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Monday, 30 August 2004
Page: 26691

Senator FERGUSON (5:49 PM) —What a farce we are seeing here today—an absolute farce. We have seen Senator Collins clutching at straws over an issue that was raised some three years ago when, as my colleague Senator Brandis so ably said only a few minutes ago, findings of fact by the Labor Party are in fact arguable cases which we on this side of the chamber did not agree with in the committee inquiry and are unlikely to ever agree with in the future. I say that it is a farce because we came in here today to see Senator Faulkner attempt in this motion to reconstitute the certain maritime incident inquiry. What is the proposition we have before us? I listened very carefully to Senator Bartlett's contribution, as he claims to be the independent member of this committee. I am not quite sure how the Leader of the Australian Democrats can describe himself as independent. He said, `We ought to be having this. We will probably only have a single day's hearing.' What have we seen Senator Faulkner do today? It is now 30 August, if I remember rightly. We are going to have an election on 9 October. We are going to have one day's public hearing and Senator Faulkner proposes that we have a reporting date of 24 November. On 30 August we propose a newly constituted committee to look into new issues in this certain maritime incident, we will have one day's public hearing and three months later the committee will report. Have you ever heard of such a farce in your life?

Not only that; Senator Bartlett said, `This is not going to be a political witch-hunt.' If it is not going to be a political witch-hunt I have a suggestion for Senator Faulkner, Senator Bartlett and other members of the committee. If this is not intended to be a political witch-hunt and we only need one day's inquiry, let us have it after the election and report on 24 November. We will still have six weeks to have a public hearing and then to report to this chamber by 24 November.

Do not be fooled into thinking that this is not a political witch-hunt, because if you propose the committee on 30 August and report on 24 November the result is a one-day hearing with three months to report. I have never heard of anything so ridiculous in my life. All that means is that we will have an old Kremlin-style show trial. We will have a public hearing and all of the evidence will be brought forward. All of the media—all of those obsessive left-wing journalists who followed the Senate Select Committee for an Inquiry into a Certain Maritime Incident before, such as Margo Kingston and a few others—

Senator Robert Ray —Piers Akerman and Andrew Bolt.

Senator FERGUSON —They did not follow the inquiry at all, Senator Ray. They will not be there, I can promise you. You can tell which ones will be there. We will have a Kremlin-style show trial where the key witnesses will be shown to the public. The media will be able to report on everything they say but the committee will not find anything. The committee will not put its findings out until 24 November. Have you ever heard of such a farce in your life?

All this has come about because Mr Scrafton, in his own particular way—with three years to have thought about what might have happened—has decided just a week or two before an election is called to change his story. As Senator Brandis so eloquently said much earlier, we have already been through the whole process. The Labor Party and the Democrats made their findings without Mr Scrafton. They did not need him there. They called him the missing link. The missing link was not required, because they made their findings without the missing link. They did not care, because this inquiry was set up with a predetermined outcome, which was then put into this voluminous report. We held hearings over some 15 days and then, as Senator Brandis said, we had these findings of fact.

Senator Faulkner made a comment in his speech. He said that the Prime Minister had questioned Mr Scrafton's integrity. At no stage has the Prime Minister questioned his integrity. The only thing the Prime Minister has questioned is Mr Scrafton's recollection of the conversations that were had prior to the last election against his own recollection. I suppose we will have a one-day show trial and after that conclusions will be drawn. Although one person says one thing and the other person says another thing, the fact is, as Senator Faulkner said in his opening remarks today, that the Prime Minister will be found guilty on all counts.

Senator Brandis —What is the standard of proof?

Senator FERGUSON —That standard of proof, Senator Brandis, as you well know, was not required in the writing of this report. I only had a chance to refresh my memory on some of the things but, to get an idea of what the Labor Party were really about when the first maritime incident inquiry was set up, I only had to look at the response of Senator Faulkner to an answer that Admiral Barrie gave. It was quoted at the commencement of the debate on the government members' report. Senator Faulkner said:

But I hope you understand the way that some of us on our side of the parliament feel when we see some of our colleagues who are not returned in a federal election.

That is what the inquiry was all about: some justification for the defeat of the Labor Party.

Senator Brandis —Salving the Labor psyche.

Senator FERGUSON —It was to help salve the Labor Party's psyche. In fact, it was set up because there had to be some reason why they lost an election for the third time when, some six or eight months before the election, they had a healthy lead in the polls. The Labor Party decided that this was the vehicle that they would use to try and justify their loss at the last election. Some of the findings of fact in the report are simply unbelievable. One of the findings is:

It is not possible to make a finding on what the Prime Minister or other ministers had communicated to them about this incident due to the limitations placed on this inquiry by the order of the Cabinet for ministerial staff not to give evidence.

Senator Bartlett gave them the let-out for that. Senator Bartlett said, `I move that we subpoena them.' Government senators said, `We won't stand in your way. If the Labor Party support you, you can subpoena these witnesses and you can get them to give evidence.' But what did Senator Faulkner, Senator Cook and Senator Collins do? They voted against subpoenaing those witnesses because they did not want the facts to be brought forward. Why didn't they subpoena them? They did not subpoena them and they could have subpoenaed anybody they wanted to. They voted against Senator Bartlett's motion. They talk about being unable to get those people to give evidence at the inquiry but it was simply not the fact. They did not go to all of the means available to them to get people there. The report goes on:

Despite direct media questioning on the issue—

because the media come into most of this—

no correction, retraction or communication about the existence of doubts in connection with either the alleged incident itself or the photographs as evidence for it was made by any member of the Federal Government before the election on 10 November 2001.

Senator Brandis has been through the whole process as to why that did not happen. There was simply no reason for any member of the government to correct the evidence because any doubts that they may have had were not transmitted to the Prime Minister. At no stage was the evidence conclusive—they were only doubts. Where there was inconclusive evidence, what did the Prime Minister do? The Prime Minister said, `We'll release the video and let the population—the voters—see for themselves what I have seen or what Mr Scrafton has seen. Let them see it for themselves and they can make their own judgment.'

The people of Australia did make that judgment. They made that judgment having seen the video and they re-elected the Howard government with an increased majority. So today, for purely political purposes, on the eve of an election—after the election has been called—we are sitting in this chamber reconstituting a committee which has already made findings which are highly critical of the government. Now the Labor Party want to have another inquiry. I wonder which facts will change in their report—all the so-called facts that they had already made a finding on—if they have another inquiry with Mr Scrafton, the so-called missing link, there.

They disregarded any evidence that might have been given by the so-called missing link when they wrote this report because they made their minds up at that time regardless of what evidence was before them. The government members of that committee were at pains to say, in our minority report, that we disagreed with the majority report. But do you think that any report, any of the findings or any of the statements made by the government members of that committee saw the light of day? Not on your nelly!

Senator Brandis —Piers Akerman wrote about it.

Senator FERGUSON —Sorry, there was one. But the majority of people in the media were only concerned about what the Labor Party and the Democrats were saying. They were not concerned about the truth; they were only concerned about what was put in the majority report by the Labor Party and the Democrats. Noting the time, can I say that what we see here today is a total farce: a one-day inquiry, established on 30 August—

Senator Ferris —A show trial.

Senator FERGUSON —Kremlin style. I am glad Senator Carr is here; he probably understands all about Kremlin show trials. We are going to have a show trial, a one-day hearing which will then report to this chamber some three months later—after the election—when the only reason they want to establish this inquiry is to make sure they can parade before the public somebody who they feel may give them some evidence to suit a political campaign. It will serve no purpose in establishing any further truths in relation to the certain maritime incident.