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Wednesday, 23 October 2002
Page: 5768

Senator JACINTA COLLINS (5:57 PM) —I will not grace the contribution made by Senator Ferguson just now in relation to the process of this inquiry with further comments in the small amount of time that I have. Anyone who has followed this inquiry is able to see the manner in which it was conducted quite fairly and openly by the chair, Senator Cook. But let me go to the one reference from the media that Senator Ferguson referred to, because it is my opportunity to correct for the record the inaccuracy of the garbage that this government has been feeding the media. In that same article, Glenn Milne accused me of vainly seeking to do something that simply was not the case. There is no substance for his claim. There is nothing on the record that can sustain it and he must have been misled by government senators feeding him tripe. Let me go further, though, to the issue of the pattern of behaviour, because it will be relevant—if I get the time—to a theme that I have explored in my additional comments.

The pattern of behaviour record that this government refers to was provided to the government on request by the government in a fashion designed by the government to suit the government. When in our hearings we were able to prove that one of the perceptions reported in that report had not in fact occurred, the poor hapless defence officer involved could not even see the distinction between perception and fact. He basically indicated that what he had put to this committee was a table of perceptions. Senator Brandis knows, on the evidence, that the purported strangulation incident that he trotted out to the Australian to demonise asylum seekers—and that was front page news—did not occur.

Senator Brandis —I rise on a point of order, Madam Acting Deputy President. That is unparliamentary. I have been accused of attempting to demonise asylum seekers. I have attempted to do no such thing. I have simply, in a clinical way, called attention to the facts. I ask you to insist that it be withdrawn.

Senator Cook —Madam Acting Deputy President, I rise on the point of order. The remark made is not unparliamentary. Senator Brandis knows full well that it is not unparliamentary. The point of his point of order was to interrupt Senator Collins.

Senator Ferguson —Hang on: how many times did you interrupt us with points of order?

Senator Cook —But I was justified; you're not! I have made my point of order.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator McLucas)—There is no point of order.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS —In relation to Senator Brandis's claim, his report— and he is joined by the other government senators—purports to represent the facts. Let us just take pause for the moment and see precisely what it does. Senator Ferguson has already said that he did not look at the Odgers report. The Odgers report, which I did refer to in my report, is quite clear on the matter. On page 39, it says:

In my opinion, it was misleading of Mr Reith not to refer in the interview on 14 October to the doubt he knew existed in relation to the attribution of the photographs.

I am not surprised that this component and other references in the Odgers report do not appear in the report of the government senators because, as Senator Brandis has already gloated, rather than providing a forensic and balanced approach to the evidence, he really has been—as he has gloated in the media— defence counsel to Howard and Reith. He cannot pretend to be both defence counsel and judge at the same time, and he knows that well. Rather than a forensic and balanced position, he has presented a selective representation of the evidence aimed at a target. This target I am referring to now is the one I find most offensive. For him to have targeted Commander Banks in his selective representation of the evidence is outrageous. For him to then be here claiming this tactic about open findings is absolutely outrageous. There is no other conclusion in relation to Commander Banks and Brigadier Silverstone—

Senator Brandis —Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I have been accused of something which is false. I have been accused of targeting Commander Banks. I have not done so.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Lightfoot)—What is your point of order, Senator Brandis?

Senator Brandis —My point of order is that the allegation is false. I believe Commander Banks told the truth to the committee at all times, and there is nothing in the minority report that suggests to the contrary.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —There is no point of order.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS —I have not suggested that Senator Brandis has suggested that Commander Banks lied. We all know that he did not. We all know that both Commander Banks and Brigadier Silverstone demonstrated the finest of our Defence Force integrity, as did many others. However, Commander Banks has been set up by the government as the target for blame. He has been scapegoated in this report, but any reasonable person who looks at the evidence fully—and I stress fully—set out in the majority report would conclude that there is no way we can ever conclude what occurred, unless, as the witnesses said, the incident had been taped, and it had not. We found that both officers have the highest of integrity but, again, as they said to us, that is not the point. The point is that, when that misunderstanding occurred, what happened? It is that that the government is culpable for. Let me go to that particular point: why did John Howard on 18 February on the John Faine program say:

... I never received any written contradiction of that, nor did I receive any verbal contradiction of that.

When asked in his office, the answer was no. The facts are that on 13 occasions it did occur. I am not bothering to go to the detail of the 14 occasions when it did with respect to Peter Reith and his office; I think you are just in absolute denial there.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —Senator Collins, are you saying that I am in denial?

Senator JACINTA COLLINS —No, I am sorry.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —I would appreciate it if you would address your remarks through the chair.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS —I will refer my remarks through the chair. However, Mr Acting Deputy President, you may be, in part, if you accept the government senators' response on this issue.

Senator Ferguson —Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. That is a reflection on the chair and I ask that it be withdrawn.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —There is no point of order.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS —I have not bothered going to the detail of the case against Peter Reith because our independent assessor has done that quite well. It is just interesting that the government did not refer to that. In my remarks, I have looked at the detail of what John Howard, his office and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet did do. That is where the principal concern is. As I reflected in my comments, a couple of months before the election—

Senator Ferguson —Why didn't you put them in the main report?

Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Because they are my personal reflection of some issues.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —Senator Ferguson, I feel obliged to hear Senator Collins.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Some senior defence officers privately raised concerns with the culture and agenda which was developing in PM&C. I will comment on this later tonight in relation to the conduct of the Prime Minister's task force and Jane Halton, but the blame in this very circumstantial case goes directly back to John Howard.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —The Prime Minister or Mr Howard.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS —The Prime Minister. Some excerpts from the ship's logs had not been made fully public, but there are some excerpts of those logs in my comments. Who, for instance, was intruding between a request from the boarding party at 0751 zulu that women and children be moved off the SIEV, a request, at 1009 zulu, that people be put in the water on the double and then, at 1036 zulu, the comment `contacting parliament on the crisis'? Why on earth would you be contacting parliament between people being put in the water and being put somewhere safely? The time gap between those poor people being put in the water at 1009 and the final instruction that they could go onto the Adelaide was at 1100 zulu. Why did it take 51 minutes for the Prime Minister's office to intrude in this situation rather than just let the Navy get on with their job and the principal imperative relating to safety of life at sea?

I encourage people to look at these logs with this in mind, because there are countless incidents where the Prime Minister's office needed to be consulted, or the Prime Minister responded, when the principal objective—on which the Navy should have been allowed to do their job—was to treat these people with dignity and safety. But this did not occur, because of the much broader agenda of the Howard government and its border protection plan—one that it did not consult the public on and that it implemented during an election period. During a caretaker period, it made a fundamental change in policy. (Time expired)