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Tuesday, 13 May 1997
Page: 3264

(Question No. 553)

Senator Margetts asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 14 April 1997:

With reference to the Sandline International mercenary cargo unloaded from an Antonov 124 Russian cargo plane on 27 March 1997, and currently under guard at the Royal Australian Air Force base at Tindal, near Katherine in the Northern Territory:

(1) What is the full inventory of the cargo items.

(2) Who is the owner of this cargo.

(3) If the answer to (2) is the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Government: (a) what Australian-derived funds, either public or private, if any, were used by the PNG Government to purchase this cargo; (b) will the Australian Government ask the PNG Government if the material will now be used, in full or in part, in pursuing armed conflict in Bougainville; and (c) what conditions, if any, will the Australian Government require to be satisfied before it relinquishes the equipment to the PNG Government.

(4) If the answer to (2) is Sandline International, does the Government plan to decommission all weapons in the cargo.

Senator Newman —The Minister for Defence has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) The Australian Customs Service, in accordance with its powers under the Customs Act, has examined the cargo. Details of the inventory are a matter between Customs and the owner, and any disclosure of the detail would need to be considered in light of the owner's views and Australia's international obligations. As the ownership of the cargo is still in the process of being determined, I am not at liberty to provide details of the inventory at this time.

(2) The matter of ownership is one for the parties to the transaction to resolve. In these circumstances the Government is not in a position to comment on the ownership issue.

(3) Not applicable.

(4) Not applicable.