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Tuesday, 28 June 1994
Page: 2089

Senator SHORT (4.00 p.m.) —I wish to make a few comments in this discussion as well because the discussion arose in the first instance from a question that I asked the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Senator Bolkus, in question time today. Far from Senator Bolkus's assertion in responding to me in question time today that I had egg on my face, all I can say is that everything that I have heard, both in his answer in question time and in his comments just now, seems to me to show a very confused minister who has a lot of egg on his face. But I do not wish to pursue that.

  What I want to say, though, is that Senator Bolkus seems to be confusing, from everything that he has said in this area, two quite different people. He seems to be confusing the so-called third man who may or may not be Mr Nida. His own departmental staff said in Senate estimates last Thursday that they did not know who the third man was. Obviously Mr Nida is one possibility. I am not going to speculate here on whether he is the third man referred to in the 7.30 Report on Monday of last week, but that is one person. The other person, and the person that I was referring to in question time today—and the minister well knows it—was someone quite different, someone called Abdul Qadir Miakhel. He was the person that my question was about, and he was the person that most of the questioning and answers were about.

  I am sorry to see Senator Bolkus leave—in fact I am amazed to see him leave—because this subject goes to the whole question of Australia's security and to the whole question of the integrity of the migration program. The thing that ought to concern this chamber, and indeed all Australians, is the absolutely incompetent performance of this minister in this portfolio. His performance puts at very serious risk the integrity of Australia's migration program and, worse, the security implications of that.

  I asked the minister in question time today why, for 13 months, he did not follow up the serious allegations that had been made to him about the presence in Australia on a permanent residence basis of the former deputy head of the Najibullah communist regime's brutal secret police force known as the Khad. I also asked him how this person got in and how it was that for 13 months he, as the minister—he had been the minister for only a month or so when these representations were first brought to his notice—had failed to follow up the very serious allegations that were made to him concerning Mr Abdul Miakhel. From May 1993 to 22 June, which is last week, he had failed to follow up these allegations. Even then, it was only because the matter had been raised on national television and here in this chamber.

  The tabling by Senator Bolkus of three documents—letters to the then minister, Senator Ray, back in 1989; a letter from each of my colleagues Senator Alston and Senator Hill, and a subsequent press release by Senator Hill—referred to a totally different case. They referred to the case of Mr Nida who, as we just said, may or may not be the third person referred to last week on the 7.30 Report.

  Incidentally, I find it very interesting that the minister was able to table these three documents today which go back to 1989 when last week it appeared that the government was unable to find the letter to Senator Ray in January 1989 from the then president of the Afghan Freedom League, a Mr Besodi, which first drew attention to the problems of possible entry into Australia and the background of Mr Miakhel. Nor last week could it find Senator Ray's response five months later to Mr Besodi expressing concern about the matter and saying that the various relevant posts would have been notified to act on that information if in fact Mr Miakhel made application or if application was made on his behalf to enter Australia.

  They are all unanswered questions which I raised last week in Senate estimates, and they are partly the basis of my question today. But the point I want to make is that in his response today Senator Bolkus was referring to a totally different person, namely Mr Nida, rather than the person who was the basis of my question, Mr Miakhel. In doing so, he deliberately misled the Senate, I must say, by tabling correspondence relating to a different case and by attempting to portray what I was asking him as something of almost no consequence.

Senator Campbell —Using a red herring.

Senator SHORT —An absolute red herring, as Senator Campbell said. Because it was an absolute red herring, and because he knew it was a red herring, then I put it to you, Mr Acting Deputy President, that today Senator Bolkus deliberately misled the Senate on this matter.

  I wish to read into the Hansard record some comments that were made during the Senate estimates consideration of this matter last Thursday, 23 June. At that Senate estimates hearing last week both the minister and his department admitted that they had, to use the minister's own words—I cannot find them in the Hansard but he used them because they were later reported, and no-one has questioned them—stuffed up on this particular case of Mr Miakhel. I will read a few excerpts from page 231 through to page 235 of Estimates Committee F of 23 June. Senator Bolkus said:

I am just confirming the dates. He advised that it had been referred to the department for investigation. I am further advised by the department that the matter—

that is, the investigation of allegations about Mr Miakhel—

was not pursued until quite recently.

He then went on to say:

I have also asked for a report on why little action was taken since my senior adviser replied to Mr Besodi.

That was a period of almost one year. In response to my further questioning as to when he got on to his department again about this matter, Senator Bolkus admitted:

It has been a busy 24 hours, but I think it was yesterday sometime.

That is within the last 24 hours; therefore it was on 22 June—10 months after he had asked the department for an investigation into this matter. There were several other points of confirmation in relation to that. Then the deputy secretary of the department, Mr Richardson, in response to further questioning, commented:

There is no escaping the fact that the department has not performed well on that issue; the department has clearly failed in that respect.

Again, Mr Richardson said:

The department did not respond adequately in August.

That was at the time when the minister responded to representations he received three months earlier. Those representations had sat in his office from May 1993 through August, despite the fact that his senior adviser had apparently referred to the allegations as `serious'. So there was a three-month delay in the minister's office before the allegations were referred to the department for investigation in August. The deputy secretary said:

The department did not respond adequately in August.

Then in response to an additional letter on the matter that had come in from the Afghan community in October, Mr Richardson said;

Clearly, when the additional letter came in October, it did not respond adequately again.

Then, to cap off all that, finally, the secretary of the department, Mr Conybeare—who I must say had sat there throughout these hearings and had let the deputy secretary, Mr Richardson, do virtually all of the answering—in response to a specific question of mine, said:

It is clear that the department has fallen down on the job.

It was on the basis of those admissions by the department last week that I accused both the minister and the department of a gross dereliction of duty. I would have to say that the performance by Senator Bolkus here today, when he tried totally to divert attention from this case and to refer to another case but somehow or other purported to run the two together, was not only a gross dereliction of duty but also a gross misconduct on a minister's part. That is why I asked him in my supplementary question today why he let an investigation into this matter run for more than a year, without following up any response to the investigation that he himself had apparently put in train. Those are grounds, in my view, for a minister to very seriously consider resigning because they demonstrate a total lack of competence on the part of the minister.

  What I would like the minister to do, and what I would think the Australian electorate would expect the minister to do, would be to come into this chamber and tell the Senate and, through the Senate, the Australian public just what went wrong and why he failed to carry out his ministerial duties. Until such time as Senator Bolkus does that, he will stand condemned for a failure to carry out his ministerial responsibilities adequately and competently. I was going to say that for him today to attempt to divert all attention away from this issue is very regrettable—but it is much more serious than that. I hope that the minister may by now have realised the seriousness of his actions and will respond a little more seriously as soon as he has had a chance to consider this as fully as he should have.