effect, with commissioners on White Ribbon Day, and I am interested to know just what your thinking is, what framework has been put in place—real everyday activities—between the commissioners and how it has been funded towards initiatives that will mitigate the terrible affliction in our society.

Mr Colvin : I guess the first thing I would say is that of course that was a significant milestone event, for the commissioners to stand up united against violence against women and children. And, as you saw, all commissioners, both Commonwealth and state and territory, stood as one on that issue, largely to try to bring awareness and to show that this was very much a male issue and that males need to show leadership. In terms of funding,

I will answer specifically from the AFP perspective. Violence against women and domestic violence more generally is largely a state and territory based offence. So, with the exception of the work that we do in the ACT police context and the work that we do in our offshore capacity-building missions—PNG, Timor-Leste and Solomon Islands—the AFP does not directly get involved in the issue of violence against women and children. We do, however, have a gender strategy that we recently launched for our offshore operations where we are working with our counterpart police organisations overseas, such as those in Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, where we focus specifically on improving their capacities to raise awareness but also to address and investigate violence against women and children. So that is the way the AFP contributes to this issue mainly, other than, of course, showing national leadership with my colleagues around the country.

As to the AFP itself, in terms of allocated funding or grant funding or program funding, nothing comes directly to mind. If there were, it would be fairly niche and very targeted. I could take on notice the question of whether there is any funding for our IDG missions overseas specifically. But at this stage that is probably all I can say on the matter.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: My question is more from a domestic perspective in Australia, and, perhaps, in New Zealand. So am I to understand that you are not contributing with either personnel, resources or finances to some central secretariat that has been established somewhere that is considering legislation and changes to procedures to quite specifically deal with this affliction in our society?

Mr Colvin : The issue has been raised formally as part of the Australia New Zealand Policing Advisory Agency, which is a national body that works amongst all police jurisdictions to bring together new governments, new policy and new arrangements. There is a national policy on violence against women and children that all police jurisdictions have signed up to, and in fact that policy is, if I recall correctly, coming due for renewal, and the police commissioners have begun to discuss that. More broadly, from a Commonwealth perspective, I believe there may be funds made available that Senator Michaelia Cash, as the minister responsible for the Office for Women, may be aware of and have oversight of, but, for the AFP, no, I am not aware of any specific funding of that nature.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, gentlemen, and thanks for your help during the year, and, again, I wish you all a merry Christmas and hopefully a safe, peaceful and uneventful one.

Mr Colvin : Likewise, Chair, and thank you to the committee for the year, and we will see you next year I am sure. Have a good Christmas.

CHAIR: We were to break at 10.30 but we are a bit early, and I understand that officers from ASIO are actually in the room, so, if everyone is agreeable, we will keep going now with ASIO.