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Tuesday, 28 September 1999
Page: 9013


Senator FAULKNER —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. Can the minister explain why the daily media briefings by Colonel Lewis at the Australian Defence Headquarters in Russell on the East Timor deployment were abruptly cancelled last Thursday? Were these important information sessions for the media and the Australian public cancelled because the Canberra based media were getting information directly from Defence on issues such as troop rotation difficulties, shortages of specialist staff and reserve recruitment problems? Wasn't this information proving to be severely embarrassing to the Minister for Defence, Mr Moore, by contradicting his statements on these issues and making him look just plain foolish? Who ordered the cancellation of these briefings, and what role did the minister play in the cancellation of the briefings?


Senator NEWMAN (Family and Community Services; Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —I have no brief on this matter from the Minister for Defence. I would have thought that the Australian people would have had a great deal of information on the deployment to East Timor of the INTERFET force. Night after night, day after day, morning after morning, evening after evening, we have had updates on the work of the force. I do not know if there is any change in the briefing arrangements; I will certainly see whether there is any further information I can get for the senator.


Senator FAULKNER —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. I would appreciate the minister taking that question on notice and providing an urgent answer to the Senate. I ask as a supplementary question: is it not the fact that there is a clear and a continuing need for accurate information about the Timor deployment to be provided to the Australian people using as many means as possible, including the Canberra press gallery? Given the Minister for Defence's own incapacity to provide accurate and detailed information on the East Timor deployment, will the minister reconsider his decision to cancel these important briefings?


Senator NEWMAN (Family and Community Services; Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —I have no way of knowing at this point as to whether the minister did or did not have anything to do with any change in the briefing arrangements. I have said to you that I will get what information I can for you. I have also said that there is a great deal of information flowing, so quite clearly there is not a clampdown on information coming from the force. I think the allegations made by Senator Faulkner are not justified.

I think that Australians are very proud of what their people are doing. They are very proud of the fact that we are leading a regional force. We are delighted at the ability that they have had already to secure airfields and also to make so much of Dili safe for East Timorese to walk around in. I am not accepting the allegations made by Senator Faulkner, because I do not know whether they are correct, but I would point out that sometimes when people are on operations some details cannot be made available to the media, for the protection of our own forces. (Time expired)