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Wednesday, 13 February 2002
Page: 190

Senator CHRIS EVANS (3:12 PM) —I think today's question time and the minister's responses have been quite informative—a bit like his press release yesterday, which was as important for what it did not say as for what it did say. A careful reading of the Minister for Defence's press release yesterday raises a whole range of questions.

The minister is very careful in his choice of words and avoids the three key issues—as I would expect Senator Hill to be careful, not only because of the portfolio but because of his vast experience in these issues. But one of the things that is most clear is that the Minister for Defence's press release does not deal with three of the key issues. There is no mention of what directives or requests were made by the government to DSD in relation to the MV Tampa, there is no mention of what use was made of the information gathered by DSD in terms of the accusations being made in the political response of the government, and there is no mention of whether or not DSD has been used to spy on Australian citizens.

There is some reference to the MUA and the ITF—a very carefully chosen reference which does not cover all communications involving those organisations—but the key issues are not the MUA or the ITF. The key issues are whether or not DSD has been used for political purposes; whether or not Australian citizens have been spied on by one of their own defence organisations; and what the information that DSD may have gathered, either within their charter or outside their charter, has been used for and who that information has been distributed to. Those are the key issues. They are not in the Minister for Defence's defence of the government's position as released yesterday, and they were not referred to today by the minister.

Today the minister was quite helpful in providing information about the Inspector-General's inquiry. But that is an inquiry that he is determined to take on his own initiative—a much broader inquiry, it seems, than that which was requested by the minister, and I am pleased to hear that. I want to have a look at those terms of reference that he set himself. Clearly that would be a useful thing. Labor has argued from the start that the inspector-general's role is the key role and we want him to have a proper investigation into these concerns.

The minister was far less fulsome when he was asked the key political questions about what directives former minister Peter Reith gave to DSD and what directions were given concerning gathering information on Australian citizens, which is largely prohibited under the legislation but which is allowed in certain very specific instances. On those questions the minister was silent. In fact, he went on a great deal with border protection rhetoric et cetera—dodging the question. For anyone who did not see it, I urge them to have a look at the tape. It was classic—`I don't want to deal with this. I don't want to answer the question, so I will talk about some broader public issue and accuse the Labor Party of treasonous behaviour and lack of loyalty to the defence of Australia and I'll dodge the issue.' He did not deal with the issues that I put to him very directly, which were: what was the role of Peter Reith, the then Minister for Defence; what directives did he give; what directives did the government give to DSD in relation to collecting information concerning the Tampa and in relation to Australian citizens; and what did they do with that information? None of those questions has been commented on and we have no better information about those issues.

I think it is important that we concentrate on the fact that the DSD is required to get specific approval from the minister to do any monitoring of telecommunications involving Australian citizens. There are protections for Australian citizens, and those protections can only be overcome with the specific approval of the minister. In a letter dated 16 March 1999 to Channel 9's Sunday program, the then Director of the DSD, Martin Brady, made that very clear. He said, when talking about the rules that govern their operations in relation to Australian persons:

The Rules do provide mechanisms to permit DSD to monitor and report foreign communications involving Australians in some special carefully-defined circumstances such as the commission of a serious criminal offence; a threat to the life or safety of an Australian; or where an Australian is acting as the agent of a foreign power. Specific approval is required for all such collection and reporting.

The question is: was specific approval given? What political directives were given to DSD to allow them to collect information on Australian citizens? In his statement, the Minister for Defence has not denied that information was collected on Australian citizens—he has not denied it at all. He has been careful in his choice of words. (Time expired)