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Thursday, 19 November 2009
Page: 8392

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (2:00 PM) —My question is to Senator Evans, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship and the Minister representing the Prime Minister. I refer to the minister’s answer to questions yesterday from Senator Ryan. In estimates on 28 May 2009, I asked questions about the composition of the border protection committee of cabinet, and was told by the secretary of the minister’s department that:

… a number of officials would routinely attend the Border Protection Committee meeting: National Security Adviser Duncan Lewis, the head of the Customs and Border Protection Service, the secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department, the head of the Office of National Assessments, the commissioner or deputy commissioner of the AFP and I.

There was no mention here of ministerial staff, so when did the Prime Minister’s staff start attending meetings of the border protection committee of cabinet, and what are their names?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I thank Senator Fierravanti-Wells for her question. I made clear yesterday that the management of the Oceanic Viking issue had been the responsibility of the border protection committee. The border protection committee contains the ministers who have direct responsibility for those matters.

I also indicated that there was a series of meetings of ministers and staff who helped to deal with the day-to-day management of the issues. The lead ministers in that regard were Mr Smith, the foreign affairs minister; Mr O’Connor, the Minister for Home Affairs and Customs and border protection; and me, as Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. I also made it clear that there were a number of officials and staff in attendance at various meetings. They conducted the—

Senator Abetz —What are their names?

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Mr President, I am happy to continue if Senator Abetz stops interjecting, but I really have trouble—

Opposition senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Evans, please continue.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Those ministers, through the border protection committee, have had responsibility for matters relating to those on the Oceanic Viking. The major immigration issues were handled by me and my department. Relationships with Indonesia and negotiations with the Indonesians were led, obviously, by Mr Smith and our ambassador to Indonesia. Throughout this process we have met on many occasions, earlier as the committee but also in terms of working groups. Yes, staff have been at some of those meetings, as you would expect.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The Prime Minister advised the House of Representatives on 17 November that in relation to the border protection committee:

… a number of my own staff would be on it from time to time.

What involvement did the Prime Minister’s staff have in seeking to resolve the Oceanic Viking stand-off, and who were they?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —As I made clear, there were staff from offices present at the meetings where this matter was managed. I also made very clear that responsibility for the management of the issues involved and the authorisation of government actions were made by the relevant ministers: the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Smith; the Minister for Home Affairs, Mr O’Connor; and the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, me. That is where the management of these matters lay and that is where the authority of the government came from. Various officials were involved at various stages; various staff attended some of the considerations and advice was sought as appropriate. But the responsibility was through the border protection committee of cabinet, which I chair, and the authorisation for government actions was either through that committee or through the joint effort of the responsible ministers. It was all done in accordance with normal practice.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Does the minister recall the Prime Minister saying on 20 November 2007:

… if we have ministerial staff who themselves are directly engaged in effective decision-making within government, then of course they should be accountable before parliamentary committees.

How are such people able to be called before parliamentary committees if the government refuses to say who they are?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I do not recall the Prime Minister saying that, but I take Senator Fierravanti-Wells at her word in terms of the quote.

Senator Ronaldson —You can rest assured he did.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Senator Ronaldson, I would not trust everyone in that regard, but Senator Fierravanti-Wells I do! I make the key point in response to that question: the premise is wrong. Responsibility for these matters lies with the border protection committee of cabinet and with the relevant ministers. Decisions were taken by us and the authorisation of actions was taken by us. I have been very clear on numerous occasions that the responsibility for these matters lay with the ministers. We are accountable for our actions, we are responsible for the authorisations of those actions and those authorisations were properly given by the appropriate ministers. I have outlined to you who they were. (Time expired)