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Thursday, 2 December 2004
Page: 132


Senator LUDWIG (6:02 PM) —I rise to speak on the Australian Electoral Commission report for 2003-04. There arose an incident in respect of the Electoral Commission, and perhaps I can go into it in a little bit of detail. Under the Electoral Act there is provision for penalties, offences and those sorts of things. Perhaps it is easier to take the Senate through the detail. Two days ago, in question time, Minister Ellison was asked a question about the date on which he was notified by the Australian Federal Police that there was a criminal investigation into Mr Anderson and Senator Sandy Macdonald and the date on which he was advised of termination of the investigation. Minister Ellison said on both counts that he could not recall the dates and would check with his office and notify the Senate.

It took Minister Ellison a couple of days to get back to us in relation to that, which was quite understandable, and he provided a statement today at the conclusion of question time in relation to the question that had been asked by Senator Kirk. It came down to a point regarding the Australian Federal Police protocols that deal with complaints against federal members of parliament. This was a complaint made to the Australian Electoral Commission under their act. His statement said:

Following further advice from the AFP, I wish to inform the Senate that I can confirm the existence of AFP protocols which deal with complaints against Federal Members of Parliament.

The protocols do not require the Australian Federal Police to advise the Minister for Justice and Customs of referrals from the Australian Electoral Commission in relation to breaches of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918.

Therein lies the nub of the issue—that is, when a matter relates to the Australian Electoral Commission, under the protocols the Australian Federal Police are not required to notify the minister. But I will come to that particular issue in a moment. Minister Ellison's statement went on:

As Mr Windsor's complaint involved a direct referral from the AEC to the AFP, I was not informed at the time of the referral of the investigation, however I was advised on 17 November 2004 of the investigation and further advised on 22 November 2004 of its termination.

On 22 November, I was also advised that Mr Anderson and Senator Macdonald—

that is, Sandy Macdonald—

would not be interviewed. As previously stated, I do not intend to canvass this matter any further, as this is a matter for the AFP and Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

That is the answer that was given by Senator Ellison. We do not take issue with that in particular. What we do want to look at is the protocols. I refer to a speech given by the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, Mr Keelty, on 28 August 2001. Although the answer given by Senator Ellison raises a number of issues that do require answering, it appears there is an exception to the policy in respect of the AEC. Mr Keelty said:

An exception from this policy is made in the case of the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) because of the special position that the AEC holds in relation to breaches of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. The AEC may require the AFP—

that is, the Australian Federal Police—

to investigate Opposition members, Government members and or their respective campaign workers regarding possible breaches of the penal provisions of that Act. For this reason, it is crucial that the AEC continue to be seen as an independent body and free from political influence.

It would be helpful if the minister would table the protocols so that we could see whether in this instance there was an exception. His statement raises more questions than it answers. It does not go to the issue of whether the minister followed the protocol, whether there is an exception in that respect or whether there is a requirement or need to clarify this matter a little further. And, of course, it does not go anywhere near the issues of whether the Australian Federal Police should or should not have sought interviews with Senator Sandy Macdonald or Mr Anderson. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.