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Monday, 11 November 2002
Page: 5868


Senator FAULKNER (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (2:12 PM) —My question is directed again to Senator Alston, the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. On the two occasions that you spoke to Mr Jepson, the solicitor of the Major Fraud Group of Victoria Police, can you indicate what precisely you said to him? Did you at any stage refer to the fact that the Australian Federal Police had investigated matters he was dealing with? Did you at any stage suggest or request that Mr Jepson take no further action on these matters?


Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —As I have said, on those two occasions I spoke only to Mr Jepson. I am informed, and I have no reason to doubt this, that the first conversation was longer than the second but that neither of them was an extensive conversation. Can I indicate precisely what I said? No, I cannot, because I do not have notes of that discussion; but I do have information provided by the Victoria Police government liaison officer—


Senator Mackay —You can't remember two phone conversations!


Senator ALSTON —Three and a half years ago; that is right. But, fortunately, the police have records. If you want to know what was canvassed in those calls, according to the Victoria Police government liaison officer, my first phone call was to ask whether the police were aware of recent material relating to the alleged upgrade of the Fortitude Valley exchange. Of course, this was highly relevant in determining how I handled the matter directly with Telstra— particularly as I had told the Senate, some three or four days earlier on 11 March, that I would be writing to Telstra. According to the Victoria Police government liaison officer, my second phone call was to ask whether the police had contacted senior management at Telstra about this matter. Again, this is totally consistent with my statement made on the day of the Sunday program, where I made it clear that I wanted to make sure that any direct action I might take with Telstra did not interfere with the Victoria Police investigation.

I think that tells us the answer to Senator Faulkner's last two questions: did I refer to the Federal Police—and it would seem I did not—and did I suggest that they somehow go slow or stall? Again, there is no suggestion from them that I did—quite the contrary. They have put out, as I have said, two separate releases, one of which said:

The Victoria Police has conducted this investigation thoroughly and impartially without coercion from any outside party.

They said that in a release of 17 October, and on 23 October they said:

At no time has any outside party attempted to pressure, influence, coerce or intervene in the matter.


Senator FAULKNER —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Did the minister at any stage request or suggest to anyone that the Major Fraud Group not take any further action on the COT cases?


Senator ALSTON —Absolutely not. All the evidence suggests quite the opposite. In fact, if you look at the police statement of 23 October they said:

Solicitor Neil Jepson is assigned to the Major Fraud Squad Initial Action Section. His involvement in this complaint lasted for a period of only 12 months commencing in 1998 during its assessment phase. This was prior to the matter being assigned to an investigation crew.

In other words, the inquiry had been upgraded. That is very much what was also said by Mr Scorer in his letter, which was dated several months later: that not only had the Victoria Police upgraded the matter but also he was urging people to contact them. He was speaking on behalf of the COT cases. So quite clearly he did not believe that, either. (Time expired)