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Tuesday, 28 June 1994
Page: 2087

Senator ALSTON (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (3.46 p.m.) —by leave—I move:

  That the Senate take note of the personal explanation.

I would also like to express my concern about the way in which the minister has tabled these documents. Given that he was asked a question about one person and then chose, by way of some smokescreen exercise to pretend that it could be thrown back in our faces—I think his words were `not just the egg but the whole omelette'—he was clearly implying that I had been aware that Mohammed Nida had an undesirable history and that I was acting improperly in putting forward a case when I knew or should have known that it was not a frank description of the circumstances.

  I want to make it clear that I wrote at that time in my capacity as the chairman of the Afghan-Australia Council. It would seem—having refreshed my memory from the correspondence—that the person who brought these matters to our mutual attention was Abdul Khaliq Fazal who, as I recall, was a paid up and practising member of the ALP, was a close associate of Lewis Kent, and at one stage sought to join the Liberal Party. As it turned out, and quite wisely I think, we suggested to him that one party was enough. Nonetheless, he obviously made representations upon which we acted in good faith. For my part, I was simply bringing to the attention of the government matters that seemed to be accurate.

  In those circumstances, I would have thought that the responsibility is squarely on those who have vast resources, in comparison with the opposition, to check out the facts before making a judgment. I am sure that Senator Ray, as a former Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, certainly did not take anyone's word for the strength of a case made but took independent advice and certainly relied on his departmental officers to do their homework. In those circumstances, it seems rather strange that, at the very time Senator Bolkus is now trying to nail this on us, Senator Ray's answer—although in the last sentence it does say, `I should emphasise that UNHCR mandate status alone would not qualify Nida for entry into Australia'—states in unequivocal terms, `The government is, however, willing to reassess Nida's position should he obtain recognition by UNHCR.'

  If the facts of the matter are that government officers had reason to believe that Nida was certainly not all that he purported to be and, indeed, there were very good security reasons why he should not have been considered, there was no need at all to have gone on with that at least mild form of encouragement. All they needed to say was, `On the material before us, he does not satisfy the necessary guidelines.' Therefore, I would have thought that, at the very least, we are owed an explanation as to not only why the government chose to express itself in what may well be a misleading form but also why Senator Bolkus—and I must say I am not surprised that Senator Bolkus would do it—chose to impugn our integrity and besmirch our reputations in the way that he clearly did.

  If all Senator Bolkus is going to say at the end of the day is that he was desperate to avoid answering the question by Senator Short, I can understand his embarrassment. But even that is not a good and proper reason to somehow pretend that we had been caught short, that we had been acting improperly and that, therefore, he did not need to answer the question put to him.

  For my part, my conscience is clear. I might say in passing that I have found the Afghan community in general to be a wonderful collection of people—very hard working, model citizens for the most part. Overwhelmingly they have settled in very well, and I am proud to have been associated with them. If it transpires that I have been misled, that is unfortunate. But I do not think it can ever be said that I did anything other than make honest representations in good faith.

Senator Robert Ray —No-one would say otherwise.

Senator ALSTON —If that is the case, I simply do not understand why Senator Bolkus chose to perform in the way he did, other than by reference to his history.