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Democrats will discuss re-opening children overboard inquiry.



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PM

 

Monday 16 August 2004

Democrats to discuss re-opening of children overboard inquiry

 

MARK COLVIN: Now on the Senate committee that looked into the whole children overboard affair, one of the members was Senator Andrew Bartlett, the leader of the Australian Democrats. 

 

He joins us now to talk to Alexandra Kirk in Canberra. 

 

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Andrew Bartlett, your Senate colleague, Greens leader Bob Brown says that Mr Howard should resign in the wake of these revelations. Do you agree? 

 

ANDREW BARTLETT: Oh, look, I think John Howard long ago gave up any real right to have the ability to make the sorts of decisions that prime ministers make, because he's quite clearly not willing to tell the truth. But you know, the Australian public get to decide that for themselves soon enough at the election. I'd simply say this episode emphasises you know, whether we got Mr Howard back again or Mr Latham, we sure as hell need the strongest possible Senate there to reveal the truth when they try and get away with these sort of lies. 

 

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Well Mr Howard says that he stands by his previous statements. He says that he only discussed with Mr Scrafton - that is the defence adviser for the former defence minister, Peter Reith - one issue that is the defence video, and that is all they discussed. He says that Mr Scrafton told him that the video was inconclusive. As a result, the Prime Minister decided that the video should be released. You don't accept that? 

 

ANDREW BARTLETT: Look, I don't. I mean, people can judge for themselves come election day, but the fact is that Mr Howard has form on this, of never admitting the truth, never correcting the record, having to be dragged every single inch of the way to reveal the truth. 

 

And that's what the Senate committee did, but it could only drag things a certain distance, because we weren't able to subpoena people, or the committee decided not to subpoena people, despite my efforts to do otherwise. 

 

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Isn't that a central problem, that you weren't able to question Mr Scrafton? 

 

ANDREW BARTLETT: Well it is a central problem, and Mr Scrafton's letter today said that one of the reasons he didn't accept the committee's invitation to give evidence was because he wasn't subpoenaed, and I said at the time that we should be subpoenaing some of these people - particularly Peter Reith - and put the pressure on to get to the truth and not let them off lightly. 

 

But you know, the fact is, it's the Senate that revealed the truth as far as we could get a couple of years ago, and it shows really that the Senate's the only protection against dishonesty in government, whether we have stuck with John Howard again or whether we get a new person through Mark Latham, I don't think you can expect that he's going to be a paragon of honesty. 

 

We're gonna… you know, you need a Senate that's gonna be as tough as possible with these people. 

 

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But the senate inquiry didn't get to the bottom of this matter. Are you now considering reopening the inquiry? Is that possible? 

 

ANDREW BARTLETT: Oh, it's possible to implore a Senate committee to re-examine this issue, and some of the other great unanswered questions, including surrounding the tragedy of 353 people drowning in the SIEV-X , but the Senate doesn't resume for a couple of weeks, so we've got a bit of time to examine that. 

 

But again I think, you know, the history and record of this Government shows that they'll still try and do everything they can to hide from the truth, to cover-up the truth or try and use weasel words to try and squirm their way out of it, and that will still be a consistent fact right up to when the election is, and whenever it is I think it shows that we'll still need a damn strong Senate after the election to try and get back that honesty that Mr Scrafton now recognises is essential. 

 

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But just on this issue, are you considering reopening the inquiry? Is that something that you would put to the members of the previous children overboard inquiry? 

 

ANDREW BARTLETT: Oh certainly the Democrats will discuss with the other members of the committee from the time, but it would be up to the Senate itself as a whole, it would have to reinstitute it. 

 

We're quite happy to pursue those options. As always, we'll pursue every avenue to try and get to the truth I think for the refugees in particular deserve it, as well as the Australian people who are so thoroughly mislead on the eve of an election to the entire National Press Club. 

 

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Andrew Bartlett, thank you. 

 

ANDREW BARTLETT: Thank you. 

 

MARK COLVIN: Senator Andrew Bartlett was speaking to Alexandra Kirk.