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New South Wales: Young Australian of the Year denies drug rumours.

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Wednesday 13 December 2006

New South Wales: Young Australian of the Year denies drug rumours


MARK COLVIN: A high profile young Sydney member of the Federal Government's Muslim Community Ref erence Group is fighting off tabloid media claims about a drug raid. 


Iktimal Hage-Ali has been praised as an articulate voice for young Muslim Australians, and she's been a front-runner for the Young Australian of the Year Award. 


But today it was revealed that Iktimal Hage-Ali was one of four people questioned by Sydney detectives after a drug bust. 


Lindy Kerin reports. 


LINDY KERIN: Iktimal Hage-Ali was announced as the New South Wales Young Australian of the Year last month. 


The popular young Muslim made headlines when she was criticised by members of her community for drinking champagne at the awards ceremony. 


She also gained media attention when she spoke out against the Muslim cleric Sheikh Hilali for his controversial comments about immodestly dressed women. 


IKTIMAL HAGE-ALI: If I can shout from the top of my building, where I'd be here now saying "This does not represent Muslim people", I would. If I could walk around the city with a banner saying, "Please don't take what he has said to represent the Muslim community" I would, because I'm so upset. 


LINDY KERIN: The 22-year-old woman from the Sydney suburb of Punchbowl has a long list of achievements. 


She's the youngest member of the Federal Government's Muslim Community Reference Group and became the voice for young Muslim Australians. She now works in the NSW Attorney-General's department. But today her reputation is under attack. 


A tabloid newspaper which has championed her as a role model for Muslim youth has now reported that she was caught up in a drug bust. 


The Sydney Daily Telegraph says Iktimal Hage-Ali, was one of four people questioned by detectives from the Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad last month. 


She was taken in for questioning about a cocaine supply ring, but released without charges. The three others have been charged and will appear in court. 


Ms Hage-Ali hasn't returned any of PM 's calls, but she has reportedly denied any involvement or links to alleged drug suppliers. 


In law, she retains the right to be considered innocent till proven guilty, but that hasn't stopped the New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma saying that the Government is reviewing Ms Hage-Ali's employment. 


Mr Iemma also suggested she could be stripped of her title of New South Wales Young Australian of the Year. 


MORRIS IEMMA: I understand her position is being reviewed; her employment position is being reviewed by the Attorney-General's department. 


This is an award which is one with the Commonwealth. I'm advised that the rules provide that where there is a matter found against a winner, there is a provision for the award to be stripped.  


LINDY KERIN: The Prime Minister John Howard refused to be drawn into the debate when he was asked about the matter earlier today. 


JOHN HOWARD: Well, it's an unfortunate incident but that is a matter for the New South Wales Police and you would not expect me to comment on it, would you? 


LINDY KERIN: Organisers of the Young Australian of the Year awards have confirmed there are provisions to revoke Ms Hage-Ali's title if that becomes necessary. 


But Sam Iskander who has known Iktimal Hage-Ali and her family for many years says the young woman is being treated unfairly. 


SAM ISKANDER: I was really shocked today when I saw her picture on the news today and I don't believe at all, what was the allegation. And I know the family very, very well. Her family and her, of course, they are very good people. 


MARK COLVIN: Sam Iskander, a family friend of Iktimal Hage-Ali, ending that report by Lindy Kerin.