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Tuesday, 15 June 2004
Page: 23504

Senator HUTCHINS (2:47 PM) —My question is to Senator Hill, the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Can the minister advise the Senate when Australian officials in Washington or Canberra first became aware of Red Cross concerns about the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay? Can he further inform the Senate of who raised those concerns—the Red Cross themselves or representatives of the detained Australians?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I am not sure whether that is a trick question—I have been asked it in my capacity as the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. For the first time there seems to be an introduction of suggestion that Australian officials in Washington might have some relevance to the issue. I think it would probably be sensible for me to refer that issue to the foreign minister. I can say that the Red Cross put down a report in February covering detention practices in Iraq from March to November of last year. That report was presented in Iraq to the CPA and to the occupying powers—Britain and the United States. That report was developed in part from a number of visits that had taken place during the preceding months and the preparation of certain working documents.

Senator Hutchins —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I asked a specific question of the minister. I notice he is rambling a bit. I give him an opportunity now to come back to the specific question that I asked in relation to the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order. The minister has 2½ minutes yet. I am sure he will be coming back to the question.

Senator HILL —I will just finish what I was saying about Iraq because that seems to be the preoccupation of the Labor Party to date. I was going to say before I was rudely interrupted that working papers had also been presented from visits in late October to the coalition military authority in Iraq. There were some Australian military officials who had access on both of those occasions—on the occasion of the presentation of the working papers and on the occasion of the presentation of the final report. In relation to Guantanamo Bay, I do not have the specific answer but I can provide some assistance.

Senator Faulkner —We would never have guessed.

Senator HILL —Okay, I'll be honest. I do not know when the Red Cross first brought their concerns to the attention of Australian officials in relation to Guantanamo Bay, but I will seek that response from the foreign minister.

Senator HUTCHINS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I wonder if the minister could supply to the Senate the nature of the concerns raised in relation to the treatment of Australian prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and also supply to the Senate copies of those reports.

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I will refer that to the foreign minister as well.