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FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
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FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
Senator CHRIS EVANS
Senator JACINTA COLLINS
Major Gen. Powell
Air Marshal Houston
Major Gen. Powell
Vice Adm. Shackleton
Lt Gen. Mueller
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FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
(SENATE-Wednesday, 20 February 2002)
- Start of Business
FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE PORTFOLIO
- Australian Trade Commission (Austrade)
- Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
- Senator Abetz
- DEFENCE PORTFOLIO
Content WindowFOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE LEGISLATION COMMITTEE - 20/02/2002 - DEFENCE PORTFOLIO
CHAIR —I declare open this meeting of the Senate Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Legislation Committee and I welcome back Senator Hill, the Minister for Defence. I welcome Admiral Barrie, Mr Mick Roche and other officers of your department and serving personnel. Today's hearing will be suspended between 6.30 and 7.30 for dinner. The committee will consider particulars of the proposed expenditure for the Department of Defence, Defence Housing Authority and the Department of Veterans' Affairs, in that order. The Department of Veterans' Affairs will be on Friday morning.
The committee has before it the particulars of proposed expenditure for the service of the year ending 30 June 2002, documents A and B, and the portfolio additional estimates statement for the Department of Defence. The committee will first consider the portfolio overview and major corporate issues. We will then move on to outputs, business processes and people. When written questions on notice are received, the chair will state for the record the name of the senator who submitted the questions. The questions will be forwarded to the department for an answer. The committee has resolved that the deadline for the provision of answers to questions taken on notice at these hearings is Wednesday, 27 March 2002.
I remind colleagues that the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee is continuing to monitor the format and the contents of the portfolio budget statements. So if you have any comments you wish to make about these documents, please place them on the public record during these estimates hearings or direct them to that particular committee.
Witnesses are reminded that the evidence given to the committee is protected by parliamentary privilege. I also remind witnesses that giving false or misleading evidence to the committee may constitute a contempt of the Senate. The Senate has resolved that there are no areas in connection with the expenditure of public funds where any person has a discretion to withhold details or explanations from the parliament or its committees unless the parliament has expressly provided otherwise. An officer of a department of the Commonwealth shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy. However, you may be asked to explain government policy, describe how it differs from alternative policies and provide information on the process by which a particular policy was selected. An officer shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked to another officer, to superior officers or to the minister. Minister, do you or any officer wish to make an opening statement?
Senator Hill —No.
CHAIR —We will proceed to questions on the portfolio overview.
Senator FAULKNER —I would like to ask a general question very similar to the first one I asked in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and goes to the question of the backing-up of the email records in and out of Defence. It is probably best directed to you, I suspect, Mr Roche. I am not sure, but I am sure you will quickly correct me if you are not the right person to deal with it.
Mr Roche —I think you need an expert on this one.
Senator FAULKNER —Right. Perhaps Mr Hannan can help. Mr Hannan, I am interested in understanding what the practices are, both in the Department of Defence and also in the ADF in relation to the backing-up of email traffic in the first instance. Perhaps you could just inform the committee what the situation is.
Mr Hannan —Emails are backed up daily, weekly and monthly. The tapes are reused: once seven days have expired, the daily ones are backed up; similarly, once four weeks have expired, the weekly ones are; and the monthly ones are retained for 12 months. That applies to both the restricted and the secret systems.
—Thanks very much for that. It sounds in the broad to be a generally similar approach to that the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet takes. That is helpful. You could just confirm for us that that is for both incoming and outgoing email traffic.
Mr Hannan —All email traffic, with the exception of emails that are received and deleted on the same day: they will not be in the back-up. But anything that is in the in-box or the sent box will be backed up.
Senator FAULKNER —I see. Thanks for that. Because these tapes are kept for 12 months, how does reusing that material work? Give or take a week or so, do you basically reuse perhaps a week's email record after 12 months? Is that how it works?
Mr Hannan —No, there are three different sets of tapes. So for the daily ones, at the end of the week there is a differential back-up done for the week, and then the entire month's work is kept at the end of that four-week period. So everything in that month is then kept for 12 months.
Senator FAULKNER —So it would be like a rolling—
Mr Hannan —It is a rolling program.
Senator FAULKNER —A rolling program, yes. So you would drop a month off after you had 13 months, effectively.
Mr Hannan —Yes.
Senator FAULKNER —I understand. Thanks for that. What about telephonic records, please, Mr Hannan?
Mr Hannan —Where they are available, the telephone records are kept for three years. Not all PABXs are equipped with telephone information management systems and appropriate recording devices, although those in Canberra are. For all outgoing calls, the records of call activity are the extension number called, and time and duration of the call. For incoming calls, they do not include the calling party. Calls between PABXs are also recorded. Calls within PABXs—that is, within Russell complex, for example—are not recorded.
Senator FAULKNER —Just for the benefit of the committee, on this issue, Mr Hannan, can you just define `recorded' for us?
Mr Hannan —That is the detail of the transaction for the purposes of, for example, confirmation of billing. As I said, it is the extension number, the time and the duration.
Senator FAULKNER —So it is number, call time and call duration?
Mr Hannan —And called extension from internal to outside.
Senator FAULKNER —What is the case for home telephones for senior departmental or ADF personnel?
Mr Hannan —There are some semi-official phones. The majority of those phones are paid for by individuals and a reimbursement sought. There are records for those the department pays for directly. If I recall—and I do not pay too much attention to these matters—for the majority of senior people, star rank and SES, we cashed out the semi-official phone entitlement, if you like, as part of salary packaging. So it tends to be senior officers we are dealing with on these matters.
Senator FAULKNER —So these records might be available for basically a limited number of senior officers?
Mr Hannan —A limited number, but the majority of those are getting reimbursement, so it is proof of payment and we do not obviously, therefore, get the call records.
Senator FAULKNER —We probably should cover the other type of phones—mobile phones—while we are at it.
Mr Hannan —Official mobile phone accounts, including call records, are maintained.
Senator FAULKNER —What period are they maintained for?
Mr Hannan —I think it is for a three-year period. I think it is part of the accounting record.
Senator FAULKNER —That is very helpful and I appreciate that information, Mr Hannan. I do want to go onto another issue. I am not sure whether this is in your bailiwick or someone else's, but no doubt you will help me. I wondered if it either is the situation or was the situation that phone calls in and out of Defence command centres are recorded? I am using `recorded' here in the sense of what would happen in police departments and with emergency services and so forth.
Mr Hannan —Senator, I am sorry; I do not know the answer to that.
Senator FAULKNER —I will have to direct that elsewhere, to someone who might assist me.
Senator Hill —Do we have anyone who knows the answer to that? We might have to get you an answer on that.
—Minister, someone may be able to help me. What I would like to know is whether phone calls both into and out of Defence command centres and operational areas are recorded, as happens with a lot of emergency services? Depending on the nature of the answer I might follow that up. I am not sure whether this is a matter for you, Admiral Barrie, or for Mr Roche, but do you think it would be possible for that to be chased up over the break?
Mr Roche —Inquiries are being made, Senator.
Senator FAULKNER —I appreciate that; thank you very much. I might come back to that at—
Senator Hill —I suspect the answer is: it depends.
Senator FAULKNER —If that is the answer, let me flag that we might just explore `when it depends'. You might be able to give us some information on that a little later on. Admiral Barrie, if I can, perhaps I will direct a question to you in relation to the children overboard issue. Briefly, there is a lot of concern here—certainly on the part of opposition senators, and I believe it is far more widespread—that, during this fiasco, the public was misled. The issue— and listen, Senator Hill, because you may even agree—
Senator Hill —Is this is an opening statement, Senator?
Senator FAULKNER —No, just one sentence and then I will move to a question. The issue is that, throughout the election campaign, it did not appear that anyone who knew the true facts was willing or able to set the public record straight. Having said that—and I think it is only fair to put it in that context—
Senator Hill —That is very coloured. You start with a prejudice and then get around to asking some questions. Why is it necessary to colour it like that? That is totally out of order.
Senator FAULKNER —Having said that, I might say to Admiral Barrie that it is clear from the two reports that the Prime Minister has tabled that it was the Department of Defence and the ADF that made the most strenuous efforts to set the record straight. I want to ask you, Admiral Barrie: do you believe that those efforts failed?
Adm. Barrie —I would like to answer that question in the context of the circumstances of October and November, because I think it is an important set of contexts in which to place the answer that I am about to give. The first thing to really say is that the month of October 2001, which I am sure everyone will remember, had as the priority of issues: firstly, Australia's response to the events of 11 September; secondly, the collapse of the Ansett airline; and, thirdly, some unrest in the inner archipelago and other areas. So I am placing that in context to say that this was a period in which the Australian Defence Force, which I command, was exceedingly busy. We were, as everybody knows, involved in operations off Northern Australia which resulted in the issues that are of interest.
For my own part, there is a range of communications and other discussions—and I will go through those in a minute—but I ought to say that, by and large, my recollections are of a general nature. I did not spend the entire time in the country. I did go to Washington, I did go to Hawaii, I did go to FPDA and I did go to East Timor. There is, in the reports in front of the parliament, a chronology assembled by General Powell as to events—I do not propose to go over those—and, of course, that chronology is an assessment of what took place, when and so on and so forth. Finally, as part of that context, I ought to say that I have the utmost admiration for the young people of the Australian Defence Force who were doing the job off Northern Australia. It is tough work. It takes a lot of courage. They can do the job and, in fact, I think they have done it remarkably well. I am very proud of their efforts. In a way, I just wanted to use this opportunity to say how much I am impressed by what they are able to do, and that is in conjunction with the commitments in East Timor and Afghanistan—all of that. So it was a very busy period.
I was the Chief of the Defence Force effectively for the period from 4 October through to 25 October, when I began to travel to East Timor, FPDA and to the Chiefs of Defence Conference in Hawaii. In that period the incident about children overboard arose, from my recollection, on 6 October. That was a Sunday morning. My recollection is that the Commander Australian Theatre called me reasonably early in the morning to say that HMAS Adelaide had intercepted a boat and that there had been a report that people were being thrown over the side.
Senator Hill —It was Sunday; I think you said Saturday.
Adm. Barrie —I meant Sunday. If I said Saturday, I am mistaken. But I think the date is right—that is, the 6th.
Senator Hill —The 7th.
—Yes, the 7th. I was not surprised by the report, simply because this is the nature of this sort of work and it is the nature of the responses these people engage in. There is quite a long history of defence forces being involved in these operations, and that is certainly typical. However, for these events it was a new turn. We had not seen it before, although I think we were well aware that a considerable level of briefing was occurring at the ports of departure on how to try and counter our efforts to stop this activity. I immediately rang the Minister for Defence, because I thought it was an important turn of events. Moreover, I was concerned that we might end up with all of these people in the water in the next few hours, and that would be a very serious issue. As events unfolded on that particular day, things quietened down once Adelaide was able to establish its boarding parties on board, and it is my recollection that I had no further need to communicate with Commander Australian Theatre on the Sunday.
On the Monday, efforts were now being made to prepare this particular vessel to be made seaworthy to be returned to the place from which it came. But the boarding party from Adelaide experienced a substantial amount of difficulty making any progress. On the Monday evening, as part of the process of trying to return this vessel, it foundered, and we ended up with all of these people in the water plus a few of our own. We transitioned from an operation in support of government policy to what I would call a safety of life at sea operation, where the commanding officer's priority very clearly is the saving of all the lives of the people that were threatened.
It is normal standard operating procedure to take photographs and videos of boarding operations as part of due process. It comes out of a long experience of having some evidentiary material if there are further proceedings. There have been occasions in the past when boarding operations have not proceeded according to Hoyle and it has been necessary to have a subsequent investigation. On this occasion, although I did not know it until General Powell had completed his report, hundreds of photographs were collected. It does seem to me that there was a great deal of confusion about which were official photographs, which were private photographs and which were photographs pertaining to particular situations over that period of time. Nonetheless, those photographs themselves are a visual record of some of the things that occurred.
In the context of photographs and the judgment about people being thrown or put over the side, the photographs themselves do not constitute the entire evidentiary material. They certainly support witness statements, perceptions formed by the commanding officer and those sorts of things. It is my view that the commanding officer's initial report which was reported to me on the Sunday in the subsequent events while I was CDF ought to stand—that is, he reported that people were thrown over the side. Although there was discussion and doubt about some of the evidentiary material, it was my judgment that the commanding officer ought to be supported and his judgment ought to stand.
After that time there was a great deal of confusion about the handling of photographic material. I had a number of conversations with the minister about the handling of photographic material. Without the benefit of having seen any of the photographs, let me recount that particular aspect. On about the Wednesday—it may have been Tuesday—I was telephoned by Minister Reith and I was asked if there would be any problem if these photographs that he had in his hand were to be released into the public domain. My response was along the lines that I could see no reason why those photographs could not be released provided there were no operational security implications. The boat had foundered the previous night. All the people had been rescued. I could see no prospect that there would be the need for those photographs to be kept away. I arranged for the head of Strategic Command to make that call, to telephone the minister in due course and give him the clearance to use those photographs that he had in whichever way he wanted.
In the subsequent media reporting there were concerns raised about the connections as to which photographs attached to which particular part of the incidents on Sunday and Monday. I do not recall the television proceedings precisely or any of the other media reporting, except to say that there was clearly a connection made between this particular set of photographs and the events of Sunday morning when I reported, and others had reported, to Minister Reith that people had been put over the side.
The following day there was a discussion—certainly a phone call—between the minister and me, and I think between others and the minister's office, about that particular issue. On my side of it, the issue was, firstly, one of the confusion and, secondly, the difficulty of a discussion about what he was holding in his hand and what I have not got holding in my hand because I have not seen the particular material that he has got. We came to an agreement that in future, if we were talking about this sort of material, we ought to make sure that we have both got copies of the same material so we are talking about the same thing.
Finally, in respect of the children overboard or the people overboard report, I did have discussions with the Commander Australian Theatre, with the Chief of Navy, and I think with the Maritime Commander—although I cannot be sure—which pointed to the fact that none of the photographic material proved that fact that I had talked to the minister about on the Sunday. But I have to say I was never persuaded myself that there was compelling evidence that the initial report of the commanding officer was wrong. It was my view that the photographs were simply part of evidentiary material. The really important aspects of this are witness statements and perceptions, and that initial report, so far as I was concerned, ought to stand. I never sought to recant that advice which I originally gave to the minister.
It is my understanding that, during a period of absence overseas, the acting CDF at the time had a discussion with the minister about the accuracy of that advice. The acting CDF at the time was Air Marshal Houston, and I think it would be better if he were to convey the contents of that discussion.
Senator FAULKNER —Thank you, Admiral Barrie. Can I say that the committee appreciates your putting those matters on the record. I will perhaps go to the acting CDF in a moment because you have raised that issue and it might be useful to have that on the table for the benefit of committee members. However, before we move to that, I think it is clear from the reports that Defence and the ADF do make the most strenuous efforts of the relevant agencies to correct the record. My question to you was: do you think those efforts failed? Would you agree that those efforts failed?
Admiral Barrie —For my own part, I cannot. I have asked myself: should I have made a lot more effort in discussing with others those doubts that have been expressed to me? To be candid about it, my job is to be the principal military adviser to the government. I had in my mind the events that were unfolding with Adelaide and, frankly, only Adelaide was there at the time. It was my persistent view, until November, that there was no compelling evidence to show that the CO Adelaide's call was wrong. My view—and it goes to the heart of this—is that my people had those discussions with me but I was not persuaded that there was compelling evidence that the CO of Adelaide was wrong. Evidentiary material or photographs, which are simply part of that, do not tell the whole story.
Senator FAULKNER —I do not want to get bogged down on this. I ask you this question in a sense more broadly than just your personal experience in this matter, but as the CDF.
Admiral Barrie —If the advice I have given to the government is wrong, it is my duty to correct that advice. There is no question of that.
Senator Hill —Perhaps Senator Faulkner could clarify what aspect he is referring to, because he has put the question in very broad and somewhat imprecise terms.
Senator FAULKNER —I was asking the CDF, Minister, whether he felt that Defence attempted—and I think serious and strenuous attempts were made—to set the record straight. That is why I wanted to put my own comments in context.
Senator Hill —In relation to the photographs?
Senator FAULKNER —In relation to the whole fiasco, as I describe the matter. There are two problems here, Minister. You asked me to define it and I will.
Senator Hill —That is because you try to blend it together because that suits your purposes.
Senator FAULKNER —Look, Minister, I do not want to get bogged down on this. There are two key issues here. Point one is the fact that the reports of children being thrown overboard were incorrect. Point two is that the photographs of children in the water were not actually photographs of kids who had been thrown overboard. That is what my question referred to.
Senator Hill —That is a conclusion. What has been found is that there is no evidence to support that they were thrown overboard, other than the statements made by the relevant military officers at the time.
Senator FAULKNER —I do not think it is worth while getting bogged down on this because my very general opening question to CDF went to him as CDF. I thought there might be something he would care to add.
Admiral Barrie —I can add a bit more detail, Mr Chairman. First of all, after the confusion about photographs, at the end of that week I rang COMAST and said something along the lines—
Senator Hill —Please identify who that was.
Admiral Barrie —Commander Australian Theatre. I said, something along the lines of, `While this is fresh in everybody's minds—all the witnesses, anyone involved in this stuff— statements ought to be collected; all the evidentiary material ought to be collated. It ought to be put in one place, just in case there are any further proceedings.' It seemed to me to be a natural precaution, given the sort of confusion that had happened in the middle of that week. On the second part of that, it was quite clear to me, having come back from the chiefs of defence conference, that we really did have a situation of more confusion about who said what, when and where. That, frankly, is why I commissioned the report by General Powell. I wanted to try to get to the bottom of what really happened, and whether there were things that we ought to undertake to make sure that does not happen again.
Senator FAULKNER —Thank you, Admiral Barrie. You mentioned earlier that you were in Australia from 4 to 25 October. Could I ask you, for the rest of the relevant period—I am defining relevant period here until 10 November—to indicate who was acting CDF from 25 October to 10 November?
—We ought to give you a more formal answer on this because my recollection will be a little flawed. In the period that I was in East Timor, that is 25-26 October, I retained the command responsibility. In the period 29 October through 2 November, I think the Vice Chief of the Defence Force was the acting chief. In the period 6 to 10 November, the duty passed from the Chief of the Army to the Chief of the Air Force. So one was Acting CDF for two days and the other was Acting CDF for another two days.
Senator FAULKNER —The reason I ask is because of the comment you made at the end of your first answer in relation to Air Marshal Houston. I was trying to establish when Air Marshal Houston was Acting CDF.
Adm. Barrie —I can confirm that on 7 November Air Marshal Houston was the Acting Chief of the Defence Force.
Senator FAULKNER —Mr Chairman, just following through the information that Admiral Barrie has provided for the benefit of the committee, could I ask Air Marshal Houston one or two follow-up question? I think they flow from CDF's evidence.
CHAIR —Air Marshal Houston.
Senator FAULKNER —I just wanted to follow up the matter raised by Admiral Barrie in answer to my first question. Admiral Barrie has indicated to us that you were Acting CDF on 7 November.
Air Marshal Houston —That is correct. I was Acting CDF on 6 and 7 November.
Senator FAULKNER —Air Marshal, did you have contact with Minister Reith or Minister Reith's office on either 6 or 7 November, in relation to the children overboard issue—either its veracity, or the veracity of the photographs?
Air Marshal Houston —Yes, I did. I spoke to Minister Reith on the 7th.
Senator FAULKNER —You spoke to Minister Reith on the 7th. Did you speak to him in person or on the telephone?
Air Marshal Houston —I spoke to him on the telephone around the middle of the day. I spoke to him on the 7th in the middle of the day.
Senator FAULKNER —Thank you. By telephone?
Air Marshal Houston —By telephone. I believe he was in Adelaide at the time.
Senator FAULKNER —Did you provide then Minister Reith with advice on the children overboard issue?
Air Marshal Houston —Yes, I did.
Senator FAULKNER —Would you be able to share with the committee the nature of the advice you provided to the minister?
Air Marshal Houston —On the morning of 7 November there was an article in the Australian that basically cast a lot of doubt about the photographs and raised some questions about the events of 7 and 8 October. As a consequence of that, I first of all got in touch with the head of Strategic Command, Air Vice Marshal Titheridge. We had a brief discussion about the article and talked through some of the events. I cannot recall in detail what we talked about, but the phone call probably lasted about five or 10 minutes. We also talked about the Navy video that had, I think, been raised in that article in the Australian. From my notes, I recorded that the video was grainy, it was very hard to see what was happening and basically it was inconclusive. We talked about that.
After that I went down to CDF's office and I engaged with his chief of staff, Group Captain Greg Evans, and also Brigadier Gary Bornholt. Gary Bornholt was the public affairs officer in question. We then had a discussion about the article. It became clear from that discussion that there was considerable confusion about the events of those two days in October. I then went back up to my office and had a further, fairly extended discussion with Brigadier Bornholt.
During that discussion he presented me with a cable, or a message, which had come from the Adelaide—I think it was on about 10 October—that had a chronology of all the events of the boarding operation on the 7th. In going through that, it became clear to me that, essentially, this may not have been something that Minister Reith had been made aware of. Having gone through the transcript—and it was a blow by blow of what actually happened on the day—
Senator FAULKNER —This was a cable, did you say?
Air Marshal Houston
—It was a military message. It was a chronology of each event as it happened. This was the sort of thing it said: `five suspected unlawful citizens'—they were referred to as SUNCs—`jumped in the water at such and such a time.' There was a complete description of the boarding operation. From that it became clear—as it appeared to me—that, yes, people had jumped into the water, but there was no evidence there to suggest that women and children had jumped in the water. There was one reference, however, to a child being held over the side. I think in the actual message reference was made to that, in terms of the child being dressed in a life jacket and then being put in a position on the side.
I then had a chat to the brigadier about the photograph which had appeared in the Australian that morning. He told me that that photograph did not relate to the events of 7 October. In fact, that photograph related to the events of 8 October. There was obviously a considerable amount of confusion. I understood from my discussion with Air Vice Marshal Titheridge that Minister Reith was very anxious to talk to me to get my advice on this matter. So I phoned him and we had a chat. I started off by telling him that I felt that it was a very confused situation, but from this evidence that I had seen it appeared to me that there had been a boarding operation on the 7th, people had jumped into the water, there had been an incident with a child being held over the side, but fundamentally there was nothing to suggest that women and children had been thrown into the water.
I then went on, as I can recall it, to describe the fact that on the second day there was a rescue operation when the vessel sank and that the photograph, from what I had just been advised, related to the events of 8 October. After I had given him this run down of what happened there was silence for quite a while. It seemed to me that he was stunned and surprised. Essentially, he then said, `Well, I think we'll have to look at releasing the video.'
I omitted to say earlier on that I also explained to him that the video was inconclusive in proving whether any women or children were thrown into the water due to its poor quality. I would be quick to add, however, that I did not see the video. I was going on advice that had been provided to me by Air Vice Marshal Titheridge and Brigadier Bornholt. As everybody would know, a short time later the video was released to the public that evening—it may well have been the next morning.
Senator FAULKNER —In order to be clear, what was the approximate time of the recent phone conversation that you have just related to the committee?
Air Marshal Houston —It was about the middle of the day.
Senator FAULKNER —I want to be very careful in this question because of the nature of the evidence that you have just given. Is it correct to say that you have informed this committee that you informed the then Minister for Defence that the photos of the children in the water did not relate to children having been thrown overboard and that there was no evidence from the military message that was available to you that there was any truth to the suggestion that children had been thrown overboard from SIEV4?
Senator Hill —You should separate those two questions.
Senator FAULKNER —I am happy to.
Senator Hill —I think at the same time you should advise the committee of what you said to Mr Reith in relation to the previous recordings of the task force commander that there were children thrown overboard.
Senator FAULKNER —Wait a minute, I am happy to recast my question so that it does not go to both the substantive issues and, of course, Air Marshal Houston can respond as he sees fit.
Senator Hill —Bear in mind, we are now a month on from the events in question.
Senator FAULKNER —Minister, these dates are indelibly printed on my mind as I am sure they are for all the witnesses at the table.
Senator Hill —I am not sure that that is so because you have a habit of blurring the 7th of one month with the 7th of the next month—
Senator FAULKNER —I have never done that.
Senator Hill —to try to imply a state of mind on the first occasion.
Senator FAULKNER —Let us not beat around the bush on this. I am happy to separate the two issues, if it assists.
Senator Hill —There are three issues, actually. The first issue is the events on the 7th; the second issue is the photos that now clearly refer to the 8th; the third issue is what happened a month later.
Senator FAULKNER —With respect, Air Marshal Houston has just informed the committee that he informed your then ministerial colleague the Minister for Defence, Mr Reith, fundamentally, that there was no truth to either of the two allegations: one, that the photos related to kids who had been thrown overboard; and, two, that—
Senator Hill —Then he would have explained how the military record was wrong at the earlier stages.
Senator FAULKNER —It is up to the witness to provide these answers.
—The committee should be fully informed, not just informed of the pieces that suit your objectives.
Senator FAULKNER —Minister, others can ask questions. My objective is to establish what occurred in relation to Air Marshal Houston's phone call with former Minister Reith—
Senator Hill —We know what your objective is.
Senator FAULKNER —who we now know was told that there was no truth to these matters. We can move on to what Mr Reith did as a result and make the political points at a later stage. I am actually trying not to do that. Let us get it clear.
Senator Hill —It is unusual for you to put that to me.
Senator FAULKNER —I am afraid you will not be able to bat this out until 11 o'clock tonight. We ought to just get on with it and deal with the substantive issues.
CHAIR —I suggest you separate the questions, Senator Faulkner.
Senator FAULKNER —I am happy to do that. It is reasonable to do that for the benefit of the committee. Air Marshal, I think it is correct to say that you have informed the committee that you told Mr Reith, around the middle of the day on 7 November 2001, that the military messages that you had sighted—
Senator Hill —Why are words being put into the mouth of the witness? He can be asked the question as to what he said.
CHAIR —Please ask the question, Senator Faulkner.
Senator FAULKNER —The military messages that you had sighted and read—
Senator Hill —They used to call it `leading the witness'.
Senator FAULKNER —indicated that there was no evidence at all that children had been thrown overboard.
Air Marshal Houston —The military message, I believe, had not been seen by anybody in the chain of command in Canberra before I saw it. So essentially this was something that no other CDF—acting CDF or the permanent CDF—had seen previously.
Senator Hill —Which military message?
Senator FAULKNER —Minister, come on!
Air Marshal Houston —It was a message on 10 October from the Adelaide. It was addressed to the maritime commander, I believe. There were no Canberra addressees on the message. This is something that was provided to me by Brigadier Bornholt on the day in question.
Senator FAULKNER —I heard that, and I accept that, Air Marshal. I understand that. But the point is that you tell the Minister for Defence at the middle of the day on 7 November that the situation—which maybe others have not been aware of but you, as the acting CDF, are now aware of—is that there is no truth to suggestions that children were thrown overboard. Mr Reith, the minister, is informed.
Senator Hill —Hang on, he has not—
Air Marshal Houston —No, I did not—
Senator Hill —See, you are putting his words into his mouth. He did not say that at all. He said there is no evidence.
Air Marshal Houston —I did not say that at all.
Senator Hill —If we look at the 400 photos, we might find all sorts of evidence.
Air Marshal Houston —What I said was that on going through the message there did not appear to be any evidence of women and children being thrown into the water on that day— although there was one child who was held over the side.
Senator FAULKNER —Thank you. And you add to that a statement about the photographs of children in the water, and you give some context to those photographs.
Air Marshal Houston —Yes. After describing the events of the second day, when the vessel sank and the Adelaide mounted a rescue operation, I indicated that the photograph that was in media circulation at the time related to the events of 8 October—in other words, to the rescue operation and not to the interception that occurred the previous day.
Senator FAULKNER —So we now know that Mr Reith, the Minister for Defence—
Senator Hill —Is this a question?
Senator Hill —What is the question? That is not a question.
Senator FAULKNER —We now know that the Minister for Defence was informed of those matters—
Senator Hill —Are you claiming `we now know' is a question?
Senator FAULKNER —Please allow me to conclude.
Senator Hill —No, you want to give your speech.
Senator FAULKNER —So we now know that the Minister for Defence was informed of those matters at midday—
Senator Hill —We have speeches, do we, Mr Chair, at this time?
CHAIR —Senator Faulkner, please, do not make statements. Just ask your questions.
Senator FAULKNER —One is entitled to phrase a question in the way I am, and I have always phrased questions before this committee and intend to continue to do so.
Senator Hill —What is the question?
Senator FAULKNER —Given that circumstance, I was going to ask the Air Marshal—if you had not rudely interrupted me—whether he, in his submission or statement to General Powell, indicated the nature of that phone call to Minister Reith.
Air Marshal Houston —I did not make a statement to General Powell. He did not interview me.
Senator FAULKNER —In relation to General Powell's report, with respect to the only direct contact that General Powell had with anyone involved in this, he had contact with Brigadier Bornholt. Is the brigadier with us today?
Senator Hill —Yes.
CHAIR —He is.
Senator FAULKNER —Could I ask, in relation to this matter—
Senator Hill —Do you want to ask questions of him?
Senator FAULKNER —If I could just ask if the brigadier included in his interview—
Senator Hill —Have we finished with the air marshal?
Senator FAULKNER —I think it is correct to say that Brigadier Bornholt was interviewed by General Powell. We will come back to the air marshal in a moment. Let us check with the brigadier.
Brigadier, given the evidence that we have heard from the air marshal, did you provide the details of that evidence which involved you—that engagement with the air marshal to General Powell, in your interview with him—in the preparation of his report?
Brig. Bornholt —Yes, I did.
Senator FAULKNER —Thank you. Minister, it is true, is it not, that Mr Howard has indicated that, on the night of 7 November, he contacted Mr Reith about these matters?
Senator Hill —I cannot recall whether he said it was on the night of the 7th. He has made a statement that he had spoken to Mr Reith. I thought he said on 7 November.
Senator FAULKNER —Do you care to comment on the fact that it is the evidence that the air marshal has given, which has been substantiated by Brigadier Bornholt, that that information was passed to Minister Reith? Would you care to comment on the nature of the contact between the Prime Minister and Minister Reith on the evening of the 7th?
Senator Hill —The Prime Minister has reported publicly on his contact with Mr Reith. I have got nothing to add to what he said. I think also, as a matter of interest, according to most interpretations of the rules of natural justice, it would be fair play to hear Mr Reith's side of this version as well. What we are hearing afresh here today, because it does not appear in the report—
Senator FAULKNER —That is because the air marshal was not interviewed by General Powell.
Senator Hill —If it does not appear in the report of Mr Powell, but reference is apparently made to it by Brigadier Bornholt, and if these claims are made here today, it would be interesting to hear the other side of the story.
Senator FAULKNER —The point I was making on Monday at some length about Ms Bryant's report—and some weaknesses were contained within that report—was that it is very difficult for the matter to appear in the report if General Powell does not interview the air marshal.
—But General Powell did interview Brigadier Bornholt, and apparently the air vice marshal did not offer his experiences to General Powell.
Senator FAULKNER —But he was not interviewed.
Senator HILL —It is a two-way street. But having said that, one wonders why it was not covered and one suspects that it was because it was at the end of the process, a month after the events that General Powell was principally investigating.
Senator FAULKNER —When do you, Admiral Barrie, become aware of the nature of Air Marshal Houston's evidence that we have just received? You did mention it in an earlier answer to a question that I asked. When did you become aware of that information?
Adm. Barrie —The substance of that information I became aware of yesterday.
Senator FAULKNER —Did you take any action as a result of when you became aware of it?
Adm. Barrie —Yesterday?
Senator FAULKNER —Yesterday or today. I realise it is only a short period of time, but I thought you might have informed either the minister or government.
Adm. Barrie —Of course I informed government, or the minister, but that is all.
Senator Hill —And that was during the course of this morning. I have sought to put this to Mr Reith but have been unable to contact him this afternoon. It is a pity that some more notice was not given of it, so that fair play could be preserved and Mr Reith's side of the story would go on the record at the same time.
Senator FAULKNER —Could I ask you, Admiral Barrie, when you informed Senator Hill about this matter.
Adm. Barrie —This morning.
Senator FAULKNER —Senator Hill, I assume you have informed the Prime Minister about it.
Senator Hill —I informed the Prime Minister about it—and, as I said, I tried to contact Mr Reith but have not been able to make contact with him this afternoon.
Senator FAULKNER —Did you believe, given that this information had been provided by CDF, that you had any obligation to make this public?
Senator Hill —There was a public inquiry of the parliament taking place today. My principal concern was to see that the party that is adversely affected by it was given a fair chance to respond, and that has not been possible.
Senator FAULKNER —Could you be a little more precise with us as to when you informed the Prime Minister?
Senator Hill —No. I have informed the Prime Minister. I do not think I need to say any more than that.
Senator FAULKNER —With respect, Minister, given the nature of the Prime Minister's public comments over the last three days in relation to this matter and the contact with then Minister Reith and the importance which he has placed on that contact in terms of attempting to defend his position in the public arena, I do think it matters. And I do think it matters and is proper, in the circumstances, given what has been said to parliament in both houses, that these matters be placed on the parliamentary record, certainly, as soon as possible.
Senator Hill —Admiral Barrie briefed me this morning. I knew that this evidence would be given this afternoon publicly; that was pretty obvious to me, what was occurring. The Prime Minister and I shared the view that fair play, natural justice, would be that it should be first put to Mr Reith. That is what I have been seeking to do, unsuccessfully, this afternoon.
Senator FAULKNER —What do you mean by saying it is pretty obvious to you what was occurring?
Senator Hill —I was briefed on this matter this morning and there was going to be a public hearing at which these witnesses were going to be called on these issues this afternoon. And I note that it did not take you long to get to the point.
—Why would it, given that Admiral Barrie has raised it in answer to my first question. What does that mean? I am sorry, is there an insinuation there? I can assure you Admiral Barrie has not spoken to me, if that is what you are insinuating—
Senator Hill —You can take it how you like.
Senator FAULKNER —not since I was a minister in the Defence portfolio, anyway.
Senator Hill —I am not insinuating. I do not believe—
Senator FAULKNER —I hope you are not, because it is not fair to him and it is not fair to me.
Senator Hill —I do not worry so much about you, but I do not believe that a military officer would do such a thing.
Senator FAULKNER —Thank you. So you are not insinuating anything?
Senator Hill —I do not believe any Australian military officer would.
Senator FAULKNER —So you are not insinuating anything; that is good. Admiral Barrie, given the nature of the information that you heard from Air Marshal Houston, have you taken the time to actually check closely the military messages that Air Marshal Houston refers to?
Adm. Barrie —I read a body of material from Adelaide, in transcripts and other things. I cannot be 100 per cent certain that it is the same material, because we have not actually compared notes precisely on what was read that day.
Senator FAULKNER —I wondered if you had taken the opportunity, given what he said. You are aware of the seriousness, I am sure.
Adm. Barrie —Yes.
Senator FAULKNER —You are?
Adm. Barrie —Yes.
Senator FAULKNER —I appreciate that. Given the seriousness of what was said to you yesterday, I wondered if you had taken the opportunity to refresh your memory on the primary evidence that Air Marshal Houston depended on.
Adm. Barrie —I read quite a lot of that material. The reports are qualified, in this sense: to go back to my initial point about the commanding officer's perceptions on the day, the commanding officer's report, as I recall it, is, `I will attest to the fact that this occurred, but I do have some doubt about my perception.' He then goes on to make a range of other observations about the operations themselves. But at no point was I able to establish that the commanding officer said, to go back to my evidence, `I was wrong.'
Senator FAULKNER —Brigadier, could I ask you about the nature of your evidence to General Powell's inquiry?
Brig. Bornholt —I provided about a three-page written submission that outlined my involvement in this issue. In that, I referred to this particular message—when I became aware of it and what I did with it. That included the fact that I had briefed Air Marshal Houston, as the Acting CDF, on 7 November, using that cable, and pointed out to him the issues that that cable raised. Then I sat with him when he made the phone call to Mr Reith.
Senator FAULKNER —Can you corroborate the evidence that Air Marshal Houston has provided to this Senate estimates committee this evening?
Brig. Bornholt —Yes, I can. The phone call was made on a speaker phone, with only the two of us in the room.
Senator FAULKNER —You can corroborate that evidence in its entirety?
Brig. Bornholt —Yes, I can.
Senator FAULKNER —I wonder if, Minister, I could ask General Powell a question, please.
Senator HILL —Certainly.
Senator FAULKNER —General, it might be useful, given the nature of the evidence we have received, if you just indicated to the committee why Air Marshal Houston was not interviewed or did not provide a submission for your report.
Major Gen. Powell —I am the inquiries officer for the Chief of the Defence Force into the routine inquiry into Operation Relex. In responding to your question, let me quote from the statement that was provided to me by Brigadier Gary Bornholt. This is just an extract of the relevant part. He says:
It was quite clear that no women or children—
Senator Hill —Mr Chair, I am not sure what is being read out, but if it is new and it is adverse to Mr Reith then it should be put to Mr Reith before—
Senator FAULKNER —With respect, I think—
Senator Hill —There is a pretty unsavoury job being done on Mr Reith here as it is, and perhaps the committee ought to think about what it is doing.
Senator FAULKNER —I find that an extraordinary comment for you to make.
Senator Hill —I would expect you to say that, but there are others on the committee who ought to think about this as well.
Senator FAULKNER —These questions are properly directed to witnesses who are properly answering them in the way they see fit, regardless of the slur. I do not care what you say about me, but I am sure that some of the witnesses at the table believe it was a slur to suggest that I had been informed of this beforehand by them. Really, that is a slur on them. Minister, each and every witness is entitled to answer questions properly put to them without, frankly, that sort of interference from you.
Senator Hill —I say to you, Mr Chair—
Senator FAULKNER —It is a serious question—I do not describe it as a very friendly question; I would not have thought it was the sort of question that would be described as a `full toss'—as to why General Powell did not interview Air Marshal Houston. It is a proper question and because it is a serious question asked in a serious way we are entitled to hear the witness answer it the way he sees fit.
Senator Hill —Mr Chairman, it is a long established practice of the Senate that, when adverse claims are going to be made against an individual through this public process—
Senator FAULKNER —What do you mean by `going to be made'?
Senator Hill —that individual be advised of the content of those claims before they are put in the public arena in this form.
CHAIR —I would agree with you, Minister.
Senator Hill —That practice has been breached twice already today. Now it is going to occur on a third occasion. None of the statements was released publicly, as I understand, for good reasons.
Senator FAULKNER —Perhaps they should have been. We might be a lot better off.
Senator Hill —One of the reasons is the one I am putting to you now, the other relates to the parties who made the statements. But if this statement has within it content that is adverse to Mr Reith, then it should be put to him first.
CHAIR —In view of the highly contentious nature of this issue, the fact that new information is being provided, and that there will be further opportunity for this matter to be investigated in the select committee, I think Mr Reith should be informed about it and given the opportunity to respond in the public arena.
Senator CHRIS EVANS —Mr Chair, are you suggesting that we are not allowed to canvass leading information that may be new, in the Senate estimates? The minister assumes—I do not know on what basis—that it is adverse to a former minister.
Senator Hill —I do not know what he is going to say.
Senator CHRIS EVANS —Then on what basis can we rule out the evidence? Because you think it might be adverse to somebody who is a former minister? To suggest that the Senate estimates is not allowed to canvass material because it might be new—
Senator Hill —This has nothing to do with Senate estimates, has it? That is just a joke.
Senator FAULKNER —It has to do with holding the government accountable.
Senator Hill —No, it is not. It is a political job. You know that, I know that.
Senator FAULKNER —Let us get on with it. Frankly, Minister, it does you no credit to stop—
Senator Hill —It is a total abuse of estimates; we all know that, now.
Senator FAULKNER —the witnesses answering the questions. They are properly put and they should be properly answered in the way the witnesses see fit.
Senator Hill —I have made my point, Mr Chair.
CHAIR —Odgers makes it perfectly clear. It says:
Evidence which reflects adversely on another person, including a person who is not a witness, must be made known to that person and reasonable opportunity to respond given.
Clearly that is the position that the committee would take notice of. It is probably best if the question is asked, keeping it relevant.
Senator FAULKNER —It is a relevant question and it was a pretty simple one. I asked Major General Powell why he did not interview Air Marshal Houston for his report.
CHAIR —Before Major General Powell answers, perhaps I might ask him this: will it reflect adversely on Mr Reith?
Senator FAULKNER —Excuse me!
CHAIR —I should say: `adversely on somebody who is not here'.
Senator FAULKNER —I presume that was a Freudian slip, but I raise a point of order: you hear the evidence and you then judge whether it is adverse or not. Let us get on with it.
Senator Hill —If you approach it that way, you do the damage first and then you worry about the principle after. That sounds typical of Senator Faulkner.
Senator FAULKNER —You think you can judge whether the evidence is adverse before we have even heard it? Even you do not believe that. Don't be silly.
Senator CHRIS EVANS —These questions go to a report made by Major General Powell which was released by the Prime Minister a few days ago. This is a public document. Major General Powell is the author. It is within the Defence portfolio. It is perfectly appropriate for the Senate estimates committee to be asking questions about it. The only question I heard Senator Faulkner ask is why he did not interview one of the relevant officers. It seems to be a perfectly appropriate question.
Senator Hill —This is a preliminary hearing for the Senate select committee.
Senator CHRIS EVANS —As to whom his answer reflects upon, I do not think it is fair to ask him—or us—to judge in advance, quite frankly.
Senator Hill —Put it into the public arena first.
Senator FAULKNER —You know, Senator Hill, that the attempt to obfuscate here is a load of old codswallop. It is baseless. You know that, we all know that. If you have any doubts at all, Senator Hill, go and get a ruling from the clerk and we will look at it.
Senator Hill —Read Odgers yourself.
Senator FAULKNER —I have.
Senator Hill —And you have decided, despite the wise counsel of Odgers, that you ought to drag someone through the mud.
Senator FAULKNER —Sadly, you and I, Senator Hill, are probably two of the very few people who have been bored witless by reading Odgers. I know it back-to-front.
Senator FERGUSON —Mr Chair, you have quoted from Odgers and you have sought advice. A question has been put to Major General Powell as to whether the comments he is going to make are going to adversely affect somebody who is not here. We should let Major General Powell judge whether it is going to be adverse comment and then decide whether he should be able to continue.
Senator CHRIS EVANS —You cannot put that onus on the witness. The witness can only respond to the questions he or she is asked. They are not required to run a filter through who might, in passing, be detrimentally affected in somebody else's judgment.
Senator Hill —There are other ways of doing it. Sometimes such matters are taken in camera and then the decision is taken.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Not in estimates.
Senator Hill —This is not estimates, this is a political stunt.
Senator BARTLETT —If I might make a comment from the upper echelons in response to what seems to be coming close to a ruling. I am reasonably aware of this section of Odgers, and precedents, as part of my role in the Senate. You obviously inform people if they have been named adversely, but you do not prevent people from giving evidence on the possibility that they might actually happen to name someone adversely. You would never be able to open your mouth if that were the case.
Senator FAULKNER —Of course. He knows that.
Senator Hill —An old Dem is coming to rescue the Labor Party. They will need more than the Dems.
—The minister would be well aware that that is the case. Otherwise you cannot ask people anything, on the possibility they will say something adverse. Nobody knows what Major General Powell is going to say. How can you stop him from answering a question just on the off-chance he might say something adverse? He might be going to call Senator Faulkner an idiot, for all we know. We cannot stop him doing that.
Senator FAULKNER —If I had feelings, that would really hurt.
CHAIR —Thank you, Senator Bartlett. Before I make a ruling, I have the option to ask Major General Powell whether the comments he is going to make reflect adversely on Mr Reith. He can answer that. If he does not wish to, then I can suggest that we adjourn and have a private meeting to sort this out.
Senator FAULKNER —Come on! My question ought to be answered now. Let us not muck around.
Senator Hill —This is Senator Faulkner's usual practice of walking over the top of people.
Senator FAULKNER —Senator Hill, I have asked why Major General Powell did not interview Air Marshal Houston. It is a pretty simple question. Let us just get on with it.
CHAIR —Does your answer reflect badly or adversely on—
Senator FAULKNER —You cannot do that! You know you cannot do that.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —You cannot do that!
CHAIR —I am putting the question to Major General Powell, not to you, Senator Faulkner.
Major Gen. Powell —Mr Chair, I do not believe what I am about to say will reflect adversely on—
CHAIR —Thank you, Major General Powell.
Senator Hill —Oh!
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —You started this.
Senator FERGUSON —You did not give him a chance to answer.
Senator FAULKNER —Normally you would hear what the evidence is before you would pass judgment on it—call us old-fashioned. But let us get on with it.
CHAIR —Perhaps you might answer Senator Faulkner's question, Major General Powell.
Major Gen. Powell —Before I start, I think it is important just to reflect on the fact that my brief from Admiral Barrie, Chief of the Defence Force, was to look at the uncertainty surrounding these events. Clearly, in very general terms, I found that there was significant misunderstanding as a result of the evidence that was presented to me. It was a balance between the requirement for timeliness versus accuracy and the reporting chains. That accuracy at times clearly was not as it perhaps should have been, with the benefit of hindsight, when you look at the speed with which information was passed. With regard to the question that Senator Faulkner has asked me, Brigadier Bornholt, in his statement, just to take the particular line in his statement that is of importance here, says:
... I was requested to brief CAF on my knowledge of the issue. I then sat through a telecon between CAF and MINDEF to assist in clarification.
I did not see that as a key issue. I refer to my report, which is on the public record. Sentence two, under the section on page 7 of 10, paragraph 24K, which is CDF to Minister for Defence, says:
Those statements further suggest that the CDF may have informed the Minister of the doubtful nature of those allegations. In that discussion it appears that it was agreed that in the future it would be necessary to ensure that there was clarity about material under discussion. Further, it appears that the Minister may have advised the CDF that the issue would not be further pursued.
That is very much in line with CDF's evidence. In answering Senator Faulkner's question, I would contend that, based on what Brigadier Bornholt said in his statement, there was no need to pursue the issue any further.
Senator FAULKNER —Could someone inform me whether Group Captain Evans is with us tonight? He does not appear to be on the list.
Senator Hill —We have invited everyone whom we thought you might possibly want to give evidence. Maybe we are slipping.
Senator FAULKNER —As you would appreciate from listening to Air Marshal Houston, he was, like Brigadier Bornholt, involved in the events of 7 November. He is not on the witness list.
CHAIR —They are having a look.
Senator FAULKNER —The problem here is I do not know whether he—
—I do not think he was here earlier, but he might be here now.
Senator FAULKNER —That is the problem. I do not know whether he would necessarily have heard—we will wait—
Senator Hill —I suppose, sooner or later, we will get back to what government was told on 7 October—a month before.
Senator FAULKNER —I think we have basically established one thing today at least, Minister.
Senator Hill —Is that now conceded?
Senator FAULKNER —That is what the government was told on 7 November.
CHAIR —Is he out there?
Senator FAULKNER —General Powell, you did not interview Group Captain Evans?
Major Gen. Powell —No, I did not.
Senator Hill —We are seeking him, but we have not been able to locate him.
Senator FAULKNER —Could I ask Brigadier Bornholt a question in the meantime?
Major Gen. Powell —Am I further required?
Senator FAULKNER —Possibly—sorry.
Senator Hill —We have got a recalled witness.
Senator FAULKNER —I was just going to ask you, Brigadier, whether you believed the phone conversation was significant.
Senator Hill —Significant? In what context?
Senator FAULKNER —I think that was the word that General Powell used. I am just using Major General Powell's terminology. I did not jot it down but I think he said that.
Senator Hill —Why is it for Brigadier Bornhalt to say whether he—
Senator FAULKNER —The issue is whether there was a need for Major General Powell to pursue the matter. I am just going to ask Brigadier Bornhalt for his view and the value of his attendance.
Senator Hill —It was not even his phone call.
Senator FAULKNER —Yes, but Major General Powell did hear from the brigadier. He did not hear from the air marshal. You have got to keep up with the play.
Senator Hill —Apart from the fact that this is irrelevant to the estimates, isn't the purpose of the committee to establish facts, not to take opinions?
CHAIR —Absolutely. You are not allowed to seek opinions. Perhaps you might reframe the question.
Senator FAULKNER —We will establish fact as soon as Group Captain Evans walks through the door. We are trying to do this in a logical way, Minister.
Senator Hill —Why don't we ask a few questions on the estimates in the meantime?
CHAIR —Are you going to ask the question again, Senator Faulkner?
Senator FAULKNER —I have just been told that Group Captain Evans is not here. He may be here later, so I think it is best if we deal with it later. I am happy to move on and come back to save a bit of time. I think that would be in everyone's interests.
Senator FAULKNER —Admiral Barrie, I would like to go back to this question of the importance of correcting the record in this situation. I asked you before whether you felt the efforts that Defence had made had failed. I think we have heard you three times on that. Are you satisfied that Defence has adequately investigated these failures—or what I have described publicly as sloppiness? I stand by that. I think that is still a fair comment, although I have always accepted that Defence moved quickly to try to correct the record. Given the nature of Major General Powell's report and his recommendations about further inquiries and actions, I would like to know whether you will be recommending, or insisting, that those recommendations are agreed upon.
—No, I am not satisfied that we have got to the bottom of the whole effort and what might need to be done to improve our performance. It is a matter of fact that after every military operation we go through a `lessons learned' period and we try to learn from our mistakes so that we do not repeat them. I think this is a classic example of where there is still a fair bit of effort required to get to the bottom of the management of the processes which give advice to government and the various aspects of that and to try to build a better systemic way of managing that. I have a couple of private views on that. In the public affairs arena there is more that we can do to make sure that we have thorough accountability and a system for managing media material during a military operation—which I think has been exposed by this effort.
Secondly, I think General Powell makes the observation that there is more that you can do, but you really should wait to see what other report is going to draw into question as well. Putting that together, it might give us a focus about more effort we can do. It is worth noting that we have already commissioned another investigation into what was the public affairs plan for Operation Relex, was that public affairs plan adhered to and, if not, what were the deficiencies and why did they occur. That comes out of General Powell's report. It is just one of the instances, but I think there are more.
Senator FAULKNER —Do you agree with the key finding of General Powell, 17(i) on page 4 of 10 of his report, which says:
By 11 October 2001 Defence had concluded that at no time had a child been thrown from SIEV4, yet it would appear from my assessment of the facts that, while the information may have been communicated verbally to the Minister's office, this advice was not formally communicated by way of Ministerial submission.
Do you accept the finding that Defence had concluded by 11 October 2001 that at no time had a child been thrown from SIEV4?
Adm. Barrie —No, I do not. I go back to my opening statement. As the CDF, I am the principal military adviser to the government. It is my view that, if you talk about Defence with a capital `d', I am it. I have never accepted that finding, for the reasons I have outlined—that is, going to the operational circumstance, and putting aside that photographic evidence did not show that circumstance but recalling that there was a very positive report made on 7 October, I did not accept that finding at the time.
Senator FAULKNER —Are there any other of General Powell's key findings that you do not accept?
Senator Hill —You have got to—
Senator FAULKNER —I have just asked about one.
Senator Hill —In terms of the report, General Powell's findings are highly qualified. It acknowledges that much of the primary source information was unavailable to him.
Senator FAULKNER —I read the report thoroughly a number of times. I know the language it contains. Nevertheless, that key finding is not accepted by CDF. I am asking him now whether any of the other key findings are not accepted by CDF.
Adm. Barrie —That is the major key finding that I do not accept. I do regard the absence of Air Marshal Houston's material in here as important. I am also aware that none of this evidence was taken via the mechanism of the board of inquiry. So witnesses were not particularly subject to the provisions of the DFDA, and General Powell has made the observation in here that, if you want to get to further detail on these issues, you may have to go to a more formal inquiry. I have not yet decided whether or not that is required, and I am very conscious of the fact that there is a Senate inquiry about to sit.
Senator FAULKNER —What you are saying is that, in relation to a more formal inquiry under the defence inquiry regulations, your approach at CDF at this stage is to await the outcome or the report of the Senate inquiry or, at least, to await the outcome of the Senate select committee. Is that what you are saying?
Adm. Barrie —No, I do not think that is going to be my approach. As I have tried to say, it was only yesterday that I got to hear more information about these matters. It is my view that I need to provide advice to the minister about things we can do right now to improve our performance.
Senator Hill —It is certainly not the case that you will get objective advice from the Senate inquiry. It is designed with a particular political purpose.
Senator FAULKNER —It was CDF who qualified his statement about an inquiry under the Defence inquiry regulations, because of other inquiries that are taking place—there may be other inquiries taking place; I am certainly well aware of the Senate select committee.
Adm. Barrie —There may be evidence that emerges in terms of the Senate inquiry, although I would be surprised if out of that process I needed to have a separate inquiry. The rules of evidence and the obligations on witnesses are more or less the same. If it was my judgment that there were issues the Senate had not followed through on, and I needed to get to that fact, then I might have to consider that. In respect of a systemic approach that we need to adopt in Defence, particularly to manage the public affairs handling of material and those sorts of issues, I am not going to wait for a Senate inquiry to tell me by May what we might do. I think it is my obligation to provide some advice to the minister about what we can do that is better.
Senator FAULKNER —So you see that as an urgent matter for you, as CDF?
—Yes, I do.
Senator FAULKNER —Have you put this in train internally in Defence?
Adm. Barrie —I have started the process.
Senator FAULKNER —When do you think it would be likely that advice might go to the minister on that range of issues?
Adm. Barrie —Because we are in quite significant operational circumstances right now, it would be my objective to try and get that advice to the minister in the next two or three weeks.
Senator FAULKNER —Would it be possible to ask the Chief of Navy a question, Senator Hill?
Senator Hill —Of course. We are here to serve.
Senator CHRIS EVANS —However grumpily.
Senator Hill —No, we are also here to try and see fair plays.
Senator FAULKNER —To try and serve?
Senator Hill —It is pretty difficult with you.
Senator FAULKNER —Why is that?
Senator Hill —I do not think you believe in fair plays.
Senator FAULKNER —Vice Admiral Shackleton, I want to ask you a number of questions. We may not be able to progress this very far before the dinner break, but we will do our best. You gave a doorstop interview on 8 November, at about 4.30 p.m. local time, which dealt in part with this issue of children overboard. I would just like to quote from that—and I have the benefit of AAP and press reports, so it is the best I can do:
“Our advice was that there were people being threatened to be thrown in the water and I don't know what happened to the message after that,” Vice Admiral Shackleton told reporters at HMAS Stirling.
I think that is an accurate report of your words.
Vice Adm. Shackleton —That is correct, but the time was Eastern Standard Time; it was earlier in Western Australia.
Senator FAULKNER —Later that evening, at about 8 p.m.—I am not sure whether that is Perth time—
Vice Adm. Shackleton —Sydney time, I think.
Senator FAULKNER —you issued a further statement that, in part, said:
I confirm the minister was advised Defence believed children had been thrown overboard
I think that is accurate, is it not?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —That is correct.
Senator FAULKNER —Could you inform the committee why you made the decision to issue a further statement on the evening of 8 November.
Vice Adm. Shackleton —I was in Western Australia to farewell the ships which were departing for Operation Slipper. I had been on board the HMAS Adelaide that day to view the videotape which had been authorised for release by Minister Reith. I spoke with the media that afternoon at about 12.30 p.m. or one o'clock, and I made the remarks that you read out.
Subsequent to that, I had a telephone conversation with Mr Hendy, who is the minister's chief of staff; and in that conversation he related to me that the story had broken in the eastern states that I had contradicted the minister. It was never my intention to contradict the minister, and I checked what it was that I had said.
In that statement I had made a technically incorrect statement because Defence had advised the minister that children had been thrown over the side. Defence had done that. I thought it was my proper responsibility then to issue a clarifying statement which corrected the mistake that I had made, and that is what I did.
Senator FAULKNER —We now know that this occurs on 8 November, and on 7 November Air Marshal Houston, Brigadier Bornholt and Group Captain Evans had been engaged in a process that leads the acting CDF to advise the minister's office on these events. You were contacted by Mr Hendy from Minister Reith's office. You didn't have any contact with the Prime Minister's office?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —None at all.
Senator FAULKNER —And that was the only contact you had on this matter?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —Correct.
—Did Mr Hendy request you put out a clarifying statement?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —He and I discussed it and he made a suggestion that I ought to review what I had said and that, if what I had said did in fact contradict the minister, then it would be appropriate for me to make some release. I might say I made my own decision on that and I released that second statement of my own volition. I did not feel pressured.
Senator FAULKNER —We now know, Admiral, the context of the call from Mr Hendy to you. We probably ought to establish this: did Mr Hendy indicate to you that he was ringing you on behalf of the minister?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —No. In fact, I called him. He had called my office in Canberra, and I was in Western Australia and so I called him. He did not say he was ringing on behalf of the minister.
Senator FAULKNER —You called him after a message had been left for you?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —Yes.
Senator FAULKNER —So you did call him, but it would also be accurate or possibly a little more accurate to say you returned his call.
Vice Adm. Shackleton —Yes, trying to establish contact.
Senator FAULKNER —Sure. You were not in your office at Canberra. Fair enough. When you returned Mr Hendy's call, Mr Hendy was merely expressing a personal view?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —It would be fair to say that he was concerned that what I had said did contradict the minister and that, if it went uncorrected, that would clearly lead to more questions and matters that the minister would have to deal with. For my part I felt that, if I had made a statement which contradicted the minister, I had a responsibility to correct it. After I viewed the material that had been portrayed by AAP and the news stations in the east, it was clear that my statement was having that effect, and so I thought a revised or a second statement was appropriate.
Senator FAULKNER —So, after Mr Hendy's call, I think you said you then acted to review the press coverage at the time.
Senator Hill —He looked at an AAP statement.
Vice Adm. Shackleton —That is correct. I called my office and then I was put in contact with the Public Affairs and Corporate Communications group, Brigadier Bornholt's organisation and Ms McKenry's organisation, who had access to what was being released into the media at the time and so I got a very clear read-out of what was being said.
Senator FAULKNER —And you would be aware of the sensitivity of this, of course, because it was, as you would appreciate, in the dying days of the last election campaign.
Vice Adm. Shackleton —It was obvious to me—
Senator Hill —What is being implied by that?
Senator FAULKNER —Well, it was.
Senator Hill —Is it appropriate to be asking a military officer—
Senator FAULKNER —What I was about to ask—
Senator Hill —whether he understands the sensitivity of political campaigns?
Senator FAULKNER —What I am about to ask is whether Mr Hendy actually passed on what Air Marshal Houston had said the day before. We might get to that.
CHAIR —Order, Senator Faulkner! It is going to be a long night, and it being half past six we will adjourn for an hour.
Proceedings suspended from 6.30 p.m. to 7.34 p.m.
CHAIR —The committee is reconvened. The committee has resolved that a number of people will not be needed this evening—those involved in output 6—Intelligence. We will see you tomorrow.
Senator BRANDIS —Vice Admiral Shackleton, when events of the kind involving the alleged `children overboard' incident on SIEV4 occur, they occur in an operational context with a lot of confusion, don't they?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —Absolutely.
Senator BRANDIS —Would it be correct to say that the operational imperative of dealing with the situation as it unfolds rapidly is the principal imperative of officers, and reporting up the chain is a secondary imperative, at least at the time the incident is taking place?
Vice Adm. Shackleton
—In this particular instance, the commanding officer would have been highly concerned about the conduct of the operation and the safety of his ship and people. It was dangerous and difficult, and anything that interrupted his concentration on this particular kind of issue would have been secondary to his thinking at the time.
Senator BRANDIS —That is the order of priorities that you, as his superior officer, would have expected of him, is it not?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —I would certainly have expected him to keep his operational commander informed in a timely and accurate way, but I would not have expected that to interfere with his principal responsibilities.
Senator BRANDIS —When the situation of urgency immediately at hand had been dealt with to his satisfaction—when the lives of those whose lives were at risk were saved, and the safety of his personnel was assured—then, but not before, would the obligations to report the incident up the chain accrue?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —In this instance I would have expected him to be making short, sharp, accurate—as he saw them—reports, and when time permitted sending a fuller, more detailed report.
Senator BRANDIS —Ms Bryant uses the expression `fog of war' phenomenon. Are you familiar with that expression?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —Only too well.
Senator BRANDIS —What does that mean to you? How would you express that phenomenon in your own words? As a military officer, can you explain the way you would expect those military officers handling the situation, including the commanding officer on site, to deal with the `fog of war' phenomenon?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —It is related to the reality that everything is real but it is not real. You are trying to pull threads and strands from many miscellaneous and sometimes disconnected information flows. You are trying to build a puzzle from many disconnected pieces. Sometimes the pieces fit accurately, sometimes they do not. It is fair to say that, often as not, you are dealing with millions of shades of grey and it is only as events start to get to a point of culmination that they start to form up into a real pattern, and then sometimes it disintegrates again as the events change. This is constantly moving and going up and down all the time. The commanding officer has to make hypotheses, judgments and calls based on what he sees at the time. It is never absolutely right; it is never absolutely wrong.
Senator BRANDIS —Indeed, a responsible commanding officer not only could not but should not make a comprehensive report until after the `fog of war' has dispersed or the melee is over so that he can be aware of the entirety of the incident rather than merely glimpsing isolated and spasmodic aspects of it.
Vice Adm. Shackleton —A very important part of the ability of officers, ultimately, such as the CDF, to make decisions is that those who are at the tactical coalface understand what they have said and either correct it instantaneously or as close to that time as they can, or confirm it in subsequent messages as the picture starts to build. Although the commanding officer is himself connected to this problem that he is dealing with, it is important that he understands, in part, the relationship of his problem to the much bigger problem. Having said that, his principal focus is on his command and his people.
Senator BRANDIS —Thank you. To your knowledge, was the incident concerning the SIEV4 the only incident at or about this time in which there was a suggestion that children had been thrown overboard, or were there more incidents than that at about this time—that is, in or about October of last year?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —I would have to check with others who are more closely connected to the operational sequence of events. This was the only one to my knowledge at that time, but that is not to say that there were not others. This one received more attention, probably because of its sheer scale—there were over 220-odd people. It was a fairly major success in that nobody died and all those people recovered and were transported safely to shore. They were working very hard in difficult circumstances.
Senator BRANDIS —Are you aware of an incident occurring on 24 October last year involving another vessel nominated by the designation SIEV7?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —Yes, I am.
Senator BRANDIS —Can you tell us about that, please?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —SIEV7 was a vessel that had entered Australian waters and was at anchor in the lagoon on Ashmore Reef. In company with it was a Customs vessel, Roebuck Bay, and a Navy patrol boat, Bendigo. During the incident, as it were, about 15 people from the vessel jumped into the water, and one woman amongst several women held a young child over the side by its wrists, and the child was dropped into the water. The child was recovered by one of the people in the water who swam to the child and raised it from the water. They were subsequently brought out of the water back onto the boat.
—The events that were thought to have occurred in relation to the SIEV4 on 7 October were not unique events. Much the same thing happened in relation to another SIEV a fortnight later?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —In terms of the modus operandi of gaining attention by creating activity which required very careful attention, both cases were the same. As was alleged for SIEV4 and as occurred in SIEV7 children were thrown over the side.
Senator BRANDIS —We have two incidents that we know of in this bracket of time— October 2001: what is believed, in the confusion of events, to have occurred in relation to SIEV4 on 7 October and what you have now told us actually occurred in relation to SIEV7 on 24 October.
Vice Adm. Shackleton —That is correct.
Senator BRANDIS —Were there any other events like these around this time?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —Not to my knowledge, but that is not to say that is correct. We should ask other people.
Senator BRANDIS —Is there, to your knowledge, a belief among the Navy that events of this kind, which have been authenticated in relation to SIEV7—that is, children being thrown overboard from suspected illegal entry vehicles—were not an uncommon phenomenon?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —It is anecdotal. I would have to get greater clarification to say that it is a certainty.
Senator BRANDIS —That is not quite the point of my question. The point of my question is not whether there was direct proof of other such events, other than the SIEV7—
Vice Adm. Shackleton —If you are asking whether there is a belief that this is a common event, then I would have to say that that is probably the case.
Senator BRANDIS —Among Naval personnel?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —Amongst those people involved in these operations, yes.
Senator BRANDIS —In relation to the SIEV7 event, can you tell us, please, what steps were taken within the Navy to report that incident both within the naval chain of command and to government?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —That report, the commanding officer followed all of the guidance. He reported it to his immediate command, who was Commander Northern Command. The Commander Northern Command in turn reported it to Commander Australian Theatre, who in turn reported that to Strategic Command here in Canberra. I am not part of that operational reporting chain in practice, and I think you would be better placed to ask those people who are as to the details of that particular event.
Senator BRANDIS —Can you tell us who those people are, please, and I will ask them.
Vice Adm. Shackleton —Admiral Ritchie, who is here today, and Air Vice Marshal Titheridge would be able to help you.
Senator BRANDIS —All right. Admiral, do you know whether an inquiry has been sought within the Navy in relation to the SIEV7 incident on 24 October, or in relation to the subsequent reporting within the military chain of command, or perhaps to government, of that incident?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —I am not aware of any specific inquiry related to it. Based on the information I have seen from it, the commanding officer handled the circumstances and the situation as well as could be expected.
Senator BRANDIS —All right. Thank you.
Senator FAULKNER —Admiral Shackleton, just before the break I was asking you about your public statement on 8 November last year and I wondered if, for a moment, I could return to that. I will have to turn that up here; fortunately, I think I have left that in my office. Anyway, I think you had confirmed that on the morning of 8 November you had made a public comment. You had indicated that Mr Hendy had contacted your office in Canberra and you had rung him back a little later.
Vice Adm. Shackleton —That is correct.
Senator FAULKNER —Have you had any other contact from anyone else about the nature of or the reaction to that earlier statement you made on 8 November?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —I am sorry, Senator, could you just be a little more clear? Are you asking whether I have had any contact with—
—I wondered if on 8 November, apart from the contact with Mr Hendy before you made your second statement, in the evening in Sydney, you had had any contact with any other person or contact had been initiated with you about concerns about the statement that you had made on the morning of 8 November.
Vice Adm. Shackleton —No, I have not.
Senator FAULKNER —So the only one was the message that was left by Mr Hendy in the office?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —I became aware of rumours that other people wanted to speak to me, but none did.
Senator FAULKNER —I have managed to turn up the statement now. The statement was:
Our advice was that there were people being threatened to be thrown in the water and I don't know what happened to the message after that.
I wondered if you could confirm for the committee what you understand the situation to be in relation to that incident now, as we speak today—whether you are able to confirm, in fact, that there were no children thrown into the water in relation to the SIEV4 vessel.
Vice Adm. Shackleton —I have thought about this on a number of occasions, because it is obviously a vexed question. I spent some time talking with the commanding officer about it on board the ship on the morning of 8 November, and he himself was wondering whether his advice had been accurate. My view is that the officer he was speaking to at the time, which was Brigadier Silverstone, probably had a more accurate recollection of what was said than Commander Banks would have had, simply because of the intensity and the stress under which he would have been working at the time. He would have been very focused on what he was doing.
Frankly, it is possible that nobody was thrown into the water. But I think it is also possible that they might have been. I know that there were reports taken from the sailors on board the ship. I know that I looked at the videotape, which, from my viewing of it, did not show people being thrown into the water. What I said to the media on that day is still what I would say today, which said that there was a child being held over the side but was not dropped into the water. I think it is not absolutely clear. The balance of probabilities are that, no, there was nobody thrown into the water, but I would not discount it totally.
Senator FAULKNER —If that is the case, why did you say at HMAS Stirling that `our advice was that there were people being threatened to be thrown in the water'?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —I suppose I was thinking about what I had seen on the tape.
Senator FAULKNER —When did you see the tape?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —I saw a tape that morning of the 8th—the same day that it was released publicly.
Senator FAULKNER —Was that the full tape?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —I would say it was the full tape—there was about 10 or 12 minutes of tape of the event. I was frankly interested in the more concentrated part the tape shows, the level of activity and the issues that were taking place on the boat.
Senator FAULKNER —Did you have the benefit of any other background material?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —I was aware that the photographs which had been in the media were not depicting, from what I could see, people having been thrown into the water. They were people who were in the water as a consequence of the boat sinking.
Senator FAULKNER —So when did you become aware of that? You were aware on 8 November, but when did you become aware?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —I became aware to the point where I did something about it on the 10th, I think it was, when I saw those photographs shown on the 7.30 Report—one was of a female sailor and another one of a male sailor in the water—
Senator FAULKNER —This is 10 October we are now talking about?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —Correct—and I called the Chief of the Defence Force to say that I thought that those photographs were not of people who had been thrown into the water from the boat, as I understood it, but were in fact from the boat that was sinking.
Senator Hill —Did anyone check the other 400 photographs?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —At that stage I was not aware that there were that many photographs, Minister.
Senator FAULKNER —What Admiral Shackleton said is that these were the photographs that were printed in the newspapers. I think that was what you were indicating?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —I saw those—
—I am sorry, on the 7.30 Report.
Vice Adm. Shackleton —on the 7.30 Report on the night of the 10th.
Senator FAULKNER —Okay. Did you have the benefit of any other evidence or advice on this?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —No. I was overseas from 20 October to 7 November. I returned on 7 November to go to the launch of the submarine Rankin in Adelaide and then went to Western Australia that same afternoon.
Senator FAULKNER —Given that you contacted CDF on 10 October and informed him that, in your view, the photographs of the kids in the water were not taken as a result of kids being thrown overboard, I wonder if this caused you to question the original claims that had been made about kids being thrown overboard. If the photos were dodgy, I wonder if you might have thought the original claims might be. The photos were not dodgy—they just did not represent what it was said they represented. But if they did not represent what they said they were supposed to represent, I wonder if it affected the other claims at all, in your mind.
Vice Adm. Shackleton —At that stage of the game, Senator, I do not remember thinking about it.
Senator FAULKNER —But you thought enough about it to ring CDF.
Vice Adm. Shackleton —I thought enough about it to say that, in my opinion, what I did know—or what I was reasonably sure of—was that the photographs that were being shown on the television were not photographs taken on the same day that these children were supposed to have gone into the water.
Senator FAULKNER —On 8 November you had that background, which is nearly a month of something stronger than doubt about the photographs. You were pretty certain about this, weren't you? What is wrong with that, Senator Hill?
Senator Hill —You do not lead the witness. You are telling him what to answer.
Senator FAULKNER —I am asking a reasonable question.
Senator Hill —`You had a stronger doubt than that, didn't you?' Ask him how much doubt he had.
Senator FAULKNER —Senator Hill, in the interests of getting through it, it is fine to reinterpret the question in that form, if you prefer. I am here to try to assist you. You have had a bad day; in fact, you have had a bad couple of weeks. Let us try to help you out.
Senator Hill —I am pleased that you are concerned about it.
Senator FAULKNER —I am.
CHAIR —Please ask the question, Senator.
Senator FAULKNER —I do worry about your efforts of late.
Vice Adm. Shackleton —Could you just give me the question again?
Senator FAULKNER —It is Senator Hill's question now, so he might care to repeat it.
CHAIR —You ask the question, Senator Faulkner.
Senator FAULKNER —He does not want to repeat it.
Vice Adm. Shackleton —You are asking me whether I had doubts on 8 November; is that the question?
Senator FAULKNER —That will do.
Vice Adm. Shackleton —Certainly, when I was on board HMAS Adelaide, the conversation with the commanding officer and my own witnessing of the tape made it difficult to see that his first report was still 100 per cent correct. My reason for not making any public comment on that was that it is for the Chief of the Defence Force to change the advice to the government. It is not for the Chief of Navy to make public comments about those issues.
Senator FAULKNER —Okay, so you did not make a public comment about it. Did you make an internal comment about it? Did you point out within Navy or Defence that the photos were not as presented?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —No, I did not. I discussed it with the Maritime Commander, who was in attendance at the time, but I did not take it any further.
Senator FAULKNER —You made your statement on 8 November with the benefit of having had some discussions with the CO of HMAS Adelaide. Is that correct?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —That is correct.
Senator FAULKNER —Having viewed the video?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —Yes.
—You discussed it with CDF on 10 October. I want to be clear on this: you did not think that the video was conclusive. You thought the video was inconclusive when you viewed it; is that fair?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —I would say it was not quite completely conclusive. What I am trying to say here is that there were shades of grey. If you looked at the video, I would have said that there was a high probability that people were not thrown into the water, but it was not so perfect as to make that absolutely clear.
Senator FAULKNER —Did you point that out to anyone?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —Not specifically that I remember, no. At this point the video had been released, having been seen by other people in Sydney and—I am not sure—perhaps Canberra. I made the assumption that what that video contained had been considered by other people in the command chain.
Senator Hill —I still don't understand why people looked at the video and not the 400 photos. Is there an explanation for that?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —The 400 photos? I did not become aware there were 400 photographs until the 8th—
Senator Hill —I am not saying that you did, but there must have been other people who had those photographs in the chain, as you say.
Vice Adm. Shackleton —Yes. The photographs were kept on board and I don't think were actually provided into the wider community, although I understand they were provided to the Federal Police in Christmas Island. But they were not made available to Navy until some time subsequently.
Senator FAULKNER —Do you have any further questions, Senator Hill?
Senator Hill —I would like to ask a lot, actually.
Senator FAULKNER —You are the minister. You have got plenty of opportunities. This is our only opportunity. We may be able to do so at the select committee, I suppose. I just didn't want to interrupt your flow of questioning. Admiral, let me ask this about the photos, first of all. Did Navy come to a determination that the two photographs that had been widely published did not depict children that had been thrown overboard? Did Navy come to that conclusion?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —On 10 October.
Senator FAULKNER —So they did come to that conclusion on 10 October?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —That was my opinion on 10 October, yes.
Senator FAULKNER —Did Navy come to the conclusion that the video did not show children being pushed overboard?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —I can't answer that question, Senator. Others in the Navy may have come to that opinion. I did not come to that opinion myself until 8 November.
Senator FAULKNER —Can we establish when Navy came to that position?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —Others who are not here may be able to help.
Senator FAULKNER —Are you saying to us you came to the conclusion about the photos on 10 October and, because you come to that conclusion, Navy comes to that conclusion?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —No.
Senator FAULKNER —I just want to be clear, because the CDF did make the point before because he can only comment in relation to Defence. When he came to a conclusion, his view was Defence comes to a conclusion. I don't want to put words into his mouth, but that was in a general sense I think the argument that CDF was developing.
Vice Adm. Shackleton —The information flow to government is through the operational chain of command, through the CDF, to the minister. Those photographs were provided from the ship through the appropriate chain of command, by and large, and were released to the media. Those particular photographs that appeared in the media had amplifying information removed from them which would have shown the context in which the photographs were taken.
Senator FAULKNER —Okay. Did Navy at any stage come to a conclusion that kids had not been thrown overboard from the SIEV4?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —No. There are those who are in the Navy chain of command whose opinion may have been that, but the Navy view of whether children were thrown over the side or not in some respects is immaterial because I provide advice, as do others, to the Chief of the Defence Force, and what matters is his opinion.
—Admiral Barrie, when you received that advice from Admiral Shackleton on 10 October in relation to the photographs not depicting the incident, did you accept that advice?
Adm. Barrie —Those photographs did not depict the incident?
Senator FAULKNER —Yes.
Adm. Barrie —Yes, I did.
Senator FAULKNER —Admiral Barrie, to pick up on the answer that we have received from Admiral Shackleton, can you say now whether Defence has, as we speak, a concluded view on the question of whether kids were thrown overboard from SIEV4?
Adm. Barrie —My view is that there is no concluded view. I go back to the point I made in my opening evidence. The commanding officer is making the call. He is there—he is the only person there—and we are all the armchair experts. It is my judgment that, in most circumstances, the call a commanding officer is going to make early on is likely to be more accurate than the reconstruction he puts on it after he has thought about it and people have raised some doubt about it, and in the absence of other advice. The issue is that the photographs and the visual material which was collected do not show, one way or the other, what occurred. But what is clear is that the photographs that were released to the media in that week did not specifically show the events of 7 October. You could not look at those pictures and say, `That shows you what happened on 7 October.' You cannot do that.
Senator CHRIS EVANS —But you did know, then, that their being presented publicly as representing what occurred on that date was wrong?
Adm. Barrie —That was confusion about what those photographs actually represented. But it is not a case to say that the advice provided by the CO was wrong.
Senator CHRIS EVANS —But you knew that those photos which were being used publicly to depict that event were, in fact, not depicting the event they were claimed to depict. You knew from then on that those photos were not an accurate representation of what had occurred and that they were being misrepresented in a way.
Adm. Barrie —But they never were an accurate representation.
Senator CHRIS EVANS —I am saying that, from that date on, you knew that it was not fair for them to be used to represent that event. Is that right?
Adm. Barrie —`Not fair' are not the words I would use. I would say there was confusion about what those photographs depicted—the events of 7 October or the events of 8 October.
Senator FAULKNER —There is clarity about the photos, though, from 10 October. We can say that, can't we?
Adm. Barrie —That is right, and those doubts were raised about what those photographs actually—
Senator FAULKNER —Admiral Shackleton tells us there is clarity from Navy. Navy knows about the photographs not depicting the incident on 10 October. I ask you: can we now say that Defence knows, because Admiral Shackleton tells you, on 10 October that the photographs do not represent kids in the water because they had been thrown overboard? Can we now say that?
Adm. Barrie —Yes, I think you can.
Senator FAULKNER —Okay. So we know Navy doesn't think this; we know Defence does not think these photographs depict kids who have been thrown overboard. Let me come back to where I started, a little earlier today. How is it that the public record was never corrected in relation to those photographs?
Adm. Barrie —That is not a question I can answer.
Senator FAULKNER —Would you accept, Admiral, that it is a reasonable question for me to ask you as CDF?
Adm. Barrie —It is, and it is not a question I can answer.
Senator FAULKNER —Can I ask you, Admiral Shackleton, as CNS—
Vice Adm. Shackleton —CN.
Senator FAULKNER —It dates me, doesn't it? Sorry, CN. I sincerely apologise. It took me so long to learn the damn acronyms and now they have all changed. As Chief of the Navy, Admiral.
Vice Adm. Shackleton
—It is again not a question for me to deal with. I do not control what is going into the public space, in the public place.
Senator FAULKNER —But you have a situation where these photographs are publicly misrepresented. Most of them appeared to be taken from Adelaide itself, weren't they?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —That is correct.
Senator FAULKNER —Some of them may have been in the water. I actually have not looked at the hundred and however many photographs there are. What is it?
Adm. Barrie —Four hundred and twelve.
Senator FAULKNER —Four hundred and twelve, or whatever the latest figure is. I have not looked at them all.
Senator HILL —You have got them, which is more than some of us can say.
Senator FAULKNER —Well, I haven't got them, actually. I actually haven't got them.
Senator HILL —You have got piles of them.
Senator FAULKNER —But if you want to send them over, that is fine.
Adm. Barrie —Perhaps I can help, Senator. The issue here is that the confusion about what the photographs represented was discussed with the minister. Why the public record was not changed, I cannot answer. That is my view.
Senator FAULKNER —But you do not think that Defence should accept responsibility for that.
Adm. Barrie —I did not release the photographs into the public domain, so am I going to say, `That is my responsibility'? I also still hold the view that those photographs did not necessarily conclude that the event itself never happened.
CHAIR —Admiral Barrie, what was the description you gave? I think it was something like: `nothing to change your initial understanding'. What were the exact words that you used?
Adm. Barrie —There was insufficient and compelling evidence to show the initial report which I accepted and passed to government was wrong.
Senator FAULKNER —Let us have a look at these photographs, Admiral Barrie. Did you see the article in today's Sydney Morning Herald that was published under the headline `Defence staff “were ordered to doctor details on the photos”'?
Adm. Barrie —I am aware of those articles.
Senator FAULKNER —I do not know if this is best directed to you or to Vice Admiral Shackleton.
Vice Adm. Shackleton —No, I did not see them.
Senator FAULKNER —Perhaps I could hear a response to some of the things that are alleged in this article.
Senator Hill —There is no evidence that defence staff were ordered to doctor the photos.
Senator FAULKNER —You have seen the article, haven't you, Senator Hill?
Senator Hill —No, there is no evidence. But you start with the premise that it is a fact.
Senator FAULKNER —No, look, Senator Hill, you have got to keep up with the game. I am just asking some questions about some statements, or allegations—call them what you will—that appear in the article. I am trying to see if you, or any of the officers at the table, or any of the officers here who have come to assist us, can help us on this. If you can, that would be really very useful. It says in this article:
Defence public affairs officers were allegedly ordered by former defence minister Peter Reith's office not only to remove captions from the `children-overboard' photographs released to the media in October, but to ditch all identifying information.
Is there someone in Defence public affairs who could at least assist us with this, so we get to the bottom of this?
Ms McKenry —Would you mind repeating the question, Senator?
Senator FAULKNER —Not at all. It says in an article in today's Sydney Morning Herald that public affairs officers were allegedly ordered by the former minister not only to remove captions from the children overboard photographs released to the media, but to ditch all identifying information. We might just go through this. Were captions removed from the photographs?
—Captions were not disclosed or released with the photographs. The photographs themselves came on their JPG files with titles. One was titled: `Laura the hero', the other: `Dogs and his family'. Attached to that was some text—captions—which actually described what was in the photographs, and dated the photograph the day that one of the photographs had been taken.
Senator FAULKNER —So there are two categories here: there is captions, and there is text and date. I want to get this right, so please tell me if I have not got that right.
Ms McKenry —The caption, which is the word we were using—another word that has been used for that is text—was actually describing what was in the photographs. And there were about four lines for one, and I think about five or six for the other.
Senator FAULKNER —Yes.
Ms McKenry —Accompanying the photographs, and just under the photographs, there were titles of the photographs near the JPG file.
Senator FAULKNER —So the caption, effectively, is the text and the date, and the other material is best described as the title of the photograph?
Ms McKenry —That is correct, Senator.
Senator FAULKNER —Thank you for that. That is helpful.
Senator Hill —Can I help people by asking you to explain what you referred to as the captions—is it the title?
Senator FAULKNER —We have just done that, Senator Hill. I told you you should be concentrating.
Senator Hill —I was probably getting some valuable advice on the side.
Senator FAULKNER —You should not be getting advice on the side. There are a lot of things you should not be getting on the side!
CHAIR —Ask your question, Senator Hill.
Senator Hill —As long as we stay on the advice.
CHAIR —Would you like me to order you the briefing on defence matters for you?
Senator Hill —When you have `title' and `explanatory data', what then do you refer to as `caption'?
Ms McKenry —The caption was the explanatory data or information. The caption described what was in the photograph.
Senator Hill —Why do you say that is the `caption' and not the `title'?
Ms McKenry —The title was just `Laura the hero', and the other title was `Dogs and his family'.
Senator Hill —Why don't both make up the `caption'?
Ms McKenry —They were separate items.
Senator Hill —Was it a headed caption?
Ms McKenry —No, it was not.
Senator Hill —But this was your use of the language.
Ms McKenry —That is right; this is what we described as the material which was describing the photos.
Senator Hill —It is just another confusing element in the whole story.
Senator FAULKNER —You can sort this out full time, Minister. You have certain advantages the rest of us do not have. We are very jealous. Why don't we just get on with it?
Ms McKenry —I am happy to use the word `text', if that would help.
Senator FAULKNER —I think we understand that `caption' and `text' are interchangeable, and `title' is something different. I have that right, I hope?
Ms McKenry —Yes, that is right.
Senator FAULKNER —Were any instructions given to Defence PR from Minister Reith's office about either captions or titles for these photographs?
Ms McKenry —The day that the photographs were released, the media adviser to the minister asked the director of media liaison to release the photographs. He asked whether he should release the photographs with the captions and he was told to release just the photographs.
Senator FAULKNER —He was told by the Minister for Defence's media officer?
—That is correct.
Senator FAULKNER —Is that competent for the Minister for Defence's media officer?
Senator Hill —I do not think you have the full explanation yet.
Senator FAULKNER —I am not asking you, Senator Hill. You are trying to ask as many questions as I am.
Senator Hill —No, I am trying to ensure that it is not distorted.
Senator FAULKNER —I am not distorting it, I am asking questions.
Senator Hill —You are distorting it by skilful distinguishing of the `caption' over the `title'.
Senator FAULKNER —By asking the wrong questions—I am terribly sorry! Read the Hansard.
Senator Hill —Ask her what was said to the minister's office.
Senator FAULKNER —Read the Hansard, for heaven's sake. Anyway, was the Minister for Defence's adviser direct? Does he ask or does he insist that the captions are removed?
Ms McKenry —He makes a request.
Senator FAULKNER —Do you know why?
Senator Hill —Because the title seemed inappropriate.
Ms McKenry —If I could just clarify: it is highly likely that the minister's media adviser did not know the full extent of what was in the captions. When he was sent the material on 9 October, he was only sent the photographs.
Senator FAULKNER —Yes, but he asks that the captions be deleted too.
Ms McKenry —That is correct.
Senator FAULKNER —But the captions outline in some detail. These are not the titles, these are more substantive indications of what these photographs show, aren't they?
Ms McKenry —That is correct.
Senator FAULKNER —And he asked for them to be deleted.
Senator Hill —He asked for what to be deleted?
Senator FAULKNER —He asked for the captions, but if you prefer to use the terminology `text', it is one and the same.
Senator Hill —That is the point, you see.
Senator FAULKNER —`Captions' and `text' are the same thing. We now know that—if we did not before, we may well have known before. You did not know before, but you know now.
Senator Hill —We now know how the language is being interpreted within Defence. As I understand it—and it is not disputed, if you read both the Bryant and Powell reports—the explanatory material, which is now referred to as the `caption', was never sent to the minister. The titles were. When it came to publishing it, what he did not want was the titles, which the department now refers to as the `captions'.
Senator FAULKNER —That is another conspiracy theory, is it, Senator Hill?
Senator Hill —I think you know that, Senator Faulkner, because I think you have read the Bryant and Powell reports.
Senator FAULKNER —I have. Did the media adviser request that all identifying information be deleted?
Ms McKenry —He requested that the captions be deleted. When the material was actually given to the media, the media received the photographs and the titles.
Senator FAULKNER —So the answer to my question is—
Senator Hill —The media were not sent the titles. Let's get it accurate.
Senator FAULKNER —Stop arguing with the officials. We've got it accurate.
Senator Hill —You do not have it accurate.
Senator CHRIS EVANS
—Mr Chairman, I think there is a problem here. The minister is entitled to defend the witnesses and help answer the questions, but he is not entitled to actually contradict the witness and tell them what to say. Quite frankly, on the last couple of occasions, I think the minister has intimidated the witness by trying to say what evidence the witness should give. It is quite appropriate for the minister to say if he thinks it is an inappropriate question or that the officer should not answer. It is quite different to try to get in first, put a version on it and encourage the officer to give that version. That is where I think the minister is overstepping the mark, and I would encourage you to make sure that he does not do that in the future.
CHAIR —Thank you, Senator Evans.
Senator Hill —It would be better if you tried to get the truth.
CHAIR —The minister has to take responsibility for all answers, and I think he can answer questions as he sees fit.
Senator FAULKNER —He can, but he is not entitled to badger witnesses.
CHAIR —That applies to us, too.
Senator FAULKNER —Exactly. Equally, I am not the minister at the table, trying to stand over a witness at the table giving evidence.
CHAIR —Let the witness give her full story.
Senator FAULKNER —We are trying to—that is our point.
CHAIR —Let her finish—
Senator FAULKNER —If you have it on board, that is excellent.
Senator CHRIS EVANS —There must be some purpose in having four government senators here. They can ask the questions and Senator Hill can help respond. But, at the moment, Senator Hill is asking the questions and Senator Hill is trying to answer them as well.
Senator FERGUSON —You just stick to your questions.
Senator CHRIS EVANS —Senator Ferguson, if you want to pay enough attention and ask some questions, you go right ahead—that is what they pay you for.
Senator FERGUSON —You look after your own questions; don't worry what we are doing.
Senator FAULKNER —What is standard procedure, Ms McKenry, in terms of photographs that go to the minister's office from Defence public relations? Is the standard operating procedure to include all the information—captions and titles?
Ms McKenry —The standard operating procedure is that material that goes across is identified—that is correct. The situation we have at the moment, however, was one that was not in fact standard operating procedure. Normally, operational photographs are taken by military public affairs officers who are in the area of operation, and there is quite a specific way in which that material is transmitted. It is transmitted to the headquarters and from there it goes to the digital media area where it is cleared before there is any contemplation of the possibility that it might be in the public arena. In this particular case, we did not have a public affairs officer on the Adelaide, so material came in without that correct chain or process and was distributed around. So we did not have the normal material that accompanies the photographs.
Senator FAULKNER —Did any of the photographs that were emailed to the minister's office carry the captions? For Senator Hill's benefit, we know that `captions' means the explanatory text and the date. Did any of the photographs that were emailed to the minister's office contain that material?
Ms McKenry —I can only speak for the two in question. I have seen five others that were, in fact, released this week by the minister and they did not have captions or explanatory text. Again, Senator, they were not taken in the normal way that public relations photographs are taken. They were taken on the ship and distributed in a different format.
Senator FAULKNER —Minister, you put out a couple of press statements about the photographs.
Senator Hill —Over recent times on the number of photographs, et cetera, yes.
Senator FAULKNER —The first one says that only two photographs were forwarded.
Senator Hill —Yes.
Senator FAULKNER —The next one says that, while that was technically correct, there were five. This is your further advice on disputed photographs.
Senator Hill —There is another five.
Senator FAULKNER —Yes. Your advice said, `The DLOs have advised me that it was not standard practice for them to bring issues directly to the attention of the minister.' Can you confirm for the benefit of the committee that that advice in your press statement is correct?
Senator Hill —Yes. I did not ask them personally; my office asked the DLOs and that was the response as it was communicated to me.
—So they did not advise you, they advised your office that it was not standard practice.
Senator Hill —But I stand by it. I am putting out the statement.
Senator FAULKNER —It says `the DLOs have advised me'. So they advised your office that it was not standard practice for them to bring issues directly to the attention of the minister. Did they bring it to the attention of other ministerial staff? Is that standard practice, or was it a practice that was adopted on this occasion?
Senator Hill —I think we said that, in relation to the five, they were emailed on to—I am sorry, I do not have the press release.
Senator FAULKNER —I have the press release. You might point out the page of the report that you are referring to.
Senator Hill —Pardon?
Senator FAULKNER —I thought you might have been referring to one of the reports. I may have missed that. I am quoting from your statement `Further advice on disputed photographs' of 17 February.
Senator Hill —I said that in the press conference that I did with the French defence minister. The media decided to ask some questions on this subject and I said:
They were in turn emailed on to various advisers.
I also said:
We have been trying to make contact with those advisers and as of the moment those we have made contact with have said that they either did not see the photographs or did not pass them on.
Senator FAULKNER —Have you been able to contact all the advisers now?
Senator Hill —I would need to check that. Again, that was being done by my office not by me personally.
Senator FAULKNER —Was Mr Scrafton one of these DLOs?
Senator Hill —No.
Senator FAULKNER —I asked in PM&C about whether he was a MOPS staffer or a DLO? So he was a MOPS staffer on Mr Reith's—
Senator Hill —That is my understanding.
Senator FAULKNER —Fair enough.
Senator Hill —It is interesting that the ABC asked me if he was a DLO—with great confidence as well. I suppose that they got it from you.
Senator FAULKNER —No, they did not. But there is a lack of clarity about this.
Senator Hill —I have subsequently been told that he was a MOPS. I thought he was beforehand and I have subsequently been told he is a MOPS staffer.
Senator FAULKNER —Okay, so he was a MOPS staffer.
Senator Hill —That is as I understand it.
Senator FAULKNER —No wonder people are asking questions about it given the qualifications your are providing in your answer—you are full confidence!
Senator Hill —After the saga with the photographs, I have become very cautious.
Mr Roche —I have checked that.
Senator Hill —Mr Roche is going to take full responsibility. Was he a MOPS staffer?
Mr Roche —He was a MOPS staffer?
Senator Hill —At all relevant times?
Mr Roche —Until, I think, 10 November.
Senator FAULKNER —Was he one of the ministerial staff that you had checked with at the time of your press conference with the French minister?
Senator Hill —I do not know. I would have to check that. I would have to check whether he was one of those who were included within the email stream and, secondly, if he was, whether we are able to contact him.
Senator FAULKNER —I saw on an earlier witness list Mr Scrafton's name in italics with an asterisk.
—I beg your pardon?
Senator FAULKNER —His name was at the bottom of the witness list in italics with an asterisk, and I immediately noted that.
Senator Hill —He is here because he holds a senior position relevant to the estimates. I made the mistake of thinking there might be some estimates questions today.
Senator FAULKNER —Excellent. Why don't we ask him to join us and we will put the question to him directly.
Senator Hill —Whether he was a MOPS staffer?
Senator FAULKNER —I think that has actually been cleared up by Mr Roche, but we will put that question. Mr Scrafton, were you employed under the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act?
Mr Scrafton —Yes. I was.
Senator FAULKNER —Thank you very much. I do not know if you have seen this or not, Mr Scrafton, but Minister Hill put out a press statement on 17 February which said:
The DLOs have advised me that it was not standard practice for them to bring it directly to the attention of the minister. They advised me that this occasion was no different to the standard practice.
What we are exploring with the minister is whether you, as a ministerial staffer—
Senator Hill —I am not going to agree that a then MOPS staffer be questioned in an estimates committee on matters relevant to that MOPS staffer's employment. That would be, I think, unprecedented—
CHAIR —And his advice to the minister, presumably.
Senator Hill —and most inappropriate. I said that Mr Scrafton should attend because he is a senior officer and there may be estimates questions relevant to his current job as a public servant.
Senator FAULKNER —Well, Minister, can I ask you this?
Senator Hill —Yes. You can ask me what you like.
Senator FAULKNER —What is going to be your approach—and Mr Scrafton is just one example—if, perchance, Mr Scrafton were to be invited by the Senate select committee to provide evidence on this or any other matter?
Senator Hill —I would defer—
Senator FAULKNER —Senator Brandis wants to give you legal advice. He is on his knees!
Senator Hill —to a whole of government position on that. To my mind it is treading on very dangerous ground. On the other hand, that must be weighed against the benefit of getting as much relevant information as possible on the public record. I have certainly not been party to a discussion yet on how we should weigh that balance. I will be doing that in due course if the committee gives an indication that it wishes to call MOPS staffers.
Senator FAULKNER —In this instance Mr Scrafton is actually a former MOPS staffer. I do not know the status of other MOPS staff and I do not intend to second-guess the Senate select committee. I am not progressing questioning to Mr Scrafton either; I am asking you this. Mr Scrafton is currently a departmental officer, as you point out to us. What is going to be your approach in relation to serving ADF officers and civilian officers in the Department of Defence in relation to any invitation that may be forthcoming to appear before the Senate select committee?
Senator Hill —I have not made a final decision on serving officers. I think therein also lie quite difficult questions. The attitude that I have taken with public contributions by serving officers is that I have not discouraged that when it has been at a very senior level—people that can, in effect, speak for the Defence Force. I think in every instance when a journalist has asked me if I would agree to them speaking to one of the chiefs I have agreed.
But I do have significant reservations about whether that is sound public policy when you go further down the ranks. On the other hand, even I can see that to try and establish the factual base in relation to SIEV4 could well be assisted by the evidence of the sailors who were on the Adelaide and who were part of the events. So that is going to be a difficult issue to weigh up as well. Again, obviously the committee has not got to the stage where it has given me any indication as to who it wants to call. Out of its request I hope that we might be able to reach an accommodation that seems to be reasonable.
—I, along with a couple of the other committee members here, happen to be also a member of the select committee and I would not want to second-guess what the committee might do either. I think there is at least some clarity that a number of people may well be invited to attend and give evidence. I think that would seem to me to be likely to be the approach. It is certainly an approach that I would support.
Nevertheless, Minister, Mr Scrafton may well be one of those who the committee might care to call. There may well be others, as you can imagine. So I think the sort of approach that you are going to take is important here, particularly in the light of the fact that Mr Scrafton has made it to the witness table at this estimates committee.
Senator Hill —Is there a question before the committee?
Senator FAULKNER —That was a question to you but if you care not to answer it—
Senator Hill —I am sorry, I thought you were summing up the situation.
Senator FAULKNER —No, I was not. I was asking you a question about your approach in relation to the select committee.
Senator Hill —My current position is not finalised on either military staff or MOPS staff. MOPS staff, I think, would be firmer than the military staff.
Senator FAULKNER —General Powell, Mr Scrafton is mentioned in the appendix to your report in the list of key personnel contacted during the course of the inquiry. Did you interview him on 5 December 2001?
Major Gen. Powell —Yes.
Senator FAULKNER —In relation to the written statement, on your report dated 14 December 2001 it did say, `Written statement: no—still await.' Is that still the situation, or have you now received Mr Scrafton's written statement?
Major Gen. Powell —Each of those people that I interviewed was invited to submit a written statement. I have not received a written statement from Mr Scrafton.
Senator FAULKNER —Was this in the form of a request?
Major Gen. Powell —Correct. My inquiry was an information-gathering inquiry. There was no obligation on anyone to make a written statement. I provided a list of questions to each person that I interviewed. I had an informal discussion with them, with an assistant. Then, by leaving a set of questions with them, I invited them to respond.
Senator FAULKNER —I think I know the answer to this question, but it is useful for you to put on the record how you dealt with the records of interview that you had, in terms of recording and outcomes.
Major Gen. Powell —The interview itself was an informal discussion, at which I took notes. You would note from the early part of my report that it allowed me to form a general idea of the views of those I interviewed. It was not done in a formal way. The formal part of my findings was very much in the form of written statements which were the result of, firstly, answers to the questions I provided to each person I interviewed and, secondly, any further information that they wanted to add to the questions that I posed.
Senator FAULKNER —So in Mr Scrafton's case, for example, neither of those two final steps were completed?
Major Gen. Powell —You imply that there was an obligation to complete them.
Senator FAULKNER —No implication is intended.
Major Gen. Powell —He was invited to respond and clearly chose not to.
Senator FAULKNER —I am only interested in establishing the status of it.
Senator CHRIS EVANS —What did you conclude from the five interviews where you did not have written responses? You say that you had an informal chat with those five people but that you were going to base your report on the written responses to the questions you led. What input or value, then, was on the five contacts from whom you did not receive any written information? It seems to me to be difficult for you to use that, if it was an informal chat. I just want to understand your thought processes, given that you did not get any further information from five of those witnesses, according to my quick count.
Major Gen. Powell —I concluded that the information they provided in an informal sense was not critical to my findings. Therefore, I based my report very much on the formal side, which was the responses that I received. I might caveat my remarks by saying that you would note from my report, in terms of the way that I expressed my findings, that they were very much a starting point. If we really wanted to be very clear about what actually transpired we need to go through a formal process, which is really Admiral Barrie's choice. He has not made that decision yet.
Senator CHRIS EVANS
—I do not think any of us have read that report—so, with your caveat, I think you have covered that pretty well. So that Senator Hill does not accuse me of putting words in your mouth, how would you describe, then, the value of the information gained from those five witnesses who are on your list but from whom you did not receive written reports?
Major Gen. Powell —This is a personal judgment. I would say that in certain cases where those people are reasonably important—bearing in mind that my report was really the first phase, in a sense, to the broader inquiry conducted by PM&C—it meant that the outcomes I came up with were less conclusive and continued to place weight on the fact that there was an expedient approach to getting as clear a picture as we could of exactly what happened. But until you conduct a thorough and comprehensive inquiry, where witnesses are taken through due process, you are not going to be able to clarify the circumstances to a point where we know exactly what happened. And even then you may not, because it is very clear to me that, based on the recollections of a lot of people that I spoke to, they were not conclusive in their own minds.
Senator FAULKNER —You would agree, though, that Mr Scrafton's evidence, for example, is pretty important in this matter, wouldn't you?
Major Gen. Powell —It depends on your perspective. I guess—
Senator FAULKNER —Yes, it does. My perspective is because Mr Scrafton has—
Senator Hill —Senator Faulkner certainly invites you to come to that conclusion.
Senator FAULKNER —I do, Senator Hill, because, after all, Mr Scrafton has discussions with the Prime Minister about some of these matters, so I do think that his evidence is important. I am not going to mince words about that; I believe it is important.
Senator Hill —I think it is even debatable in a public service inquiry such as this one for a public servant, who is obviously in a position where his superiors have significant influence over his future, to be asked to give evidence relating to his former employment under the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act. I have considerable doubt as to whether that is an appropriate thing to do.
Senator FAULKNER —I am interested to hear you say that, Senator Hill, because on Monday I consistently put a view to Mr Moore-Wilton from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet about a report that was done by a comparatively junior officer in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and submitted to her immediate superiors—the branch head, the deputy secretary and the secretary amongst others—and this seemed to be an argument that you roundly rejected.
Senator Hill —To one's superiors—
Senator FAULKNER —You cannot have it both ways.
Senator Hill —is less threatening than to one's inferiors.
Senator FAULKNER —The point is, Senator Hill, there are very significant caveats that General Powell points out in his report. I think you would acknowledge that.
Senator Hill —I am not questioning the way in which General Powell conducted—
Senator FAULKNER —No, I think General Powell would say that.
Senator Hill —It seems to me to have been very fair but, in retrospect, I doubt if the issue was even thought about. I think it is somewhat unfair to question somebody—
Senator FAULKNER —I am interested in your change of heart in the space of 48 hours. General Powell's report is unarguably superior to the Prime Minister and Cabinet report. There is no doubt about that. In fact, very little new information of any value at all is contained in the PM&C report. Most of that report is based on the findings and the information sought by General Powell, who does make the point—I would like you to comment on this, General Powell—that the information you received from those you spoke to was not sworn evidence. Those individuals obviously were not on oath.
Major Gen. Powell —That is correct, Senator.
Senator FAULKNER —I do not want to put words into your mouth, but I do think you identify and recognise that as something of a shortcoming; hence, you make recommendations about possible further inquiries of a different nature.
Major Gen. Powell —I would not call it a `shortcoming'. I think, again, you have to look at the purpose of my report. It was to inform the CDF, as best I could without going down a formal inquiry route, of the circumstances surrounding this whole series of incidents. Given the constraints of an informal inquiry and given the constraints of what people could recall— given the way that the situation has been explained by Admiral Shackleton—I think we have come to a relatively effective conclusion about exactly what contributed to the circumstances we find ourselves in.
—But in your inquiry, General, in your discussion with Mr Scrafton, can you indicate to us whether the question of Mr Scrafton's telephone calls with the Prime Minister was discussed in any detail?
Senator Hill —If those questions were asked of Mr Scrafton—
Senator FAULKNER —No, they are asked of General Powell.
Senator Hill —No, if they were asked by General Powell of Mr Scrafton in the form of his inquiry, I would have thought that they were inappropriate questions to ask.
Senator FAULKNER —Well, you may have; now you will be able to make a judgment. It would only be your opinion.
Senator Hill —and it would be equally inappropriate for General Powell now, through this other technique of questioning him rather than Mr Scrafton, to seek to explore those issues, which are really issues out of a relationship under the MOP(S) Act.
CHAIR —If you wish to ask that question, Senator Faulkner, you should address it to the minister. I rule it is inappropriate to ask that question.
Senator FAULKNER —On what basis?
CHAIR —For the same reason that the minister has explained.
Senator FAULKNER —What is that?
CHAIR —That it is inappropriate to ask General Powell to make a statement on a conversation he has had with Mr Scrafton in reference to a conversation that Mr Scrafton might have had with the Prime Minister.
Senator FAULKNER —What you seem to fail to understand is that Senator Hill makes the suggestion that a question that I direct to General Powell should not be answered by General Powell. Senator Hill suggests that the question I might direct to Mr Scrafton, as a witness at the table, is not properly directed to him, and I am, in fact, not going to find fault with that, although I did not have an opportunity to ask the question. Senator Hill jumped to a courageous conclusion that I might go a bridge too far—he lacks confidence in that regard.
Senator CHRIS EVANS —I knew this question would be about infrastructure projects in Defence.
Senator FAULKNER —Then Senator Hill gives no guarantee that witnesses like Mr Scrafton might be called before the Senate select committee.
Senator Hill —I rely on the authority of Senator Faulkner. Earlier this week, in relation to another staff member, I said:
It would be highly unusual for staff of any minister to be called before a Senate inquiry.
To which Senator Faulkner said:
It would; you are right. That is not the normal way these inquiries work. I accept that. I try to be consistent about these sorts of things.
Senator FAULKNER —That is why I did not press my question with Mr Scrafton, even though I had not yet asked it. It may have been about Defence—
Senator Hill —Now you are going through the back door!
Senator FAULKNER —No, I am asking General Powell—and I would like to press my question with General Powell. It is a perfectly reasonable question in relation to General Powell and his report.
Senator Hill —Well, I object to the question.
Senator FAULKNER —I accept what you say about Mr Scrafton, even though you did not hear the question I intended to ask. I hope that Mr Scrafton and many other witnesses will be allowed to appear if invited—that is a major qualification—to the Senate select committee. I do suggest to you, Minister, and to you, Chair, who at the end of the day has to consider this, that questions directed to Major General Powell about his report are absolutely in order.
Senator Hill —I do not agree in relation to questions that refer to alleged actions that took place under a MOPS relationship.
Senator FAULKNER —You think this would be a perfectly reasonable question if it related to a member of the defence forces, an ADF member, or a civilian in the Department of Defence who had not previously had any incarnation or role as a MOPS staffer. That is the point you are making.
Senator Hill —It is a special relationship, and it is traditionally protected for good reason.
Senator FAULKNER —So it would be a reasonable question—
—In the case of Mr Scrafton, I think even more so. It should be that public servants can take leave and contribute to the staff of ministers under that ministerial relationship and return without being prejudiced for having done so.
Senator FAULKNER —So it is a reasonable question in other circumstances but it is unreasonable because of Mr Scrafton's recent incarnation as a MOPS staffer?
Senator Hill —Correct.
Senator FAULKNER —Okay. Thank you for that, Senator Hill. This is to you, General Powell, the question we left in abeyance earlier in the hearings. I think I was asking you about your decision not to invite or request Air Marshal Houston to have a discussion with you in the preparation of your report. I think you were going to talk to us about your reason for that, and I believe you were going to depend on the evidence that Brigadier Bornholt had provided to you. I wonder if you could now outline that to the committee.
Major Gen. Powell —Senator, I thought I had responded to your question earlier regarding that. I explained my response once before.
Senator FAULKNER —You did in part but you were going to indicate to the committee the elements contained in that statement of the brigadier that assisted you to come to that conclusion. I wonder if you could share that with the committee.
Senator Hill —Come to what conclusion?
Senator FAULKNER —This is your approach, Senator Hill.
Senator Hill —My approach before dinner was that material should not be put on the table tonight that is prejudicial to an individual without that having been put to the individual. Then I did not of course know what General Powell was going to say. That is one point. The second point is that I do not quite understand, if Senator Faulkner wants to pursue this line of questions, why he didn't do it with the brigadier.
Senator FAULKNER —I can do it with the brigadier, but General Powell is at the table.
Senator Hill —I don't mind, subject to my proviso that it could be prejudicial to an individual without notice.
Senator FAULKNER —I don't know whether these are General Powell's notes that he intended to quote from or the brigadier's statement. I don't know that. You may have that information but, given that it was the general who was proposing to read that material into the record, it seems sensible to deal with him. That is why I am doing it. Given that you have made clear what your attitude is, and defined it in relation to MOPS staff, I think we ought to now proceed.
CHAIR —I might interrupt you there, Senator Faulkner. It being 9 o'clock, we might take a short break—
Senator FAULKNER —That's fine. Could we just have an answer to the question and then take a short break?
CHAIR —If the minister chooses to answer it.
Senator FAULKNER —Yes. General Powell can assist me on this, I think.
Senator Hill —I have said that I don't object to it being done this way if it is something that is not prejudicial.
Senator FAULKNER —Before you read it out, General Powell, do you believe it is prejudicial?
Major Gen. Powell —If I recall, I think we actually did this once before. Are we doing this again?
Senator FAULKNER —No, we didn't get to the statement, though, General Powell.
Senator Hill —By this time tomorrow night we will have done it a number of times.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —You started to and then you stopped. Hansard will show it.
Major Gen. Powell —I am very happy to do it again unless—
Senator CHRIS EVANS —You are dealing with the Senate now. We are used to repetition, even if it is tedious. For my benefit—I only heard the first part of your statement, so even if it is just to amuse me—would you mind doing it again?
Major Gen. Powell
—I will try to be exact. First of all, if I recall correctly, I said that I did not think what I was about to say was prejudicial. I then quoted, from Brigadier Bornholt's statement to me, words to the effect that he was requested to brief CAF on his knowledge of the issue—that issue clearly being the one in question—and that he then sat through a telecon between CAF and MINDEF to assist in clarification. I think, from memory, I chose words to the effect that I did not see this as significant and that I did not see it as a key issue. Then I went on and quoted from my report, at subparagraph K on page 7 of 10, which is CDF to Minister for Defence:
Those statements further suggest that the CDF may have informed the Minister of the doubtful nature of those allegations. In that discussion it appears that it was agreed that in the future it would be necessary to ensure that there was clarity about material under discussion. Further, it appears that the Minister may have advised the CDF that the issue would not be further pursued.
That is on the public record. The point I am making is that I saw the question of `clarification' in Brigadier Bornholt's point as not shedding any further light on the clarification that clearly had been spoken to the minister by CDF.
CHAIR —Are you happy to take a short break?
Senator FAULKNER —Yes.
Proceedings suspended from 9.02 p.m. to 9.28 p.m.
Senator FAULKNER —I would like to be clear, General Powell, if I can, on the matter we were discussing before the break. Did I understand you to say that you did not regard Brigadier Bornholt's and Air Marshal Houston's speaker phone conversation with CDF as significant because you were aware that CDF had already clarified the situation for the minister?
Major Gen. Powell —I am not sure the word `already' is appropriate. What I would say is that when I reviewed all the statements and looked at what I did know and what I did not know—and there was a significant amount that I did not know and I knew that I was not empowered to determine what I did not know—I made a judgment that I would go with what I had. Given the time frame that I had to do it and the availability of people, I went with what I had.
Senator FAULKNER —Understanding that, would the CDF's clarifying the situation with the minister—I may be jumping to a conclusion that is wrong here, so bear with me if that is the case—be the contact with Minister Reith on 11 October as relayed by Admiral Ritchie? Is that what you were depending on?
Major Gen. Powell —Without checking the facts, I cannot recall which particular piece of evidence led me to that deduction. I can say that, in terms of my focus, which was predominantly internal ADF, and because there was not a clear picture in relation to what went in and out of the minister's office, my focus was predominantly within the ADF and I was happy, at least in answering the CDF's requirement, that I had covered that particular issue as well as I could under the circumstances.
Senator FAULKNER —Could I ask Brigadier Bornholt whether he regarded the conversation as significant in terms of conveying critical information to the minister?
Senator Hill —We had this debate earlier tonight. It is not for Brigadier Bornholt to say whether he regards his conversations as significant; it is for this committee to determine various facts and then Senator Faulkner or anyone else can call on—
Senator FAULKNER —We may learn from the brigadier whether he was aware at that time of the conversation between Minister Reith and—
Senator Hill —I have no problem with you asking whether he was aware, but that is not what you said.
Senator FAULKNER —There were two elements. Brigadier, I just wondered if you might be able to inform the committee in relation to the speaker phone conversation that we have heard about previously between you and the air marshal with Minister Reith. My interest here is whether you felt, as one of the participants, that you were conveying critical information.
Senator Hill —Fair go!
Senator FAULKNER —What is wrong with that?
Senator Hill —It is not for him to analyse the quality of the evidence. It is for General Powell to make an assessment on the basis of the evidence that was put before him. If you want to go beyond that, it is for this committee to ask the brigadier whether a phone call was made and what the content of the phone call was, but not whether the brigadier thought it was significant, super-significant, extraordinarily significant or whatever. That is a value judgment.
Senator FAULKNER —If you let the senators finish their sentences it might all fall into place for you, Minister. I would like to know whether the brigadier was aware at the time of the speaker phone conversation with the minister that CDF had clarified matters with Minister Reith on 11 October. Were you, Brigadier, aware of that conversation?
Brig. Bornholt —I was not aware of any conversations that CDF may have had with the minister.
Senator Hill —That is the answer.
—If that is the case, Minister, no doubt the brigadier did think it was significant at the time and clearly so did, from the evidence we received from Air Marshal—
Senator Hill —That is your assessment. You are now giving your speech.
Senator FAULKNER —You do not doubt that. Brigadier, I assume that prior to this phone conversation no previous attempt had been made to clarify this issue with the minister. That is absolutely clear from what you said previously, but let us just rule that out, if we can.
Brig. Bornholt —Do you want me to start at the start? I am not sure where you want me to go to.
Senator FAULKNER —Where would you like to start, Brigadier?
Senator Hill —He would like to tell you what he wants you to say.
Brig. Bornholt —The question is not clear.
Senator FAULKNER —Fair enough.
Senator Hill —Fancy that!
Senator FAULKNER —We will try to clarify things so that we can make some progress. Brigadier, I am interested in understanding when you first became aware of the fact that public statements were being made that did not represent the situation in relation to the children overboard incident, as you understood it.
Brig. Bornholt —The first time that I became aware of that was in the afternoon of 10 October.
Senator Hill —Sorry, I am now not clear. Are you talking about the events of the 7th, or are you talking about the photos?
Senator FAULKNER —I asked a question about the events relating to children overboard. The brigadier may have interpreted that as either of the two elements.
Senator Hill —I think that should be clarified.
Senator FAULKNER —If the brigadier cares to clarify it, he may. Senator Hill makes the point, Brigadier, that there are two elements to this: (1), the question of the veracity of the claims that children were thrown overboard; and (2), the issue of whether the photos depict that incident.
Brig. Bornholt —As to the first, I had no evidence that children were not thrown overboard. What I knew was that the photographs that had been released did not represent the events on 7 October, whatever those events may have been. If children were thrown overboard on 7 October, I was not aware of any of that. What I was aware of, if I can say it again, was that the photographs did not represent events of 7 October; they represented the events of 8 October.
Senator FAULKNER —And you became aware of that on what date?
Brig. Bornholt —On 10 October.
Senator FAULKNER —Could you, for the benefit of the committee, indicate to us how you became aware of that?
Brig. Bornholt —On 10 October, I was in a meeting with my staff. At about 3 p.m. my staff officer came in and said to me that the minister's media adviser had spoken to her twice about photographs that they wanted to release. He was specifically interested in the break-up of the people who had been in the water on 7 October, and the numbers of women and children. She had tried to deal with him on two occasions to say to him that there was no evidence that we could find that would corroborate such a claim. After he had, as she said, got quite angry with her, she decided that it was time to hand the problem over to me, because I will not have my staff dealt with like that.
Senator Hill —Well, I do not know that—
Brig. Bornholt —I then spoke to him.
Senator CHRIS EVANS —Senator Hill, you cannot interject every time you do not like something a witness says.
Senator Hill —No—
Senator CHRIS EVANS —That is exactly what you are doing.
Senator Hill —No. You ought to call the primary witness if you want that evidence, rather than go to a secondary source.
Senator FAULKNER —The brigadier just said that he will not have his staff dealt with in that manner. He will not—
—Yes, but if you want to find out whether the staff were dealt with in that manner, you should be calling the staff and not the brigadier.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —I do not think he asked that question.
Senator FAULKNER —At this stage, Minister, given that you are still pondering questions about the appropriateness or otherwise of more junior staff being called before the Senate select committee, perhaps that will be an element that will assist you in that consideration.
Senator Hill —I think it would be a much more reliable course of action if the brigadier concentrated on what action he took rather than gave us his views on how somebody else had spoken to one of his staff.
Senator FAULKNER —With respect, Minister, that is very offensive.
Senator Hill —I do not think it is offensive at all.
Senator FAULKNER —It is not up to you to reinterpret questions. Mind you, I am pretty relaxed about that. At the end of the day, there will be enough hearing days on this and we will finally get there. I am tired, but I am in a really good mood as well.
Senator Hill —Aren't we all?
Senator FAULKNER —You do not seem to be, I must say.
Senator Hill —No. It is again colouring—
Senator FAULKNER —Let the witnesses answer the questions and we will be out of here a lot more quickly.
Senator Hill —The witnesses should answer the questions in terms of their primary contact—
Senator FAULKNER —No. They should answer the questions as they see appropriate.
Senator Hill —and not in terms of the background that they think is relevant to the particular point of view.
Senator CHRIS EVANS —Brigadier Bornholt is more than capable of describing a conversation he had with a staff member, which is what he was doing. If you are going to rule out any conversations—
Senator Hill —As a result of the conversation with his staff member this is the action that he took, and then it would be fair.
Senator FAULKNER —You really do sound, Minister, as though you are trying to cover up.
Senator Hill —Don't be silly.
CHAIR —Would you like to ask the question again, Senator Faulkner?
Senator FAULKNER —No, I do not need to. I think the brigadier is well aware of what the question is. We are just awaiting the answer.
Brig. Bornholt —After I became aware of this, I then said that I would deal with the media adviser. Before I decided to call him, though, I asked my staff to gather together all of the facts that they could so that I could provide the right advice. I then called the minister's media adviser at about quarter to four on that day, and I said to him, `My advice to you is that the photographs could not be of 7 October because Strategic Command have informed us that, of the 14 people that they understand were in the water, there were no women or children.' This conversation, as I said, took place at quarter to four. He expressed concern about my advice and told me that the CDF had confirmed with the minister that the photographs could be released and that there were women and children in the water. I said, `I can't believe that.'
Senator Hill —But it was the Strategic Command that told the task force that there were children in the water.
Senator FAULKNER —Oh, for heaven's sake!
Senator CHRIS EVANS —On a point of order, Mr Chairman: this is just totally unbelievable. If Senator Hill wants to run a commentary on it, he can keep it to himself, but you have an obligation to protect the witnesses.
CHAIR —The minister can answer the questions as he wants.
Senator CHRIS EVANS —He was not asked the question, and he was not answering it. He was trying to provide a commentary on the witness's evidence. That is just totally inappropriate. You have an obligation to protect the witness and allow him to answer the question.
CHAIR —Also the minister has a right to—
Senator Hill —I also have an obligation to do my best to ensure that the evidence put before this committee fairly reflects the facts.
—Minister, you know what it is like in relation to your responsibilities as a minister in terms of your obligation not to mislead the parliament and to ensure that answers you provide are accurate. Unfortunately, I have not had that responsibility for many years, but I did understand it when I did have it.
Senator Hill —It is a responsibility we all have.
Senator FAULKNER —Of course it is, and it is a responsibility that the witnesses at the table have, Minister, and the brigadier is giving evidence. His evidence is important in a sense that does not apply, I think, to virtually any other witness in this room. The brigadier, of course, in the next few days has very serious and important responsibilities. We wish him very well in that. There may not be an opportunity directly for the Senate select committee to hear this witness in another forum. From that point of view, I think you should acknowledge that and allow this witness—as you should allow all the witnesses—to give his evidence the way he sees fit. It is just fundamental and you know that, Senator Hill. Generally you have a good record of allowing this to happen, but this is preposterous behaviour from you, standing over witnesses at the table. You have never done it before.
Senator Hill —I am not doing it now.
Senator FAULKNER —Why cover up for ex-minister Reith?
Senator Hill —This is a commentary.
Senator FAULKNER —You know you have never covered up for him before. Anyway, let us get on with it.
Brig. Bornholt —At that stage of the game it became apparent to me that the minister's media adviser and I were actually talking about two different sets of pictures. I did not have the two photographs during that telephone conversation that were subsequently released. The only photographs that I had on my system were the five photographs that had been sent from Strategic Command. They were the shots that were released by the minister in the last few days that showed, at a distance, the SIEV sinking and, eventually, the people in the water. So I was at a loss to work out why there was so much specificity about these two photographs.
The deal was, though, that the minister was to make a media statement at about 4.30—that was my understanding. I then went across to the other Defence building on the way to a meeting and, on another system, when I logged on I discovered these other two photographs that had been sent to me after my staff had sourced them, again from Strategic Command. When I opened these two photographs up, it was clear that the captions under the photographs indicated that certainly one and therefore, I surmised, the second, were taken on and displayed the events of 8 November, because 8 November was actually in the captions.
Senator CHRIS EVANS —You mean 8 October, I suspect.
Brig. Bornholt —Excuse me, 8 October. I then brought that issue to the attention of my divisional head, Jenny McKenry. She then said that I should contact the minister's media adviser and bring it to his attention. At that stage I was on the way to a Strategic Command group meeting that was convened for 5 o'clock on that day. I called the minister's media adviser and left a message on his mobile phone answering machine to say, essentially, `The advice I had given you earlier is correct. Those photographs do not represent the events of 7 November.'
Senator CHRIS EVANS —I think you mean October again.
Brig. Bornholt —Sorry, October. They are confusing, these dates; you can get them mixed up. I then went to the Strategic Command group meeting that finished at about 6. 30 and our focus started to move from that time on to other things like the operations in the Middle East, because that is what that meeting was about. I came out of there and had not heard anything back from the media adviser, so I went back to my office and sent an email to Jenny McKenry to the effect that I was so concerned about this that we should bring this matter to the attention of Mr Scrafton at the earliest opportunity tomorrow—tomorrow being 11 October.
She called me that night and said, `I think you're right—we do need to bring this to the attention of the minister's office properly.' So Jenny McKenry and I met in her office the following morning—11 October—and we clarified all the detail, and during that period Mr Scrafton rang Jenny's office and we clarified with him by telephone the nature of the events. He then brought to our attention that there were no captions on these photographs that they had in the minister's office, which actually surprised us because we were not aware of that particular detail at that stage, that the captions had been removed. So we then undertook to get the detail from Mr Bloomfield from media liaison as to why the captions were removed and how all of that occurred. He provided that information, and I am not a primary witness as to the detail of that information. Jenny McKenry then undertook to provide Mr Scrafton with an email with the two photographs on it, and the captions, to ensure that it was clear that 8 November was the date of these photographs.
Senator HOGG —You mean 8 October?
—8 October, I am sorry. So that is essentially how I participated in bringing this to the attention of the minister's office.
Senator HOGG —With respect to the photographs, they were all digital photographs, I presume?
Brig. Bornholt —Yes.
Senator HOGG —Was the date and time that the photographs were taken superimposed on the photographs?
Brig. Bornholt —No, it was not.
Senator HOGG —It wasn't?
Brig. Bornholt —Not the photographs that I saw, no.
Senator HOGG —Is that a standard practice for photographs that are taken within Defence, that the time and the date might be superimposed upon photographs?
Brig. Bornholt —I cannot speak for these particular photographs because these were amateur photographs taken by the crew of the vessel. I only deal in professional public affairs photographs, and it is not common practice for those dates and times to be superimposed. I guess you are referring to the type of thing you do where it has the 3rd of the 6th, or whatever, on the front.
Senator HOGG —Yes.
Brig. Bornholt —No, we do not do that.
Senator FAULKNER —What do you mean by `amateur photographs', Brigadier?
Brig. Bornholt —They were not taken by professional photographers. There are only two kinds of photographer that I am aware of: amateurs and professionals. These were not professionals.
Senator FERGUSON —If they were amateurs, how did they get to Strategic Command?
Brig. Bornholt —They were provided from the ship through the Navy communication system to Maritime Command and then onforwarded to a number of addressees in Defence, including Strategic Command.
Senator FERGUSON —Is it a normal practice to take photographs from any sailor on the ship who happens to take photographs and forward them on?
Brig. Bornholt —You would have to ask someone from the Navy about that.
Senator Hill —Why those two and not the other 400?
Senator FERGUSON —Why those two and not any others?
Adm. Barrie —I can answer that. It is quite simple: if there is no properly accredited public affairs adviser or representative in the ship—and there was not in this case—then the ship's staff will seek whatever resources they have available, and that sometimes includes personal photography and that sort of thing.
Senator HOGG —Did that apply also to the official film that was taken and later viewed— the video?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —No, that was through the electro-optic tracking system which is fitted to the ship.
Senator HOGG —Would that show a date and time on that particular film?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —That would record ship's position, date, time, bearings, elevations—
Senator HOGG —That would be shown as a subtitle, if I can use that word, on the film?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —It can be shown that way. These photographs that were taken on board the ship were taken with a hand-held digital camera, and the files from the camera would have had a date-time stamp with the file which would not appear on the picture as you viewed it. What I do not know is whether that date-time can be manipulated.
Senator HOGG —Subsequent to the photos being taken, someone has then taken the time to download them onto a PC and add captions to the photos and add the time of the photos. Is that correct?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —The photos can have a title added—so, like a normal file, it has a title—but you then have to load it into another application to add the supporting text normally, in this case.
Senator HOGG —Who would have done that?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —If the picture was incorporated into another application, such as PowerPoint, the ship could have done that and then sent the entire PowerPoint slide. I do not know how that came across.
Senator FERGUSON —Is it possible that the amateurs who took the photos could have also added the captions and the titles?
Vice Adm. Shackleton
—There was one individual on the ship, a petty officer, who did the majority of the photography. We would have to check to see what he did in relation to the manipulation of those images.
Senator FERGUSON —So there was more than one amateur photographer taking the photographs?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —There could have been, but my understanding is that this individual was the ship's photographer, even though he does not rate the standard of professional.
Senator FERGUSON —You do not know whether he added the captions and the titles and wrote what he wanted on the photographs or not?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —No, I do not.
Senator FERGUSON —It would certainly be a benefit, I assume, for the Navy to have one of the crew doing that sort of thing. I assume a photographic record is also valuable to the Navy. That is an assumption on my part, but I assume that is right, isn't it?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —Perhaps I can read you some text from a message that came from the ship. It says that all photographic images were taken by the petty officer communications information systems maintainer (the ship's only authorised photographer) using a private digital Sony camera and were subsequently downloaded via a cable to a modified local area network workstation. Some were light/colour/brilliance altered using a PhotoShop software package. All were given a unique filename, saved, and all were stored on the local workstation and then saved to a compact disc. The photos were saved as the petty officer saw fit and are therefore not in absolute chronological order in the respective file/folder—they all appear now on this CD, which has been spoken about. The message says that `Some names are unusual and reflect the yeoman's black humour. Other users/administrators onboard do not have access permissions to the logical partition on the hard drive on his work-station'—so he had reason to believe that they were not being accessed by others. As the petty officer said, `All the photos I took over the period, I considered, portrayed HMAS Adelaide and her ship's company in a good light, and all photos were taken on the spur of the moment as is my usual modus operandi. No photos were taken with the intention of misleading or confusing the viewer whatsoever. Other than manipulating contrast and brightness levels, I do not alter the images in any way.' That was the photographic support message.
Senator FAULKNER —Brigadier, you were informed by strategic command on 7 October that at no stage were there any women or children in the water? I think that is what you said, but I want to be really clear that that is the case.
Brig. Bornholt —No. I was informed on 10 October. I was not directly informed. My staff spoke to Strategic Command and gave me the information. Essentially, it was negative reporting. The information they had was that there were 14 people in the water and they had no information to support any contention that there were women and children amongst that 14.
Senator FAULKNER —Do you know who that contact was in Strategic Command—not in your office, but in Strategic Command?
Brig. Bornholt —I would have to get that clarified with my staff officer who made that contact.
Senator FAULKNER —Would you mind taking that on notice for us. We would appreciate that.
Brig. Bornholt —Yes, certainly.
Senator FERGUSON —Could I just go back to the photos with Admiral Shackleton just for one question. Admiral Shackleton, is it any wonder that the photos were passed on to whoever they might have been passed on to in the knowledge that the captions and titles contained, I think in your words, the petty officer's black humour? Is it any wonder that the captions and titles were not removed before they were sent on?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —I would not read `black humour' as being `crude' or otherwise offensive. One was titled `Law' and the other was titled `Dogs', which is the nickname of a particular individual.
Senator FERGUSON —Which is pretty irrelevant to the photos concerned.
Vice Adm. Shackleton —Yes.
Senator FERGUSON —So is it any wonder that they were removed?
Vice Adm. Shackleton —I am not sure I am following you in terms of `removed.'
Senator Hill —I could help, but Senator Faulkner would get upset.
Senator FAULKNER —Sorry, is that all?
Senator FERGUSON —Yes. I would not want to interrupt your flow, Senator Faulkner.
—Thank you. Brigadier, in relation to the issue that we started to ask Ms McKenry about, which was the removal of captions, I think from your evidence you are suggesting that matter was a matter that Commander Bloomfield dealt with directly. Was that the import of what you were saying?
Brig. Bornholt —I am not actually primarily attached to any of those decisions about who took what captions off or why they took them off or what discussions led to that, so it would only be my second-hand opinion that I would know about that.
Senator FAULKNER —But I was asking Ms McKenry some questions about that. I appreciate that you are not directly involved. I thought your evidence was suggesting that neither was Ms McKenry; in fact it was Commander Bloomfield who had the direct contact on that issue.
Brig. Bornholt —Well, I think so. What I said was that it was not until the next day, on the 11th, in the morning when Jenny McKenry and I had spoken to Mike Scrafton, that we actually became aware that captions had been removed, because the Minister's office had said they did not have any photographs with captions on them. We were quite surprised by that. That is why she then, I understand, went down that line to determine how that had come about.
Senator FAULKNER —I do not think Commander Bloomfield is on the list of witnesses. I suspect he is not here tonight. So, this is the status at 11 October. Can you just let me know, in relation to your own role on this matter, if there were any further developments on that day or, if not, when this issue next came across your desk?
Brig. Bornholt —Later on that day I had my staff continue to try to find some clarity on this issue because it was very difficult to get information that could corroborate one way or the other. The afternoon of 11 October was when I first got possession of the signal that was talked about earlier on, and that was used to brief Chief of the Air Force a month later or thereabouts about the facts because that was the only written material that I could find that actually showed a chronology of events.
Senator FAULKNER —How did you get that signal?
Brig. Bornholt —It was emailed to me from Headquarters Australian Theatre.
Senator Hill —That was a signal of what date?
Brig. Bornholt —The date on the signal was 10 October.
Senator Hill —So there were plenty of signals before then, from the seventh.
Senator FAULKNER —Having received that signal, can I ask you, Admiral Barrie, whether that particular signal is the one that might form the basis of the chronology which was forwarded to Prime Minister and Cabinet that includes the footnote, the famous footnote.
Adm. Barrie —I cannot answer that question; I do not know.
Senator FAULKNER —Can you help me with that, Brigadier?
Brig. Bornholt —I do not know who else saw this signal. The title of the signal was `A list of chronological events of 7 October' and it was, essentially, a time summary in chronological order of all of the activities that happened on that day. From that signal I was able to determine the numbers of people who had been in the water, at what time they had been in the water and whether they were men, women or children. They were all men.
Senator Hill —I am sorry to be a pest, but there was a signal between whom? Exactly who were the parties?
Brig. Bornholt —As I recall, and I do not have it in front of me, the signal was to the maritime commander in Sydney and it originated from HMAS Adelaide. It went through the various headquarters on the way to the maritime headquarters in Sydney.
Senator Hill —On 10 October.
Brig. Bornholt —The date on the signal was 10 October.
Senator FAULKNER —Brigadier, I am now going to make a courageous assumption that signals do not contain footnotes. Would that be right?
Brig. Bornholt —None that I have ever seen.
Senator FAULKNER —I thought that was the case. Admiral Barrie, is there someone who, in short order, could inform the committee whether that particular signal formed part of the basis of the footnoted chronology—it seems quite logical that it would—that went to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
—I cannot answer the question directly. What I can say is, because I have just been handed a copy of this particular message, that it has no footnote.
Senator FAULKNER —I actually assumed that it would not have one. As the Brigadier told me that had never seen a signal that had one, I was confident that that was the case.
Adm. Barrie —I cannot answer the precise question. What I can say is that this message does not have a footnote.
Senator FAULKNER —If there is no-one here who can answer that precise question, could that be taken on notice.
Adm. Barrie —Yes.
Senator Hill —Take what on notice? About a footnote?
Senator FAULKNER —No, Minister. I am asking whether that particular signal forms in part—
Senator Hill —Whether it was forwarded to PM&C?
Senator FAULKNER —No. I do not think it was. From my understanding it was not. But there was a chronology that was footnoted that was forwarded to PM&C. My question goes to whether this forms the basis or part of the chronology that was developed. Of course, going back to the question of a non-footnoted signal, one gathers at some point that somebody in Defence actually does spot the significance of the signal or the chronology and does add a footnote that says, `There is no indication that anyone was thrown overboard.' I think we can say that, can't we Admiral Barrie, because that is the footnote of the chronology that goes to PM&C?
Adm. Barrie —I do not know the answer to that question. The only chronology that I have seen is the one contained in the Powell report. I have not seen the chronology that went to PM&C.
Senator FAULKNER —We will try and get to the bottom of that later. Thank you for that advice about the non-footnote to the signal, Brigadier.
Adm. Barrie —Perhaps I could intervene: I am advised by Strategic Command Division the signal did not form the basis of the chronology forwarded to PM&C.
Senator FAULKNER —So it is another chronology. Thank you.
Vice Adm. Shackleton —There was the question earlier about where the text on those messages came from. The message I have here, which I read from earlier which is from the Adelaide, says that the two photos entitled `Law and the hero' and `The Dogs and his family' had accompanied text commentary on those photos. So the text came from the ship.
Senator FAULKNER —Thank you, Admiral.
Senator Hill —I think it was designed to promote the heroic acts of the sailors, which was more than reasonable in the circumstance.
Vice Adm. Shackleton —Yes, it was.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Yes, we all remember that.
Senator FAULKNER —Brigadier, you have this chronology, passed through a number of places in Defence, but that originated with HMAS Adelaide.
Brig. Bornholt —That is correct.
Senator FAULKNER —With the benefit of that chronology, could you let the committee know of any further role that you may have had.
Brig. Bornholt —On that afternoon—
Senator FAULKNER —This is 11 October that we are talking about?
Brig. Bornholt —Yes. On that afternoon I passed that chronology, because I thought it was materially important, to Jenny McKenry and I also went to the CDF's office and spoke to his chief of staff. I informed him that I had that chronology and that it indicated that there were no women or children in the water. I did not do anything else with regard to this issue until 7 November, and we have already discussed that.
Senator FAULKNER —Yes. So really from that point through to the speaker phone conversation that we are aware of there is no other involvement by you personally in this matter?
Brig. Bornholt —Not in this matter particularly. But in the operation obviously I had a role—a wider role.
Senator FAULKNER —Yes, but how do you define `operation' in this sense?
Brig. Bornholt —The name of the operation was Relex.
Brig. Bornholt —I had a role in my normal capacity. The role involved my monitoring of what was going on, ensuring that we had the right information and communicating that information to the minister's media adviser because he was the Defence spokesperson and we essentially were providing support to him. So right through the activity that was essentially the role that I played. The other part I played was to be prepared to clear imagery for public release if necessary. There was never any imagery that we cleared for public release. So that was the only involvement that I had until, as I said, 7 November when the issue arose again. I was then called to brief CAF.
Senator FAULKNER —Yes. So no further concerns, advice or counsel passed to anyone in Defence on that issue between 11 October and 7 November, because, I think you are saying, Operation Relex did not attract any public controversy; would that be right?
Brig. Bornholt —I would not have said that. What I said was that my role in Operation Relex was essentially to do my job, which was to clear for public release any imagery, to monitor the activities of the operation and to clear the information that we were providing to the minister's media adviser so that public comment could be made on what was going on. That was the role that I was playing. I was also, in my capacity as the senior military officer in the organisation, responsible for ensuring that the public affairs officers and deployed teams were acting in accordance with the directions that had been given. So I have a role in that as well, right through any operation. But I would not want to say that I actually had opinions about other things.
Senator FAULKNER —No, but none of those matters went to or were germane to the so-called children overboard and related incidents?
Brig. Bornholt —Not from my perspective. I was not involved, as I said. My participation in that issue ceased on the afternoon of 11 October because from my perspective I had brought it to the attention of those people in my chain of command that I should have. I had done that and I moved on.
Senator FAULKNER —Were you contacted by General Powell in the course of his inquiry?
Brig. Bornholt —I received written advice requesting that I submit a contribution to the inquiry. I was not given an option not to, because I was participating in a routine inquiry under the Defence Force Discipline Act.
Senator FAULKNER —General Powell reports that you had an interview with him on 3 December last year.
Brig. Bornholt —That would be right.
Senator FAULKNER —He also reports that you provided a written statement to his inquiry.
Brig. Bornholt —That is correct.
Senator FAULKNER —Do you recall when that would have been submitted?
Brig. Bornholt —I would have to get my notes. I do not have that information right with me.
Senator FAULKNER —You might provide that to us, Brigadier, if you are able.
Brig. Bornholt —I have it in the room, but I do not have it right here.
Senator FAULKNER —Brigadier, I want to be clear on this. Your written statement was a response to questions in written form that came from General Powell to you.
Brig. Bornholt —No, there was an option to either answer the questions, question by question, or to submit a simple statement. I submitted a simple statement which was essentially a sequence of events that summarised my involvement in this issue. It also included excerpts from emails I considered to be significant. I submitted that as a three- or four-page document.
Senator FAULKNER —I see.
Senator Hill —Were the emails issued by you?
Brig. Bornholt —The emails were either issued by me or received by me.
Senator FAULKNER —You took the second of those options. Did you limit your statement to the events of the `children overboard' incident, in the broad, that occurred in the month of October, or did you also canvass the events in the month of November that we have heard evidence on today?
Brig. Bornholt —No, I included my involvement, which was through until 7 November, when the discussion occurred between CAF and the minister.
—In relation to the speaker phone conversation between yourself and the Air Vice Marshal on the one hand and the minister on the other, were the details of that, as have been outlined to the committee, included in your written statement to General Powell?
Senator Hill —Did you participate in the speaker phone telephone conference? You spoke directly, did you?
Brig. Bornholt —No, I sat in the room.
Senator Hill —You sat in the room.
Senator FAULKNER —So you heard it. I assumed you participated. I am sorry if I have used the wrong verb.
Senator Hill —`Shared'.
Senator FAULKNER —`Heard'.
Brig. Bornholt —I think I recall that, at the start of the conversation, the Chief of Air Force indicated to the minister that I was in the room to assist in clarification, but I did not speak during the conversation.
Senator FAULKNER —I will stick with `participate' then, Brigadier. I think that is fair enough.
Brig. Bornholt —To answer your question, my statement in respect of that telephone conversation was about three lines: it indicated the date and the fact that the conversation had occurred. I did not provide in that statement the substance of the discussion, because I considered the discussion to be between the Chief of Air Force and the minister. I expected that the details would be followed up by the Chief of Air Force as the primary witness in that discussion and not by me. To clarify, I included in the statement the fact that this event took place and that I was there at the time, but I did not then go on in my statement and say, `And this is what the discussion was about.'
Senator FAULKNER —That may well be a reasonable judgment to come to, but there is no interview with General Powell and Air Marshal Houston.
Brig. Bornholt —I was only a contributor as a witness to the inquiry. I did not conduct the inquiry, nor was I subsequently cross-examined on the evidence that I provided. The first time that I became aware that this piece of evidence had not been included was after the inquiry had been tabled in parliament last week. That was the first time I had seen it.
Senator FAULKNER —I think it is understandable why that is the situation in the circumstances that I have outlined. Did you consider that the omission was of such significance that you took any action—
Senator Hill —I do not think—
Senator FAULKNER —All right, I will not use the word significant. As a result of it not being included—because, you see, Senator Hill does not like me to use the word significant—
Senator Hill —That is okay. As a result of it not being included—
Senator FAULKNER —I am just rephrasing the question so we do not have another 20 minutes of you badgering the witnesses. As a result of the conversation with you in the room and the Acting CDF and the minister not being included, with the tabling of the report in the parliament, I wondered if you could you let us know, Brigadier, if you took any action.
Brig. Bornholt —I went through those reports when I got a copy of them, which was not until Friday last week. I think they were tabled on Tuesday, if I am correct—
Senator FAULKNER —I suspect not, because that was the opening of the parliament. I think it may have been the Wednesday.
Senator Hill —I think we are talking about Wednesday.
Brig. Bornholt —I went through the reports a couple of times and, on Friday last week, I looked through the chronology again and compared it to what my witness statement contained. I noticed that the evidence that I had given related to 7 November had not been included. I then decided that I needed to bring that point to the attention of the secretary of the department and the Acting Chief of the Defence Force, and I did that last Friday afternoon at 5 o'clock or so.
Senator FAULKNER —Was the VCDF the Acting CDF at the time?
Brig. Bornholt —Yes, he was.
Senator FAULKNER —I see. Are you aware of any follow-up as a result?
—After I brought it to their attention, we—the secretary, the VCDF, the CAF and me—then met in the CDF's office and I talked them through what I had discovered. I was then instructed by the secretary to go back over to my office and get the paperwork that related to this, which I did. We came back and a decision was taken later that day that both the CAF and I would write additional witness statements related to this particular event and that we would submit them on Monday—that was Monday just passed—to the VCDF so that they could be forwarded to the CDF, as he had convened the inquiry, for his use on his return from overseas. So I submitted an additional statement related to that phone call, under those arrangements, to him at about lunchtime on Monday.
Senator FAULKNER —I see. Who was at the meeting with you and the Chief of the Air Force?
Brig. Bornholt —On Friday?
Senator FAULKNER —Yes.
Brig. Bornholt —In the meeting was the secretary of the department, the VCDF, the Chief of the Air Force and me.
Senator FAULKNER —Admiral Barrie, were you aware that that meeting had taken place? I appreciate that you were not present.
Adm. Barrie —I was not aware until I returned yesterday.
Senator FAULKNER —No doubt this matter has landed on your desk and the secretary's desk, but you might let us know—if you are aware—whether, after the process that Brigadier Bornholt has outlined to the committee, any action was taken by VCDF. Perhaps Mr Roche can help us, or the secretary. Or did this matter simply rest and wait for your return?
Adm. Barrie —As I am aware of it, the direction given was to prepare the paperwork. This is my interpretation. It is a serious omission from the Powell report, so I think the intent of the direction was that as soon as I got back I should be delivered of this advice and then decide what the next step should be. That is really what the minister and I talked about this morning.
Senator FAULKNER —The Minister for Defence was informed, I think we heard earlier this morning. Is that the first contact with the ministers?
Senator Hill —I heard of the issue last night, from memory, but that the material had been passed to Admiral Barrie who, it was suggested to me, might well have been asleep after a long and arduous aeroplane ride. I therefore left the matter until this morning. So, as I said earlier, I was briefed on it this morning.
Senator FAULKNER —I will ask you this, Admiral Barrie, because you have just described this is as a serious omission from the Powell report—they are your words and I think you stand by those—
Adm. Barrie —Yes, in this context: when the Powell report was delivered to me, I had a read of the report. I could see no reason to change my view of the turn of events on the basis of that report, as I have outlined earlier. This, of course, is quite new information and I thought in that sense it was a serious oversight.
Senator FAULKNER —I certainly believe it is a serious omission; I am not critical. I was going to ask you whether, since General Powell completed his report, which I think he did on 14 December because that is the date of the report, any other omissions—serious or otherwise—have been drawn to your attention.
Adm. Barrie —Not that I am aware of.
Senator FAULKNER —Just so we are clear on this: if there had been any, would you be aware of them? In other words, am I asking the right officer?
Senator Hill —You said, `drawn to your attention' and then said, `Would you be aware of them?'
Senator FAULKNER —It is a serious question. The reason I ask CDF is that it may have been a matter handled by Dr Hawke; it may have been handled by VCDF—I am not sure. That is why I ask the question, not to be scoffed at. It is a serious point.
Senator Hill —It was internally inconsistent.
Senator FAULKNER —Get it clear, minister: I want to be aware whether, if there were other omissions—be they defined as omissions or serious omissions—any have been drawn to the Defence executive's attention. I asked CDF but I do accept that CDF has been overseas. You just made the point that he was jet-lagged and so forth. Fair enough, it may have made been drawn to the attention of Dr Hawke, who I think is overseas also, or the acting CDF or VCDF. I just wanted to check that.
—But the reporter himself acknowledges that there were serious omissions in that he was not able to interview the crew of the Adelaide. In particular, he recognised, in this hearing today, the short time in which he had to do the job.
Senator FAULKNER —Yes, that is true minister, but this—
Senator Hill —And he does not claim that the report is exhaustive. What is now being asked of Admiral Barrie really is, `Are there any omissions of consequence,' which I think is an impossible question to ask anyone—
Senator FAULKNER —Senator Hill, I think you are well aware that I am asking a question that goes to omissions from the report that were not identified by General Powell. I accept and understand that General Powell's report is qualified. I think it is probably highly qualified, and that is fair enough. I am not critical of that. I am not talking about those. They have been identified clearly by General Powell and everyone is aware of it. You know what I am asking. I think Admiral Barrie knows what I am asking but I am also asking CDF, to be clear about this, if another matter of this nature has been drawn to his attention or to the senior executive of defence.
Adm. Barrie —My answer is that the only other shortcoming, if you like, that I need more information on is the degree to which the public affairs plan itself was established and followed and so on, as I explained earlier. We have commissioned a look into that particular issue. But in the general context of information, I have not yet had the opportunity to trawl through the Prime Minister and Cabinet's report. I am very conscious of the fact that the way has been left open in General Powell's report to say there may be other matters, of which you are not aware or I am not aware, that might need a further look. But, as of this time, there is nothing in my mind that says to me this is a seriously deficient report apart from that set of issues.
Senator FAULKNER —Thanks for that, but I think you understand the context in which I ask the question. In relation to this particular matter—we have heard what has occurred to date—are there any further plans apart from where the additional reporting or submissions or statements lie from the two primary witnesses here, if you like, the Brigadier and CAF?
Adm. Barrie —In the context of this report?
Senator FAULKNER —No. I am just asking you: are there any further plans? Have you developed any further plans in relation to action as a result of the particular serious omission that has been identified tonight? In other words, where does it go from here?
Adm. Barrie —I outlined earlier that I had some concerns about the nature of public affairs organisation in relationship to military operations. That is not particularly related to that set of circumstances but it is very clear when you read General Powell's report that we need to lift our performance in that respect. We are going to have a look at that. I will make that advice to the minister as soon as I can credibly do so. But I do not have any feel that I need to commission a more formal board of inquiry to look in further depth at a range of issues because, as we know, there is a great deal of confusion about particular events. I do not have a sense that these will not be elaborated in the select committee and all of that process, where I think it will help, but there may be stuff coming forward in the select committee of which General Powell was not aware, and maybe the other report was not aware, that might lead to further inquiries. Right now I would say no, I do not have any.
Senator FAULKNER —This new information, the serious omission—that was not drawn to the attention of the Prime Minister or the Prime Minister's office separately to the advice that Senator Hill spoke about earlier? He has indicated he has.
Senator Hill —It only originated on Friday, I think.
Adm. Barrie —I think the Secretary of PM&C was advised on Friday about this issue.
Senator FAULKNER —By whom?
Adm. Barrie —I am advised it was by the Acting CDF, who was General Mueller.
Senator FAULKNER —The VCDF did that on Friday?
Adm. Barrie —Yes.
Senator FAULKNER —Of course. Was anyone else advised?
Adm. Barrie —Not that I am aware of.
Senator FAULKNER —So Mr Moore-Wilton was advised on Friday. I want to be clear on this. Maybe the VCDF can confirm this. This was advised to the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Senator Hill —Brigadier, you can go.
—We may well come back to the brigadier.
Senator Hill —He can come back to the table when that occurs.
Senator FAULKNER —Do you feel hemmed in?
Senator Hill —This is not a board of inquiry.
Lt Gen. Mueller —I was Acting Chief of the Defence Force last Friday.
Senator FAULKNER —Thank you, General. Could you quickly outline—I think we know this, but just for the record—when you became aware of this serious omission and how you responded to it as the Acting CDF?
Lt Gen. Mueller —Just shortly after 5 o'clock on Friday afternoon, I was summoned by the secretary, who was in his office. Also present was—
Senator Hill —You are supposed to be an equal, you know. You do not get summoned.
Lt Gen. Mueller —Sorry?
Senator Hill —You are an equal. He invited you to his office.
Lt Gen. Mueller —He is the first among equals, I think, on these sorts of matters.
Senator FAULKNER —I think it is going to sound like a summons.
Lt Gen. Mueller —Yes. Let me put a slightly different nuance on it: I was invited to the secretary's office. Present was Brigadier Bornholt and, if I remember correctly, we were also joined by the Chief of Air Force. The secretary pointed out to me the advice that he had been given by Brigadier Bornholt and said that, in his view, it would be prudent for me to speak to the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. I subsequently did so. When I rang the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Chief of Air Force was in my office, as was Brigadier Bornholt. I brought to the attention of the Secretary of PM&C the advice that had been given to the Secretary of the Department of Defence by Brigadier Bornholt. I said that I had Chief of Air Force in my office. He then spoke briefly to Chief of Air Force, at the end of which Chief of Air Force said to me, `A statement is to be made, to be forwarded to CDF.' I said to Air Marshal Houston, `Would you please provide that statement to me on Monday?' I said similarly to Brigadier Bornholt, `Would you provide me with a statement also on Monday and I will forward those to CDF on his return on Tuesday,' which is what I did.
Senator FAULKNER —Thank you very much, General. So this was a telephonic communication with Mr Moore-Wilton?
Lt Gen. Mueller —Yes.
Senator FAULKNER —Directly?
Lt Gen. Mueller —Yes, it was. I spoke to him personally.
Senator FAULKNER —Did the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet indicate that he would pass the information to the Prime Minister?
Lt Gen. Mueller —No, he did not make any comment to me to that effect.
Senator FAULKNER —Thank you, General. Can you help us with that, Minister?
Senator Hill —No, I cannot help you with that. What are you asking; in the knowledge of the Prime Minister?
Senator FAULKNER —I was not asking that directly. I was going to move to that. We know that the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet was informed of this serious omission late on Friday afternoon. If, of course, I had an opportunity and Mr Moore-Wilton was with us, I would ask him this myself, but he is not. I wonder if you can help us as to whether Mr Moore-Wilton passed this information on to the Prime Minister or to the Prime Minister's office—in other words, informing the Prime Minister's public comments about this since that time, and certainly his comments both inside and outside the parliament during this sitting week?
Senator Hill —No, I would refer that to the Prime Minister. I am interpreting that as a question as to whether the Prime Minister was advised by his secretary—
Senator FAULKNER —The secretary of PM and C.
Senator Hill —yes, the secretary of his department—that there was an issue of some further information. I am not even sure what detail was provided to the secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet, so I will refer it to the Prime Minister.
Senator FAULKNER —We do have the benefit of what VCDF has informed the committee.
—Yes, but that did not seem to me to go into any great depth.
Senator FAULKNER —He outlined the process.
Senator Hill —The process of preparing statements.
Senator FAULKNER —Yes, and the fact that this information had been referred to the secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Just to clear it up for you, could we ask VCDF to come back and indicate that to us. Always try to be helpful, Minister.
Senator Hill —Clarity is important.
Senator FAULKNER —It is. You are right.
Lt Gen. Mueller —I just reiterate: I was acting Chief of the Defence Force last Friday. Senator, could you please repeat your question.
Senator FAULKNER —Could you outline for the committee's benefit—particularly Senator Hill's, in this instance—what you informed Mr Moore-Wilton of, by telephone on Friday.
Lt Gen. Mueller —I informed the secretary of PM and C of a summary of the statement that was contained in Brigadier Bornholt's submission to Major General Powell—that, in other words, there had been a conversation between the acting CDF and the minister on 7 November.
CHAIR —Are there any further questions on the portfolio?
Senator FAULKNER —We are going to conclude at 11 o'clock tonight, aren't we?
CHAIR —We are going to conclude at 11 o'clock. If you would like to conclude this evening's session early, we would be very happy about that.
Senator FAULKNER —I think that is a good idea. Why don't we give ourselves an extra 15 minutes.
CHAIR —Do you want to stop now?
Senator FAULKNER —You don't want another 15 minutes? We can come back refreshed in the morning.
CHAIR —Whatever you prefer, Senator Faulkner.
Senator FAULKNER —I am looking around the room and I look at so many tired faces and think that no-one is as tired as I am, so why don't we knock off 15 minutes early.
CHAIR —The arrangement is that tomorrow we have a full day on defence. Tomorrow night, if we have not finished before, 11 o'clock is the cut-off time.
Senator FAULKNER —I am aware of that. Admiral Barrie, I think everyone understands that, don't they?
CHAIR —That is very good news.
Senator FAULKNER —We can get back to this issue in the morning.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Yes.
Senator HOGG —That is not the understanding that the chair has got.
CHAIR —My understanding was that you had concluded the general portfolio questions.
CHAIR —Why don't you continue on until 11 o'clock?
Senator FAULKNER —We can. But I thought you were—
CHAIR —No, we thought that you had finished.
Senator Hill —Perhaps we could be advised at 11 o'clock who is wanted tomorrow. If we are just going to do this all day, then it is a bit of a waste of their time having a lot of these other people sitting here.
CHAIR —We will do what we can.
Senator Hill —Mr Roche has got a lot to do in Materiel, and he is acting secretary too.
Senator FAULKNER —I am sorry about that misunderstanding, Mr Chairman—I thought you were asking for an early mark. I apologise for that. I am more than happy to go on.
CHAIR —We thought you had finished, Senator Faulkner.
—No such luck. Admiral Barrie, could I ask you to indicate clearly to the committee when you got this information that we have heard about. I want to draw a distinction here between the process issue in relation to the meeting, Brigadier Bornholt's and CAF's phone link with Minister Reith—put that process issue aside—and the matters that were discussed with Minister Reith at that time; the substance of the issues, not the fact that the meeting took place. I just want to be very clear on when you personally became aware of the substance of the issues that were dealt with in that phone hook-up, as opposed to the fact that the phone hook-up took place. I am drawing a distinction between the issues discussed there and the fact that the meeting took place.
Adm. Barrie —I think there may have been some sort of conversation between me on 10 November, or maybe the following week, and Air Marshal Houston about a conversation with the minister. That was after I came back from Hawaii. But, in the particulars that I now know about, really I did not become aware of that until I read it yesterday afternoon.
Senator FAULKNER —Could I ask you, Air Marshal, if you could tell the committee in relation to this matter, given the seriousness of the nature of the discussion you had, what subsequent action you took, if any, after the phone link with the brigadier and the minister?
Air Marshal Houston —Fundamentally, I back-briefed Head of Strategic Command, Air Vice Marshal Titheridge, about the phone call. The PACC side of it—
Senator FAULKNER —The what?
Senator Hill —That is public affairs.
Air Marshal Houston —I am sorry—the Public Affairs part of it was obviously taken care of because Brigadier Bornholt was with me. The other key personality I contacted was Deputy Chief of Navy, Rear Admiral Brian Adams, and I asked him to brief Chief of Navy on what had occurred. Then, after that, the next morning Secretary Hawke came back to Canberra and I spent the first part of the morning briefing him on what had transpired in the conversation with the minister. I gave him a brief outline and explained what I had done.
Senator FAULKNER —This all occurs on 8 November? Back-briefing Strategic Command, Air Vice Marshall Titheridge, DCN—that is probably not the right acronym any more.
Air Marshal Houston —Yes, Deputy Chief of Navy.
Senator FAULKNER —This all occurs on the 8th?
Air Marshal Houston —Yes.
Senator FAULKNER —And Dr Hawke?
Air Marshal Houston —On the 9th.
Senator FAULKNER —I want to turn to General Powell's report for a moment, where Air Vice Marshal Titheridge makes a statement. To save time, Minister, I would like to ask the question of General Powell if I can, as a result of that, about whether any of that back briefing appears in his report and, if not, why not?
Senator Hill —Yes.
Senator FAULKNER —Thank you, Air Marshal. General, I think you heard the air marshal's answer. You might let us know if any of the interviews you conducted or written statements you received included the back briefing that the air marshal outlined to the committee?
Major Gen. Powell —To the best of my knowledge, Senator, there was no mention, from any of the people that I interviewed, of the discussions that Air Marshal Houston had with the minister. The only reference to it was in Brigadier Bornholt's statement.
Senator FAULKNER —I see. As the report's author, when did you become aware of the meeting—the brigadier's and CAF's telephonic meeting with Mr Reith?
Major Gen. Powell —I cannot remember the exact time and date, but it was in the last couple of days.
Senator FAULKNER —So it is very recent.
Major Gen. Powell —Very recent. I called Brigadier Bornholt to gain clarification of a couple of things in his statement, well after the event, so it was really the last couple of days. He explained that there was obviously some action being taken to remedy what was clearly an omission on my part based on the fact that I was not aware of the significance of the conversation.
Senator FAULKNER —Thank you for that, General. I do not know if I have time to progress this, Mr Chairman.
CHAIR —We will stop now. That is good.
Senator Hill —There has been a capitulation!
Senator FAULKNER —Are you giving it away?
Senator FAULKNER —Do you want an extra six minutes?
—No. We are happy to stop. We will give ourselves an early mark.
Senator FAULKNER —That is good, because my next line of questioning might take just a minute or two longer than the five minutes available.
CHAIR —That is very good then. We will leave it at that. We will resume the hearing tomorrow morning.
Committee adjourned at 10.54 p.m.