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Wednesday, 10 September 2003
Page: 19711


Mr CREAN (Leader of the Opposition) (3:51 PM) —Our charge is a simple one: this is a government that will play politics with national security but will not take the actions necessary to protect the Australian public from security threats. It is a government that will highlight the threat and will then fail to act. When it gets caught out for failing to act, it will blame someone else for the fact that something did not happen. Yesterday the Prime Minister admitted that there is a police investigation into a leaked ONA national security document. It is an investigation that has been going on, as we now understand, since 4 July, but it is an investigation that came to light only because the Labor Party raised it in this House. It is our belief that this government leaked the contents of that document to Mr Andrew Bolt. It is also our belief that this government leaked the contents of the document to Senator Macdonald and that it did it for its own grubby political purposes. In so doing, it has endangered national security and our security arrangements with our closest allies.

Today in the parliament, just like in the previous two days, we have asked serious questions of the government designed to ensure that in its investigations the Federal Police is provided with all the information that it needs to determine the truth of this matter, because Australians do want the truth and for too long they have not been getting it from this government, in particular from the Prime Minister. We know that there is a growing pattern of deceit on the part of this government. It is a government that will undermine every standing convention on the handling of classified intelligence information to suit its own political objectives. It will do nothing to investigate the most serious breaches of national security until it is forced to do so under the spotlight of the parliament. It will use any means to shift the blame onto others and it will stop at nothing to sully the reputation of those who disagree with its policies.

Why the Wilkie leak matters is this: it is only one in a series of recent national security breaches but it is a terribly important one. It is potentially the most serious and most damaging to Australia's national security interests. For the last three days in this parliament we have focused on the Andrew Wilkie case for two simple reasons: first, there is prima facie evidence that the most highly classified national security information was leaked to a Melbourne journalist and the Howard government has said nothing and done nothing about it for 11 weeks; and, secondly, the government's handling of this case demonstrates the lengths to which it will go to destroy the reputation of those who disagree with it.

I want to take the House through the sequence of events as they occurred, because it will show the very heart of this government's incompetence and mismanagement. More importantly, it is incompetence and mismanagement that go to the very top of the government. On 23 June an article appeared in the Melbourne Herald Sun newspaper. It was written by Mr Andrew Bolt. It made for some astonishing reading because in it Mr Bolt gloated about the fact that he had the:

... only secret report that Wilkie ever wrote about Iraq as an Office of National Assessments analyst.

That is what he said. In this newspaper report he said, `But when I go through the only secret report attributed to Wilkie when he worked for the Office of National Assessments.' That is what he boasts. He says it in the article. How could he make such a boast unless he either had the document or had knowledge of its contents?

The point that we have been making in question time is this: it is not sufficient for the Prime Minister to assert that Mr Bolt may not have had the whole of the document, because if he had any part of it, either in material form or conveyed to him verbally, that is a breach of security. That is what is involved. This is a criminal offence. It does not matter how it came to him. If this journalist, unauthorised, had access to that information, there is a breach. Only someone who had knowledge of the entire publication list of the Office of National Assessments could ever have made the claim that this was the only one written by Mr Wilkie. There would have had to have been information given to Mr Bolt for him to know that this was the only one written by Mr Wilkie. So who told him that?

Mr Bolt's article then quotes at length and verbatim from the top secret ONA report titled Iraq: humanitarian consequences. Go through this article and you can find quote after quote. Yet the Prime Minister stood in this parliament today, having shifted the technical wording that he used yesterday, and effectively said that there was nothing in this article that quoted from the report. That is just not right. The Prime Minister again in his defence has misled this parliament.

But what was the purpose of this article? It was to discredit Mr Wilkie in the media because of the criticism that he had made of the Howard government over its decision to go to war in Iraq. The fact is that there is no way Mr Bolt could have written the article without full access to the document or knowledge of it. He could not have written that article without access to or knowledge of that document. So the question—the answer to which we have been trying to elicit in this parliament—then becomes: who leaked it and what was done about the fact that it was leaked when that article was read?

Yesterday the Prime Minister said that Mr Bolt did not quote any specific intelligence material. Too clever with his words again is the Prime Minister. The fact is that the whole document, not just parts of it, was classified top secret and any information it contained should have been protected. Yet Mr Bolt, as I have said, quoted slabs of it in his article. At least Mr Wilkie did the right thing when he read that article. On 9 July this year he wrote to the PM, and his letter was tabled in the parliament yesterday. In it he expressed his concerns about the Bolt article and the clear breach of national security. This is Mr Wilkie, the author of this report—he is acknowledged to be the author of the four-page report, so you would think that he was the person who wrote it. It is not a lengthy report and it was the only report that he wrote in terms of the classifications in the ONA. In his letter direct to the Prime Minister on 9 July he said:

I am confident the journalist was quoting directly from an ONA report I wrote ... which was classified Top Secret codeword.

The document is classified so highly that it would have had an extremely limited distribution. The Prime Minister today says that there were probably 300 copies. That is a large number. The fact is that it would have been secure; it would have been limited, and logging would have had to have taken place as to who it went to, how it was returned or whether it was destroyed. There are very strict handling procedures for such a document—and the Attorney sitting at the table knows it.

It would be expected that the public disclosure of top secret codeword material would do grave damage to Australia's national interests—our allies, from whom much of this intelligence information would have been sourced, must be deeply concerned at the release of this information—and would be a major embarrassment to this government. But what does the Prime Minister do when Mr Wilkie writes to him? He simply tells Mr Wilkie, when he finally writes back at the end of the month, that he referred the matter back to the Office of National Assessments—not that he, the Prime Minister, had initiated a police inquiry but that he had simply referred the article back to ONA. In other words, the Prime Minister washed his hands of something that, on the face of it, was a serious breach of the government's security.

He did not tell Mr Wilkie of the police investigation, and he made no urgency in seeking to find the source of the leak. Just contrast that with this: remember when the government were outraged at the leak of the Downer-Lackey—the New Zealand High Commissioner—memo? Remember when the government were so furious about what that memo said about Australia's deployment of troops in advance of the government announcing it that they left no stone unturned and immediately referred it to the Federal Police? We have a very simple proposition involved here: the government are quick to order an investigation into a leak that embarrasses them but they do nothing when they find a leak that is designed to assist them in grubbying people who have gone out and attacked them.

The issue did not get raised until Mr Wilkie appeared before the joint national intelligence committee into Iraq on 22 August, where we found Senator Sandy Macdonald asking Mr Wilkie questions about the report. Mr Wilkie said to Senator Macdonald:

You are obviously quoting from the report.

Senator Macdonald did not disagree at that time. Remember that this is a top secret codeword document. When Senator Macdonald was later quizzed by a journalist, he said that he had got the information from Mr Wilkie's testimony before the UK parliamentary inquiry. That turned out not to be correct. Then Senator Macdonald changed his story, and this time he admitted to the journalist that Wilkie's still classified report `had been provided to me'. That is what he told the journalist. The only thing that would be worse than receiving a highly classified ONA document and using it for political purposes would be if the government turned up at the National Press Club and, on national television, read it out to the Australian public at large. Of course, this government had already done that trick just before the last election. In November 2001, in the days just before the election, they released such a report in order to support their false claim that children were thrown overboard.

This leak goes to the very top. We have two simple but, as yet, unanswered questions: who gave the top secret report to Mr Andrew Bolt and who gave the same report to Senator Macdonald? That is why in question time today we asked those questions. We know the procedures that have to be followed to secure top secret information. It has limited distribution, and there are handling guidelines. But will the government guarantee that all information associated with logging, telephone access and emails between the Prime Minister's office and the Minister for Foreign Affairs' office to the two people in question be made public? The Prime Minister fudged it. The government thought we were on a fishing expedition, but the reality is that we were forensically laying down the detail, which the Federal Police must have access to, to get to the bottom of this.

This is not the first time that the federal government has threatened Mr Wilkie. Let us understand that this government will go to any end to discredit its opponents. At the same time as leaking information to discredit its opponents, what is it doing about national security? It allows computers to be stolen, and it allows a person who is under security threat to keep working at Australia's major airport. Here we are two years after September 11 and the government still has security breaches at the nation's biggest airport. We have a terrorism hotline—along with fridge magnets—but the government forgot to put the number in the phone book. Today, there was a question about a stolen laptop computer from the Minister for Transport and Regional Services' department, and the minister fumbled his way through and said that nothing was wrong. This government has deceived the Australian public yet again. It is a government that will go to no end in grubbying and criticising the people who are prepared to stand up to it. (Time expired)