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Tuesday, 8 March 2005
Page: 117

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (8:39 PM) —Both sides of politics support and applaud the contribution and sacrifice that our defence personnel make towards Australia’s security. Our people are of critical importance to our defence efforts, and every endeavour should be made to ensure the highest of standards in the management of our defence people. Labor expects that, when there is a breakdown in management practices, the Minister for Defence will take timely and remedial action to fix the problem. When no corrective action is undertaken, Labor will unreservedly pursue the government and the minister to remedy the situation. Our national security demands no less.

That is why the circumstances surrounding the two official investigations by successive inspectors-general of intelligence and security into an allegation by Lieutenant Colonel Lance Collins remain bewildering and confusing. The Howard government and successive ministers for defence, including Minister Hill, have plainly failed to carry out their responsibilities to remedy what was an unacceptable and unauthorised action by DIO officials. I refer specifically to Lieutenant Colonel Collins’s original allegation, which has now been proved to be correct by the current Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Mr Ian Carnell, that in 1999 DIO officials deliberately withdrew access by Australian Defence Force staff in East Timor to a DIO intelligence database.

This action was taken without proper authorisation. Apparently neither the secretary of Defence nor the Chief of the Defence Force were consulted. The DIO action was taken without reference to our deployed forces and without reference to Headquarters Australian Theatre, the headquarters responsible to administer our deployed forces overseas. The cut-off was sudden and without warning. In short, the action was approved, initiated, monitored and restored by DIO officials. Sanity eventually prevailed. Let there be no doubt, this was a significant disruption with the potential to damage ongoing operations in East Timor and to hamper planning for future operations, particularly along the border between East and West Timor.

In 1999 tensions between Indonesian armed forces and INTERFET forces in Timor were real, not imaginary, and Australian lives were at risk daily along the border. These were warlike operations necessitating the fullest support the nation could provide. The safety of our troops was at threat. The loss of access to crucial intelligence information was without precedence. Fortunately a tragedy did not eventuate, but access to that database was deliberately denied to our military forces for some 26 hours. An incident was hidden from the Australian people until last year, nearly five years after it occurred, when documents relating to Lieutenant Colonel Collins’s redress of grievance were published in the Bulletin.

Lieutenant Colonel Collins has been wrongly pilloried for his actions and derided for the allegations in his redress of grievance. His career has no doubt been adversely affected. He was, nonetheless, finally proved correct on the deliberate nature of the loss of access, but it took courage and perseverance to continue to raise the incident within a bureaucracy that was far from sympathetic. Lieutenant Colonel Collins, of course, was the senior intelligence officer in East Timor. He had been personally involved in the incident. Some might say his actions as an intelligence officer were the cause of what happened, but for five years his allegation was mocked and scorned for reasons that still remain hidden.

In December 2000 he wrote to the then Minister for Defence, John Moore, on a number of matters, one of which was to seek ministerial action to remedy the deliberate blocking of access to intelligence data. The minister referred the matter in the same month to Mr Bill Blick, the then Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. Time passed. In the absence of a response, Lieutenant Colonel Collins wrote again in 2001 to the Minister for Defence, then Peter Reith, who requested an update from Mr Blick. A year passed and in despair he submitted his redress of grievance, which became bogged down in a complicated system of additional investigations and administration.

These notorious administrative shortcomings have generated a Senate inquiry into the effectiveness of the military justice system, and I hope that the committee’s report will be completed soon. Eventually, Lieutenant Colonel Collins received an edited version of Mr Blick’s report in July 2003, which stated that the loss of access to the database resulted ‘from technical problems rather than a deliberate decision’. Lieutenant Colonel Collins knew this was wrong. During the period of no access, he had received an email from the Canberra based DIO project office managing this particular database stating that the loss of access was ‘not a technical matter but a DIO policy decision’. Therefore others knew Mr Blick’s conclusion was wrong.

Alarm bells should have been ringing in the highest echelons of the Department of Defence, within Army headquarters and, most importantly, in the offices of successive ministers for defence that something had gone terribly wrong. To remedy this appalling wrong, Lieutenant Colonel Collins now had only one course of action available to him: to write to the Prime Minister, which he did in 2004. His letter was also published in the Bulletin. It said:

During those five years, we saw the Prime Minister, Minister Hill, the Secretary of Defence and CDF Cosgrove publicly declare at different times that the loss of access was from technical reasons and was not deliberate.

But it took additional inquiries for Mr Carnell to discover that that was plainly not the case. Indeed, through questioning Mr Carnell during the recent Senate estimates hearings, he indicated that he found it necessary to interview some 15 witnesses, three of whom were important DIO officials who had not previously been interviewed, and to arrange for technical checks of the relevant DIO service and communications links to confirm the new information from the additional witnesses.

As a result of these initiatives, Mr Carnell was able to establish that the loss of access was a deliberate act undertaken within DIO. Mr Carnell also confirmed that he was able to ‘ascertain who did the transactions and who gave that person the direction to do it’. I appreciate that Mr Smith, the Secretary of the Department of Defence, is presently overseeing disciplinary and administrative actions in respect of Mr Carnell’s conclusions. Once Mr Smith has satisfied natural justice requirements for those so named in the report, Minister Hill has indicated that he will then be in a position to consider the release of Mr Carnell’s report. It is comforting to note that Mr Carnell has made the task easier for the minister because he drafted the report with a public release in mind.

The release of the report is important because it satisfies the notion of natural justice and fair play for Lieutenant Colonel Collins. He has wrongly suffered for five years. It also satisfies the requirement to correct bad management practices in DIO that permitted this mess to occur. DIO has, as its publicised task, to provide all-source intelligence assessments in support of ‘the planning and conduct of Australian Defence Force operations’. The task is unambiguous—the provision of intelligence assessments for the ADF. So how could DIO officials withdraw that support without proper authorisation?

I have heard a number of officials state that the loss of access did not place our troops in danger because access to other databases was still available. What tripe! Does this government condone the concept of handicapping our troops in the field, or is the behaviour of this government about making sure our forces overseas have the very best that the nation can provide? Our forces should be given every support to carry out their mission and not be hampered by decisions taken in Canberra within DIO by officials not authorised to do so.

One might have therefore expected that remedial action would have been speedily undertaken once knowledge of the loss of access became known. One might have expected at least one of the three ministers for defence involved in this fiasco to demand explanations, to seek corrective action, to punish those responsible and to ensure that similar actions were not possible without the necessary authority, checks and balances. One might have expected departmental officials to be immediately involved in all those actions, not only to discover who authorised denial of access but also to discover under what circumstances access was restored.

What is so disturbing about the incident is the difference in the conclusions between the two IGIS investigations. Such a profound difference begs the questions: why was this the case and was there a cover-up? These are legitimate questions. Clearly, Mr Carnell and the minister are in a position to identify who authorised the cut-off and who undertook the actions within DIO to limit access. The public has a right to know how these actions were authorised without reference to the minister, the CDF and the secretary of the department.

At least one would have expected that the CDF, who is the commander of the ADF, should have been involved in the decision making to withdraw access to the database. What is even more disturbing is the role of the director of DIO in this episode. The director has apparently been found not to have authorised the cut-off, but he was found to have been implicated in the resumption of access. The public has a right to know why the director imposed new conditions on the Australian intelligence staff in East Timor in using the information from the database before access was restored. What right did the director have in imposing these new conditions? How long did this take and was the removal of access a means to impose these new conditions?

It is now widely understood in the defence community that action was taken to deny access after a meeting in the director’s office—a meeting which involved the director and the same three DIO officials who were not previously interviewed. (Extension of time granted) Mr Carnell has already confirmed that the context of that meeting is addressed in his report, but there is more that is hard to comprehend. If the director, on hearing of the loss of access, did not take immediate action to correct the situation then his lack of action was in essence condoning the cut-off. If the director undertook no disciplinary action against the DIO officials who were responsible for the cut-off, either during or after the event, one can only conclude that those actions had been condoned. Knowledge of the cut-off without corrective action is by its nature an indication of complicity. That is why the role of the director in this matter needs to be exposed to scrutiny.

Mr Carnell indicated during Senate estimates hearings that he was obliged under section 21 of the IGIS Act to circulate his draft report to the director because he was the relevant intelligence agency head. This process involved interactions with the director, which resulted in some refinement of the draft report. In fairness to all, Mr Carnell added that the interactions did not substantially alter the draft report. This process, however, did expose a weakness in the IGIS Act where the head of an intelligence agency involved in the investigation receives the draft IGIS report. Nevertheless, Minister Hill must be satisfied by the actions of the director; otherwise, why would he have endorsed Mr Lewincamp’s departure from DIO to a position in the Defence Materiel Organisation at the same level of seniority and pay? In fact, he endorsed him publicly.

Was there something rotten in the state of DIO in 1999? It certainly was not the best of years—1999 was the year of embarrassing revelations of sex, spying, Simon Lappas and Jean-Philippe Wispelaere; 1999 was the year of damning leaks of DIO assessments on the role of the Indonesian armed forces in militia activities in East Timor. These leaks embarrassed the Howard government. The leaks were so extensive that an AFP search warrant was later issued to seek out those responsible and to close down the leaks. Lieutenant Colonel Collins’s name featured so prominently as a dissenter in the DIO world that his name appeared—wrongly, I might add—on that warrant. His home and office were never searched, but his name was splashed across the pages of the major dailies.

Also, 1999 was the year that the late Mervyn Jenkins, a DIO official serving in Washington, committed suicide. The circumstances surrounding the suicide remain unclear. There were two investigations into this matter. The first involved a two-person interview of Mr Jenkins in Washington over the sharing of classified documents with Australia’s allies. Some of these assessments were about East Timor. Two days after the interview, he committed suicide. The second investigation was initiated to report upon the alleged security breaches by Mr Jenkins, but the terms of reference for the second investigation did not include the requirement to establish the reasons for his suicide.

An unclassified report which was finally released in October 2000 concluded that there were no suggestions of espionage or personal gain in Mr Jenkins’s actions. It would be inappropriate for me to go further on this matter now, because I understand that Mrs Jenkins’s claim against the Department of Defence is still unresolved even though her claim was lodged in the ACT Supreme Court in November 2000, over four years ago. It beggars belief that this matter too remains unresolved, and I urge the minister to do his best to ensure a speedy settlement. Mervyn Jenkins and Lieutenant Colonel Collins were friends, and the circumstances of the investigation into the suicide were also a cause of concern in Lieutenant Colonel Collins’s redress of grievance and his letters to the Prime Minister, Minister Moore and Minister Reith.

East Timor binds the actions of both men. East Timor was the political story in 1999. East Timor caused relations with Indonesia to fracture, unsettled relations with the United States and found the Howard government wanting. East Timor embarrassed the Howard government, because its ministers ignored DIO warnings that Indonesian armed forces were assisting the militias in East Timor before the plebiscite on independence. The Howard government downplayed DIO warnings that violence would break out if the East Timorese voted for independence. It was many of these DIO assessments that were leaked in Australia and allegedly given to our allies by Mr Jenkins.

In the context of Lieutenant Colonel Collins’s allegations, Mr Jenkins’s suicide should be seen as another indicator of a DIO culture of malaise. That malaise involved inadequate training, poor instructions to and preparation of overseas liaison officers, unsatisfactory instructions on sharing AUSTEO intelligence with allies, and superficial investigations on security breaches—in summary, poor administration and management of personnel in working toward the core tasks of a defence intelligence collection, analysis and reporting agency. It was therefore not surprising that Philip Flood found it necessary to make recommendations on DIO’s processes when tasked to report on the performance of Australia’s intelligence agencies in 2004.

Mr Flood recommended that DIO should review its work force management structures, including a possible introduction of agency-specific work force arrangements, and undertake an integrated review of its business systems, including those for information, collection and liaison management. He noted that DIO ‘needs to develop more robust management processes and systems to underpin its efforts’. The management environment in DIO has been far from healthy. The simple act of pretending that something is other than what it is, the heightened level of cynicism that occurs through falsification of facts, the observed political flights to safety, or the devaluing of a person’s commitment—all of these in their particular fashion have undermined the health of DIO. Only the release of an unabridged Carnell report can clear the air. That is why Labor is pressing for a total disclosure of the Carnell report.

The Howard government has failed the test of a first-class government: the practice of ministerial responsibility. Ministerial responsibility is about generating an environment in which professionalism, integrity, courage, innovation and teamwork can be fostered—caring for the people in that organisation. It is also about setting the culture for the department that one manages and taking responsibility for that. Wherever I look, I do not see that commitment from the government or from Minister Hill. It should not be forgotten that in the nine years of the Howard government we have seen four ministers for defence, four departmental secretaries and three CDFs, not to mention a range of assistant ministers.

Lieutenant Colonel Collins should have been treated differently. His allegation in the first instance should have demanded the respect and attention of an alert minister. What has occurred in DIO is another Defence example in the government’s litany of deficient outcomes. But an opportunity now exists to correct at least one past mistake. If this minister cares and if the Howard government is concerned about the valuable contribution and sacrifice that defence personnel make on behalf of the nation then the Carnell report will be made available in full.

As I stated before, Mr Carnell indicated on 16 February during Senate estimates hearings that the main report, less attachments, had been written to permit its full disclosure. This matter—the deliberate denial of access to an intelligence database—is so important that I call upon the Minister for Defence to release the Carnell report in full as soon as possible, and detail: who was responsible, why did the cut-off occur, was there a cover-up, what disciplinary actions have been undertaken, and what corrective actions are now in place to prevent a similar incident occurring? Anything less would be to totally devalue the contribution of Australia’s defence personnel.