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Notice given 1 February 2007

*2973  Senator McLucas: To ask the Minister representing the Minister for Transport and Regional Services—With reference to the investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) of the fatal crash of the aircraft VH-TFU at Lockhart River in May 2005: Was the information available to the ATSB, which formed the basis for the ATSB’s decision to refer Transair Pty Ltd to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions: (a) available from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority’s (CASA) audit and monitoring processes; and (b) acted upon by CASA.

*2974  Senator Bishop: To ask the Minister representing the Minister for Defence—

(1) Following the death of Private Jake Kovco in Baghdad on 21 April 2006, was an instruction given to the Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) in Baghdad by the Special Investigation Branch that the body was not to be moved in advance of the arrival of the investigating team so as to protect vital forensic evidence, and was that order the subject of a phone call to Major Pemberton of the Special Investigation Branch at 0200 hours on Sunday, 23 April 2006 from a senior officer at the CJTF in Baghdad challenging the order on the basis of a counter order to remove the body to Australia as soon as possible, as referred to in evidence given to the Board of Inquiry (BOI) (Transcript of Proceedings, 16 August 2006, p. 1122).

(2) Was a second phone call also made to Major Pemberton from the Chief of Staff at the CJTF in Baghdad 3 hours later, also challenging the order that the body not be removed, and was reference made to ‘risk managing’ the removal of the body from Baghdad so that it could be returned home to Australia as soon as possible; if so: (a) did that ‘risk management’ include the over ruling of Major Pemberton; and (b) who gave that new order.

(3) Did Major Pemberton deny in evidence (Transcript of Proceedings, 16 August 2006, p. 1123) that he had ever given approval for the removal of the body, contrary to his earlier order; if so: (a) why was he misrepresented in evidence; (b) why was his order countermanded; and (c) on whose instruction.

(4) As referred to on page 1157 (Transcript of Proceedings, 16 August 2006), is it a fact that the ‘investigative protocols, or the way we do business, our procedures’, referring to the Military Police, were ‘overtaken by competing priorities’, were these ‘priorities’ the urgent repatriation of Private Kovco to Australia within 4 days; if so, what effect did that decision have on the quality of the investigation.

(5) Can the Minister confirm the evidence on page 1157 (Transcript of Proceedings, 16 August 2006) that this type of conflict by which investigations are compromised by competing priorities is commonplace; if so, what action has been taken to address this shortcoming.

(6) Did Major Pemberton as officer in charge of the Special Investigations Branch, also order that Private Kovco’s pistol was not to be released to ‘anybody until we were given clarification as to what was occurring’ and was he again overruled by the CJTF with the gun being passed to the New South Wales police.

(7) (a) Why was the immediate travel to Baghdad on 22 April 2006 by the Military Police flyaway team suspended; and (b) on whose instruction.


 (8) When was it decided that the New South Wales Police Homicide Branch should investigate the death of Private Kovco, and were the reasons for that due to the lack of relevant ballistic and forensic skills on the part of the Military Police.

(9) (a) When were the Military Police, investigating the incident scene in Baghdad, informed that the New South Wales Police were also involved; and (b) was that after the incident scene had been completely cleaned and all traces of evidence destroyed.

(10) (a) On what date were the Military Police first able to interview witnesses to the incident and why did it take so long; (b) when did the New South Wales Police interview those same witnesses; and (c) which witnesses were not interviewed by either of the investigating police and why not.

(11) (a) Were highly critical comments made on the resourcing and capacity of the Military Police, as evident in the transcript of the BOI, including lack of staff, equipment and training; if so, how is this being address; and (b) does the Military Police have a poor reputation and therefore lack the confidence of senior command.

(12) Does the Minister accept the evidence given at pages 1350 and 1351 of the BOI transcript (23 August 2006) iterating the failures of the investigation, as follows:

The lack of investigative support on the ground at the time of the incident was the starting point for a number of significant and avoidable situations. Those being the loss of potential forensic evidence from the deceased and witnesses, uncontrolled access to the incident site and removing of evidence, the moving of PTE Kovco after direction was given not for him to be moved which eventually lead (sic) to his failed repatriation to Australia, witnesses not being in location at the time the investigators arrived, change of jurisdiction of the coroner for where the deceased was to be returned to, the interference that came from certain elements within the command structure and because we had no investigative support on the ground, no liaison being effective with coalition forces prior who may have been able to assist us on the ground;

if so, what action has been taken within the Australian Defence Force to specifically address these shortcomings and what directions have been altered with respect to future incidents.

*2975  Senator Bishop: To ask the Minister representing the Minister for Defence—

(1) Has the Minister’s attention been drawn to a media item published in the Australian of 5 December 2006 concerning a request from the family of the late Private Kovco for a review of the Board of Inquiry (BOI) findings on the death of Private Kovco; if so, has the Minister agreed to such a review; if not, why not.

(2) For the past decade: (a) in how many cases have such reviews of BOI findings been conducted; and (b) in each case: (i) by whom, and (ii) with what outcome.

(3) Can the Minister confirm the assertion in the media article referred to that Group Captain Cook, Chairman of the BOI, had stated that his findings had been sent for such review, and that no such review had been undertaken; if so: (a) what is the reason for that decision; and (b) does that mean that the department is satisfied that the BOI findings reflect the evidence given to the Inquiry.

(4) In his answers to the media on 7 July 2006, did the Chief of the Defence Force state that ‘had we been successful the first time around we would have got Private Kovco’s body back in four days’; if so, would such timing have coincided with ANZAC Day in Australia.

(5) Did Brigadier Cosson state at paragraph 8 of her report, in relation to the mix-up of caskets that ‘to accelerate the repatriation process within four days of his death is too short a timeframe within which to properly risk manage and execute a highly sensitive situation’; if so: (a) why was the process accelerated; and (b) on whose instruction.

(6) Did Mrs Shelley Kovco, the widow of the deceased, state to the BOI on 19 September 2006 (Transcript of Proceedings, p. 1803) that the haste of repatriation was not at her request and that not once did she demand that her husband be brought home quickly; if so, does this statement rebut the suggestion that the hasty repatriation was undertaken for the sake of the grieving family.

(7) Did Mrs Kovco also state that it was her belief that the hasty repatriation was that ‘it would look good to have him back in the country on ANZAC Day’; if so: (a) has that claim been confirmed or denied to her directly; and (b) by whom.

(8) In exhibit 164, was a statement made by Brigadier Symon that on 22 April 2006 the Chief of Army gave him ‘guidance’ that the body was to be brought home ‘as quickly as I could’; if so, can the Chief of Army verify that ‘guidance’.

(9) Further in evidence at page 1402 (Transcript of Proceedings, 24 August 2006), did Brigadier Symon agree that getting the body of Private Kovco repatriated by ANZAC Day ‘was a factor’ in the repatriation of the body; if so, was it also a factor in removing the body from Baghdad prior to examination by the Special Investigation Branch officers.

(10) At page 858 of the transcript of evidence (4 August 2006) did Soldier 34, as he was titled, agree that the pressure for hasty repatriation came from the chain of command; if so, what orders or instructions were extant at the time which might have given rise to what seems to be a commonly held perception, or was it a figment of Soldier 34’s imagination.

(11) At page 1135 of the transcript of evidence (16 August 2006) did counsel for Mrs Kovco refer to an affidavit by Lt Colonel Pearce, the Commanding Officer of the 1st Military Police Battalion to the effect that ‘HQJTF … had determined that the priority was for the return of the body by ANZAC Day and that they would risk manage the investigation’; if so: (a) can it also be confirmed that in evidence Lt Colonel Pearce did not resile from that evidence, apart from being unclear as to who provided it to her, including at page 1168; (b) have their been any subsequent investigations as to the source of the advice; (c) can the contents of that affidavit be confirmed; and (d) has that evidence been subsequently revised or retracted.

(12) At page 1139 of the transcript of evidence (16 August 2006) did Major Pemberton agree with the proposition by counsel that ‘there was also … an understanding of political pressure to bring PTE Kovco home regardless of the lesson learned’ from a previous death, namely the ‘need to view the body as part of the incident scene’, and did he clarify that political pressure as coming from the chain of command.


 (13) (a) Between the dates of 21 April and 25 April 2006 how many e-mail messages to and from the Chief of the Defence Force, the Chief of Army, Brigadier Symons, Brigadier Hallinan, Wing Commander Guerrin and Major Pemberton, as well as file notes and minutes on file, contained reference to the need to get Private Kovco’s body back to Australia by 25 April 2006; and (b) how many of those included circulation to the Minister’s office.