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Thursday, 17 October 2002
Page: 5395

Senator FAULKNER (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (2:15 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Hill. Minister, I refer to the Prime Minister's statement yesterday that he has requested the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security to undertake a review of what information Commonwealth agencies had available to them relating to the Bali bombings. Can I ask what the expected time frame is of Mr Blick's review and whether the minister can provide the Senate with its terms of reference. Will Mr Blick be investigating and reporting on both the nature and the timing of information received as well as what actions resulted from the receipt of that information? Given the clear public interest in this issue, I also ask whether the Inspector-General will be providing a report on this investigation to the parliament, as he did recently in regard to the allegations involving the Defence Signals Directorate.

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I will have to refer parts of the question to the Prime Minister, but in particular I will seek for Senator Faulkner the terms of reference. As I understand it, it is basically open-ended—we will allow Mr Blick to conduct his task without restraints of strict terms of reference. He is to look at the intelligence flow to gauge whether appropriate responses were made. He has the opportunity to look at the source material, the assessments that were based upon the source material, the action that was then taken on, say, travel advice et cetera in relation to the assessments; and to report to the Prime Minister on the outcome. Obviously, the Prime Minister has in mind the issue of ensuring that the intelligence system is working effectively in mind of the future rather than simply an assessment of the past. In other words, it is important in these sad circumstances to realise that the terrorist threat remains, and if there is anything that can be learnt from the experience in terms of intelligence, or lack of intelligence, then we would want that opportunity.

In relation to a report to the parliament, I would envisage that the Prime Minister would be reporting to the parliament and providing as much as Mr Blick's report as he can. Obviously, some parts he may not be able to provide because of the content, but it is important that the Prime Minister does that to the extent that it gives the public confidence in the process that he has adopted. Otherwise, I will see whether the Prime Minister can add further to what I have provided.

Senator FAULKNER —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I appreciate, as I am sure do all senators, that the Prime Minister is in transit to Bali, but I would ask the minister whether he could respond before the Senate adjourns this evening with some of the detailed elements of this question. Minister, given the nature of your answer and the comments that the inspector-general's operation is dealing with security and intelligence agencies, can I also ask on this occasion whether the inspector-general will be authorised to seek information from other agencies such as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade—in particular, the consular affairs area.

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —Again, I do not have specific advice on that matter, but I would envisage that Mr Blick does. In other words, for his inquiries to be as useful as possible, it seems to me that he would need to cast the net to include the users of the information that is provided. Intelligence is only of value in terms of its use. In looking at lessons that might be learned from this experience, how agencies have used that information seems to me to be important. In relation to how promptly I can provide the information that Senator Faulkner is seeking, I will refer that to the Prime Minister's office and see if there is anything I can table today.