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Senator is angry that parliamentary report on Iraqi intelligence was distributed prior to its official release.



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This transcript has been prepared by a source external to the Department of the Parliamentary Library.

 

It may not have been checked against the broadcast or in any other way. Freedom from error, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.

 

For the purposes of quoting verbatim from a transcript, it is advisable to verify the transcript against the broadcast.

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PM

 

Monday 16 February 2004

Senator is angry that parliamentary report on Iraqi intelligence was distributed prior to its official release

 

MARK COLVIN: While Australia still a waits the verdict of the Parliamentary Joint Intelligence Committee on weapons of mass destruction, the senior Labor Senator, Robert Ray, is furious at the number of powerful people who have already been allowed to read it.  

 

Senator Ray today angrily attacked the decision to distribute copies of the report to Ministers and to the Prime Minister. Senator Ray, who is a member of the Joint Committee, says the matter is verging on a breach of parliamentary privilege.  

 

Louise Yaxley reports. 

 

LOUISE YAXLEY: The inquiry by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Intelligence Services has examined the accuracy of the assessments Australian agencies generated and received from their allies and whether the Government distorted that intelligence in any way.  

 

The decision to send the report back to the agencies for checking has already been labelled as censorship by the Greens, and during Senate Estimates today, Senator Ray discovered it had been distributed more widely than he thought it would be, and he's angry, as was clear in this exchange with Andrew Metcalf, from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.  

 

ROBERT RAY: So tell me the officers that have had, outside ONA (Office of National Assessments), in the department, that have had access to this report?  

 

ANDREW METCALF: As I've said a very small number of senior officers. 

 

ROBERT RAY: Well how many? 

 

ANDREW METCALF: I'd say it would be no more than two or three. 

 

ROBERT RAY: Well how many copies of this report have been made? 

 

ANDREW METCALF: I'll have to check on that, Senator. 

 

ROBERT RAY: Well I think it's very important for the rest of our discussion here to know whether the report has been copied. I mean, look, no one wants these issues mixed up with parliamentary privilege, but let me tell you, you're right on the edge of it here, in terms of previous cases, of having offended parliamentary privilege if this document has been circulated in the way you describe. That's why we're trying to narrow it down and I mean, it was anticipated, and it wasn't anticipated "oh well we'll get a preview here." 

 

Well has any response been prepared and advice for Ministers - I'm not asking what the advice is - on this? 

 

ANDREW METCALF: A briefing has been provided to the Prime Minister on the major conclusions of the inquiry. 

 

ROBERT RAY: That is disgraceful. I'm sorry, that is absolutely disgraceful behaviour. It wasn't provided for that reason. No parliamentary committee report is provided for that reason, so you can get a preview, provide advice… 

 

ANDREW METCALF: Well … 

 

ROBERT RAY: … and then sweat on the report coming out. It's just not on. 

 

LOUISE YAXLEY: Mr Metcalf defended the decision to distribute the report and says the Prime Minister did not want it used for political purposes.  

 

ANDREW METCALF: The Prime Minister's made it very clear that the Government would not be utilising or in any way commenting on the report other than within the very narrow terms of the request that was made.  

 

LOUISE YAXLEY: Senator Ray says the distribution of the report is close to a breach of privilege.  

 

ROBERT RAY: Previous Privilege Committee reports have drawn attention to departments time and time again about their responsibilities in terms of reports. You know that, Minister, that on two or three occasions reports have been given onto departments, contempt of the Senate's been found … sorry, breach of privilege's been found. We've never gone on to a contempt finding, because most of it was innocent. 

 

LOUISE YAXLEY: The Defence Minister, Robert Hill, says the advice from the Committee Chairman, David Jull, wasn't as clear as Senator Ray believes it was. 

 

ROBERT HILL: And then it goes on to say the implication is that it can be sent, well, not more broadly than necessary to departments. Now the implication in that is that it may well be appropriate that it go to departments, in his case, his Department's Prime Minister and Cabinet.  

 

ROBERT RAY: It's entirely different, and Senator Hill your point would be more valid if it wasn't for paragraph two, which states the purpose, you know? These are the grounds that you have access for the report. To make comment on these grounds, not to get a head start, a political start knowing what's in a committee, knowing that for the next three weeks, with your knowledge of what's in the committee report you can make public statements that dovetail in, and start inoculating yourself. Of course that's the exercise. 

 

MARK COLVIN: Labor Senator Robert Ray, ending Louise Yaxley's report.