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Shadow Minister discusses claims by Lt-Col Lance Collins on reliability of defence intelligence and allegations of bullying in the defence forces.

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Wednesday, 27 July 2005



FRAN KELLY: As our Special Forces prepare to return to active duty in Afghanistan, fresh concerns are being aired this week about the reliability of one of their most basic tools in the field—intelligence. On the ABC’s Australian story this week, Lieutenant-Colonel Lance Collins told his story about being targeted and punished by the defence establishment for daring to tell the truth, in his words, about the political situation on the ground in East Timor five years ago.


He repeated claims exposed previously of a Jakarta lobby in Defence and government which didn’t want to hear the truth about Indonesian-backed militia and his most serious charge that, as payback for speaking out, a vital intelligence satellite link to the troops on the ground in East Timor was cut off for 24 hours.


The opposition says the complaints raised by Lieutenant-Colonel Lance Collins go to the reliability of military intelligence and the subsequent investigation of those complaints casts yet more doubts on the system of justice within the armed forces.


Well, Robert McClelland is Labor’s defence spokesman; he joins us now. Robert McClelland, welcome to the program.




FRAN KELLY: This all stems from the complaints made by Lance Collins who claimed that a vital intelligence link was cut off for 24 hours in December 1999. He says that claim has now been verified, but we haven’t seen a report saying so yet, have we?


ROBERT McCLELLAND: No, we haven’t, that’s the trouble. Ian Carnell, whose job is to inspect and report on these sorts of matters, the Inspector-General of Security and Intelligence, has provided a report to the government. That was noted, if you like, by Minister Hill on the last night parliament sat last year, but is yet to be released by the government. And that, in itself, is very concerning and must obviously be more than a little frustrating for Lieutenant Collins.


FRAN KELLY: General Cosgrove, who of course was in charge in East Timor at the time, has said since—there’s been a number of inquiries into this matter—he’s said since that it wasn’t an issue. In fact, I think he said that it hadn’t happened originally. I mean, how important, in your view, was this, cutting the intelligence line? What does that mean, and what did it mean for the soldiers on the ground?


ROBERT McCLELLAND: Well, it begs the question the importance for what. I mean, effectively the direction was for them not to obtain intelligence as to what was going on in West Timor, which included atrocities committed against East Timorese refugees as well, of course, as the activities of the militia, which activity of the militia was obviously directly relevant to what potentially might happen in East Timor. Effectively the intelligence men and women on the ground were directed to shut their eyes to what was happening in West Timor, which obviously could have been directly relevant, not only to these atrocities occurring but directly relevant to the safety of their comrades, Australian serving men and women in East Timor. So potentially it’s a very, very serious issue.


FRAN KELLY: This all goes to questions about the culture within the Eefence hierarchy, Defence intelligence hierarchy, doesn’t it? Lieutenant-Colonel Lance Collins is quitting the Army. He says he can’t bear it any more—that’s what he said in this Australian story this week. He described a culture of ingrained bullying and recrimination. He believes his career was clearly curtailed as was the career of the lawyer brought in, Martin Toohey, to investigate his claims. How serious and how concerned are you about these allegations or this picture of this culture?


ROBERT McCLELLAND: Well, they were confirmed in the Senate committee report on military justice. It was a bipartisan report. Both sides of the parliament said what was occurring wasn’t good enough in a whole range of areas including administrative review procedures, delay, and just not looking at issues objectively. Certainly in the case of Lieutenant Collins it seems worse than that. It seems not only a failure to consider his concerns objectively but more than that, more an actual program of victimisation against him. That is, if you like, reprehensible.


Here’s a fellow on the ground—I’ve never met him but he struck me in the interview as being a particularly genuine and sincere sort of person—here’s a fellow who’s entrusted with obtaining intelligence to protect our servicemen and women obviously deeply concerned that that intelligence is being neutered or limited, expressing his concern. As a result of expressing his concern and the way he was treated, made his own internal complaint, at least at one level verified and then subsequently, in the broader allegation, confirmed by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, yet he’s been subject to what appears to be a program of  worse than lack of objectivity, actual victimisation. And that’s a very concerning culture.


FRAN KELLY: We approached the Minister yesterday for an interview but he was unavailable. But given the new CDF, the Chief of Defence Forces, Angus Houston has indicated a zero tolerance policy to bullying in the Defence Forces, are you heartened by that?


ROBERT McCLELLAND: He’s shown himself to be a particularly genuine bloke when it comes to revealing the facts and the truth and we’re heartened by his statement on day one to that effect.




ROBERT McCLELLAND: It involves more than that, though, doesn’t it? It must have commitment from the government and we’re yet to see firstly the report into Lieutenant Collins’ allegations but also the government’s response to the military justice inquiry. So they have a lot of work to do.


FRAN KELLY: Just going back finally to Lance Collins’ claims. One claim he made was that there was a pro-Jakarta lobby that existed within Defence Intelligence Organisation. Now, that claim was upheld by the military barrister brought in to check his claims, Martin Toohey. Labor, of course, was a key proponent of the Jakarta lobby, wasn’t it, for many years? Labor defended the annexation of East Timor for very many years. It’s a culture that Labor, in part, created.


ROBERT McCLELLAND: Indeed there may be justification for having close relations with Indonesian military in respect to the fight against terrorism and so forth, but irrespective of that that doesn’t justify victimising a person for doing his job, and that job was collecting intelligence to protect our servicemen and women.


FRAN KELLY: No, but you accept the fact there is, or was, a pro-Jakarta lobby within perhaps Foreign Affairs, Defence?


ROBERT McCLELLAND: I think it’s always been the case that the Labor Party said our relationship with Indonesia is vitally important from a regional security point of view and I think, regrettably, subsequent events—in particular after September 11—has shown that’s relationship is also vitally important for the fight against terrorism. But that doesn’t mean that you turn a blind eye to anything that’s occurring that may be implicated. I mean, we’re talking about the activities of militia in West Timor in terms of atrocities committed against East Timorese refugees and so forth. It doesn’t mean that any responsible democracy can close their eyes to that sort of activity because of any domestic or bilateral relationship. I mean, the issues are bigger than that.


FRAN KELLY: We all remember 1975. Robert McClelland, thank you very much for your time.


ROBERT McCLELLAND: It’s a pleasure.


FRAN KELLY: Robert McClelland, Labor’s defence spokesperson.