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Tuesday, 12 November 2002
Page: 6077

Senator CHRIS EVANS (2:28 PM) — Mr President, my question is directed to the Minister for Defence, Senator Hill. Can the minister explain why it has taken more than two years to conduct an internal investigation into claims that war crimes were committed by the SAS in East Timor? If there is no substance to those allegations, don't the troops concerned deserve to have their names cleared as soon as possible? Why, then, haven't more resources been allocated to the investigation, and why does the Australian public have to learn about the investigation from media reports? Will the minister give an assurance that he will make a statement to parliament on the allegations and the investigation and will he also indicate today when that investigation is likely to be concluded?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I have already said publicly that, upon conclusion of that investigation, I will make a statement. I have not considered it appropriate to give a blow-by-blow report of the investigation as it has been progressing. Why is it taking so long? Because it is complex and because it has required interviews not only of Australian personnel but of personnel from other military forces. I have stressed to my department the importance of settling the issues as quickly as possible but, whilst that is obviously a desirable goal, it should not be at the expense of doing it thoroughly. The issues are important. It is in the interests of those against whom allegations have been made and also in the interests of the standing of the ADF and the very high reputation of the Australian Defence Force that the investigations are carried out objectively and thoroughly, and that is what is in fact occurring.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister made the point that these investigations need to be carried out thoroughly and objectively and with some proper due regard to the time taken, in the interests of those accused. Minister, doesn't this again highlight the need for the office of a director of military prosecutions to be established—an office that has been recommended to the government in more than one report over the last few years and that the government was giving active consideration to? When will the government get around to setting up the director of military prosecutions, and won't that assist in resolving issues such as this and the more recent cases to do with the Arunta and others where there seem to have been extraordinary delays in bringing military prosecutions to a conclusion?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —The Arunta allegations I think are in a very different class to what was the principal question. With the Arunta, time issues largely related to process. These are in the first matters the honourable senator raised. They are serious criminal allegations that have to be properly and thoroughly investigated. I think they have been, and of course this has been done in conjunction with the Australian Federal Police. I do not see how a more timely outcome would have been achieved if a person had held the office of prosecutor. As I said, I think the investigation is being conducted thoroughly, objectively and—in the circumstances—in a timely way, although it is important that it be brought to a conclusion as quickly as possible.