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Tuesday, 9 October 1984
Page: 1447


Senator CHILDS —I refer the Attorney-General to the article in today's Sydney Morning Herald concerning the Casey diaries. Did the Attorney-General provide a correct answer to Senator Richardson's question without notice in the Senate on 24 August 1983 as set out on page 136 of Hansard?


Senator GARETH EVANS —I am indebted to Senator Childs for raising this question because it gives me an opportunity to clarify the record in the absence of Senator Richardson who asked this question last year. The answer I gave in the Senate last year was based on briefing provided to me by the Department of Foreign Affairs and by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. From information that was provided to me earlier today in response to inquiries initiated by me following the appearance of that front page article, I am now in a position to say that the information contained in my answer given on 23 August last year was incorrect in one respect, namely, that on 18 July 1983 the Department of Foreign Affairs forwarded to ASIO references to 57 extracts of the Casey diaries for comment by the organisation. The briefing that was provided to me on 24 August 1983 in anticipation of Senator Richardson's question stated that comment was sought of ASIO by the Department of Foreign Affairs in relation to only one matter of detail concerning a particular person. In the light of what I have just said that information is clearly incorrect.

That is not to say that everything in today's article in the Sydney Morning Herald is to be regarded now as being correct. If it is the case that there was a Department of Foreign Affairs briefing note to the office of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, as today's article suggests, I am advised that ASIO did not initiate the matter. There was no request by ASIO that its interests be looked after by the Department of Foreign Affairs. Rather, the Department of Foreign Affairs officer in question offered to advise ASIO of any references in the material to the organisation and ASIO accepted that offer. Again, as to the question which is clearly inherent in the article about ASIO's vetting the material and possibly seeking embargoes on aspects of it, I am able to say, on the information available to me today, first of all from the Department of Foreign Affairs, that ASIO has not, in fact, sought an embargo on any of the entries in the Casey diaries that were referred to it. ASIO itself stated that the officer of the Department of Foreign Affairs dealing with this matter was informed on 29 July 1983 that ASIO did not wish to seek an embargo for any of the material extracted. The extracts largely referred to retired or deceased ASIO officers. Accordingly ASIO did not make any contribution to the alleged editing, altering or interfering with the Casey papers.

As to whether there were any embargoes of material in the Casey papers from other sources. I am further advised today by Foreign Affairs that the Director- General of the National Library of Australia agreed to embargo certain names in the diaries during the lifetimes of the people concerned on the grounds of personal reputation. This had been done at the request of the Casey family and, in some instances, of the Department of Foreign Affairs. The Department of Foreign Affairs considers that some passages in the diaries still retain diplomatic sensitivities concerning the late 1950s. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has endorsed this view. However, the library proposes to release the diaries under the 30-year rule in accordance with the wishes of the Casey family . Passages which are now considered to be of some sensitivity will be examined again closer to the time of the scheduled release of the diaries for the late 1950s.

Finally, in relation to the matter on which I was incorrectly briefed I do not regard that as a satisfactory state of affairs. Late this morning I signed letters to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Director-General of ASIO requesting that inquiries be instituted as to why I was not made aware of any contact between ASIO and the Department of Foreign Affairs additional to the contact that was referred to in the original briefing provided to me and, further, why, after my answer given on 23 August last year, the deficiency in that briefing was not immediately detected and brought to my attention so that I could advise the Senate accordingly. I add that prior to today neither I nor my own Department had any knowledge of these matters other than the original briefings provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs and ASIO. I hope that clears the matter up to the extent that it is possible to do so.