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Thursday, 9 May 1985
Page: 1641

Senator CHIPP —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Special Minister of State. Despite the surprising lack of coverage in this morning's media, is the Government concerned about the extraordinary Special Air Service Regiment manoeuvre in Sydney at the weekend? Does the Government believe that if we must have these organisations, at least they should be efficient? Unsuspecting, innocent citizens merely walking in a street, out to do nobody any harm, have been held up at gun point by masked men and interrogated against their will. After the Sheraton fiasco and the Bass Strait oil rig raid, what steps did the Government then take to make sure that such fiascos did not occur again? How can the Government now ensure that law abiding citizens can be protected from such traumas, which are the result of sheer ineptitude at departmental level? What does the Government intend to do to make sure that there are no more of these bungles?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I think the question is more appropriately directed to me in my capacity as Minister representing the Minister for Defence since it was an SAS operation that is the subject of this controversy and, of course, that is the responsibility of that Minister. I am advised that the Minister for Defence was informed in advance of the nature and details of the exercise. It was a New South Wales police exercise supported by the SAS Regiment. The area was secured by a New South Wales police cordon and by check points.

Insofar as the Defence Force is concerned, I am advised that investigations to date reveal that at no time did members of the Defence Force dress in black uniforms with black caps and visors or take into custody, interrogate or threaten with a weapon any member of the public in the Mort Bay or Long Nose Point area, which is the particular matter to which Senator Chipp is no doubt adverting. It is also the case that members of the counter-terrorist force at no time carried explosives or live ammunition. To make the exercise more realistic, blank ammunition and pyrotechnics-fireworks-specifically designed for training were used. These were held in a secured area under military guard. Defence is carrying out further and more detailed investigations into the allegations.

As to the other part of Senator Chipp's question, his reference to the Australian Secret Intelligence Service affair last year which I believe he quite properly described as a fiasco, the Government's response to that is well known. That is a matter for the Minister for Foreign Affairs. He has made it perfectly clear in a series of subsequent statements that any repetition of that kind of exercise will not be tolerated and steps have been taken to ensure that that will in fact be impossible in the future so far as that particular organisation is concerned. I do not believe anyone should jump to conclusions about what is alleged to have occurred in the context of this New South Wales affair, but to the extent that matters do require further investigation, that is in hand.

Senator CHIPP —I ask a supplementary question. I thank the Minister for his answer and his undertaking to provide more information. When doing so, could he give us an assurance that nobody concerned with the organisation involved in the Sheraton fiasco had anything whatsoever to do with what the Minister euphemistically describes as the New South Wales affair?

Senator GARETH EVANS —Senator Chipp can be confident that I will be able to give such an assurance, but I will certainly take on board his further question.