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Transcript of press conference: 24 April 1994:Comments on Samuels report into ASIS

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Comments on Samuels report into ASIS, media conference, Monday April 21-, 1994

Downer - I want to Bay something this afternoon about the Samuels inquiry into ASIS, the public report of which has been released by Senator Evans into the Senate today, and I wont to make a few points about it. First, as far as the recommendations of the Samuels inquiry are concerned the Coalition is very sympathetic with the proposal that there should be a legislative basis for ASIS. If such legislation is appropriately drafted, and ideally in consultation with the Opposition then I'm sure that legislation could find a smooth passage through the

Parliament. Secondly, there is a recommendation for there to be some degree of parliamentary scrutiny of ASIS. Again the Coalition has some sympathy for that recommendation. Fehrum r_ang E_Lnaa . tor Evans _s_s_r_tb, d lea a. he was not of the view that_Parliamentary scrutiny of ASI$ of any kind was on the wh • - - ikel I tro rate. be Samuels i .0, has take, ; v*.w

ajlisLiti u,v_ AFiLgazu r iat ill find a sypathetic response from the Coalition. That will of course depend entirely on how the process of parliamentary scrutiny is established, how the committee would be structured and what sort of information could be put before that committee. The third point I want to make is the big point.

This ASIS report is a serious and danming indictment of Senator Evans and his administration of his portfolio, the simple facts are these. Back in February 1994, just over a year ago, Senator Evans told the Senate * that l'it is my own judgement

that those cases", that is the cases of the complainants who are addressed in the ASfS report, "it is my own judgement that those eases have been fully and fairly resolved. I have seen the documentation associated with them." The Samuels inquiry

has made it clear that some of the complaints of the complainants were vindicated. the issue of compensation has been raised and the Commonwealth solicitor has written to the lawyer representing the complainants and put forward proposals for entering into negotiations over compensation. We have Senator Evans AO over a

ear a•o I • ',nat. f; 4e had reviewed ". I '• I • ;tion

to • • -- t • at i ! his o •

..ement those C ; • ve been full a . irl

resolved. We have a juke. we have a retired $thareme Court iudge in a judicial inquiry saving that these cases have not been fully and fairly resolved and there was insufficient justice the case of these complainants. Now we've got Senator Evans putting his judgement on the line in the Senate on the 22nd of February, putting his judgement on the line in the Senate, saying that he has reviewed the documentation,

saying that he's satisfied with the way the complainants have been dealt with, we've got a judicial inquiry saying to Senator Evans "you're wrong". Now this is a very serious and a very damning indictment of the way a minister has fulfilled his ministerial responsibilities and Senator Evans stands condemned by this judicial Inquiry for the way in which he's handled these complaints in the past. ...12

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I have, of course, no argument with any of the conclusions of the Samuels inquiry. I believe the exercise has been a very useful exercise, I think it's been important for ASIS to be looked at with this degree of scrutiny in light of what happened on the Four Corners program some time ago. I think on the whole it is a great shame that

these complainants went public. I don't think that one could ever condone that sort of behaviour and I think the Samuels inquiry has quite appropriately referred to that. Never the less, ,MIL Ajgea fonenj_and_Sel_szi lystn_hag_ 51tat s Et I hae and - d th-; : • I/ elai its Li h f.4 eater .:e# "vi ov

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J AE3 a result of these findings what do you say Senator Evans should do?

AD - Well Senator Evans as a minister has been seriously diminished by these findings. His reputation as the Minister for Foreign Affairs has been badly tarnished by this report. the simple fact is that Senator Evans has been hit with a damning indictment of his oversight of his portfolio. he's got to explain that to the Australian

public but it's quite clear Senator Evans is not a man for detail, he's not a man who worries too much about individual people in his care in organisations which come under his portfolio, and he never has worried about that sort of thing.

J - (inaudible) ...isn't it the ease though that this report suggests that concerns about the widespread activities of ASIS are unfounded?

AD - Yeah, but then I've never thought they were likely to be well founded. Some of the suggestions raised about the behaviour of ASIS and ASIS working for foreign governments and the like have alwa y s struck me as being pretty fanciful and I'm glad to see that in that respect ASIS has been vindicated by the report, that's good.

J - Do you have concerns about ASIS?

AD - Look I don't have any great concerns about ASIS as an organisation, no. I think the public's confidence in ASIS will be built through establishing some greater degree of scrutiny of ASIS's activities. For example I do think the idea of having a legislative basis for ASIS is a very good idea and I look forward to seeing the

legislation the government comes forward with. I do think the idea of having some sort of parliamentary oversight of the activities of organisations like this is a good idea. I note that in the UK they have established a committee of parliamentarians

as distinct from an elected parliamentary committee, a committee of parliamentarians which oversees the work of the various British intelligence agencies. By all accounts that works fairly well and a similar sort of arrangement

in Australia I think could be appropriate. i say all that because there needs to be public confidence in ASIS. We need to get away from this concept that somehow ASLS is the most devious and uncontrollable of all animals in public life because the fact is that that isn't true and the Samuels inquiry has made that clear and I'm glad

to see it.

J - You say that some good has come out of this and yet you criticise the whistleblowers?


AD - And so does Samuels, I mean the whistleblowers were right to express concern about the way they have been dealt with. The whistleblowers were wrong to go on the Four Corners program and say many of the sort of things that were said about

ASIS, some Of which have not been vindicated in any case. Now the whistleblowers had to a greater or lesser extent personal grievances that Senator Evans didn't ever

S n ; • or •n6 in ha he whistleblo ere ;.; o II di 'in. • at

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- Where should they have gone then?

AD - Could I just that it's a perfectly fair question because what happened was that in 1991 according to the Australian newspaper there was an internal ASIS inquiry into these allegations and this inquiry expressed deep concern about some of the management techniques within ASIS. senator Evans did nothing about that so for

three years nothing happened, Senator Evans read the documentation came to the conclusion it was all fine and then those people went on the Four Corners program. Now they had no choice but to continue to call for justice. They should not, in my view, have gone on a public television program. They should have found other ways of pursuing their individual grievances.

J - It's not much good blowing a whistle in private.

AD - Well there are lots of different sorts of people that they could have continued to talk to, now the extent they did or didn't I don't know, I wasn't involved in the portfolio at the time. They certainly never approached me in all of that period so I don't know who they talked to and what the details are. All I want to say is that if you join, an organisation like ASIS you don't only have legal obligations you have

moral obligations and obligations to Australia to ensure you behave in a proper manner but I also have to say that these people were not, in their personnel relations, dealt with well by the ASIS management nor by Senator Evans, The fact that Senator Evans simply dismissed their complaints for so long does suggest that

Senator Evans himself is responsible for some of the consequences that flowed from that.

J Senator Evans has called you opportunistic in your role in this. How do you respond to that?

AD - Poor old Senator Evans, you know whit a short fuse he has. Any day, any point of criticism and Senator Evans will explode. I never think it's a great idea to have a foreign minister who explodes to easily, it's always good to have a coal head in a portfolio like that. Poor old Senator Evans is a bit hot-headed, always has been

as we all know. The serious point that comes out of this isn't some allegation that I'm opportunistic or something coming from Senator Evans. The serious point is that this is a damning indictment of the way that Senator Evans has handled the cases of the whistieblowers as they've become known in ASIS. It's a serious

indictment of that. ..,/4


He can make his trivial party political points, thee fine, that's just part of his behaviour_ But the serious point here is the damning indictment by the Samuels inquiry of the behaviour of Senator Evans in relation to the former officers who have grievances.

J - Are you happy with the way the report dealt with the mysterious fire?

AD - Yes I am. I also note that the fire has been given consideration by authorities in Canberra and any suggestion of foul play has been discounted all around. I think it's fairly clear the fire started as a result of an electrical fault involving a computer and there is no other explanation for it. But I also have to say that from all I undertsand what was burnt was not of any great moment.

* From Senate Estimates Hansard, 22 Feb 1994

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