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Thursday, 26 September 2002
Page: 5012


Senator FERGUSON (3:27 PM) —At the outset of the certain maritime incident inquiry and the formation of the select committee, I remember saying that it was only going to be a political witch-hunt. I was howled down by members of the opposition for stating the obvious—that it was going to be a political witch-hunt—and in fact that is what it has proved to be as we have gone week after week after week hearing evidence. We got to the stage where Tony Kevin, who has been spoken about already today, came in and delivered his first version of his fairy story to our committee. Tony Kevin was the first to raise the issue, and, as the inquiry at that time did not seem to be gaining very much publicity, it was immediately latched onto by journalists who were trying very hard to make something out of nothing. In relation to Tony Kevin, whom I must say could hardly be called an independent witness, immediately he had given evidence to our committee, he started work for the opposition. I understand that he is no longer working for the opposition—or that was the information that was supplied by way of interjection from Senator Collins. I think the fact that he did not last very long contracted to the shadow minister for foreign affairs can only reinforce how unreliable he really is.

It was only at that stage that the journalists involved in following the progress of this certain maritime incident inquiry started to give his fairy story some legs and it got to the stage where, certainly in the Canberra Times and in some other newspapers, it was the main play of the day. Only the week before last, I was listening to the radio in my home state of South Australia and I heard Moira Rayner, who could hardly be described as someone with conservative viewpoints, saying that the certain maritime incident inquiry had concluded without any doubt that the Australian government was responsible for the loss of over 340 lives. So here is somebody in Perth who, having read what the journalists have put into the papers, has now made it a fact: there was `no doubt' that the Australian government was responsible for the loss of life on the so-called SIEVX.

For month after month, this inquiry has taken as much evidence as I think any committee in recent times has taken over such an issue, and then Senator Cook today accuses Senator Brandis of trawling through some of the things that have happened. I would say Senator Cook is the last person who should be talking about trawling through evidence and, indeed, that could equally be applied to Senator Faulkner. They trawled for days, repeating questions. The same questions were asked time and time again of the same witnesses while trying to get different answers, something that they could hang their hat on in relation to this inquiry. Much of the so-called evidence that Senator Faulkner has brought before the Senate in adjournment speeches over the past three nights has come from selectively looking at quotations from within that inquiry, selectively using information that was provided by the Australian Federal Police and selectively presenting that to this Senate to try to suit another story that he wishes to put to the Australian public.

I say to those members opposite that it does not matter how often they go over the same stuff or how often they present it to the Australian Senate or how often they get journalists to try to prolong the fairy stories that they have tried to invent, to try to somehow or other provide some excuse as to why they lost the last election. That is the key to it all. `We were robbed'—that is the cry of the Labor Party. They say: `We were robbed because the way that you portrayed yourselves in the pre-election period meant that the Australian public did not know what they were doing.' The Australian public did know what they were doing, and there was no more sure evidence of that than the way they voted at the last election to put this government back in, to make sure that we would continue to do the job that we promised to do. We have continued to do that, and no end of inquiries, political witch-hunts or defaming the names of people within the Public Service when they are unfairly treated where you say they have no right of reply—think of all the people whose reputations have been damaged in the course of this inquiry and you might see that, from the time of the very beginning, from the outset— (Time expired)

Question agreed to.