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Tuesday, 14 October 2003
Page: 21306

Mr RUDD (3:12 PM) —My question again is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and it follows my previous questions. Can the minister confirm whether a member of his personal staff requested from ONA a fresh copy of the top-secret ONA report authored by Andrew Wilkie in the period immediately prior to the publication of its contents by the journalist Mr Andrew Bolt in the Herald Sunnewspaper?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —My office retains copies of ONA reports for a substantial period of time, which is the practice of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Mr Rudd —Did you request a fresh copy?

The SPEAKER —The question has been asked by the member for Griffith.

Mr Rudd —It has not been answered by the minister.

Mr DOWNER —So I would assume that, as with other ministers' offices, as I understand it, there would have been copies of that report in my office in any case. Whether or not an additional copy was sought I would not have thought was terribly important, because there would have been copies in my office anyway. But I also make the point that this matter is the subject of a police investigation. The opposition wanted it investigated and seems to think that it is a most terribly important issue. I would have thought it was somewhere out on the fringe of the most trivial of issues, given that there is no intelligence leak, according to ONA, involved in this. There are procedures to be gone through. The police will go through those procedures and I think that they will do a good job.

I had a look at the famous Andrew Bolt article—Andrew Bolt is sometimes a critic of mine and sometimes a supporter—and I compared the material in the article to a press release that the member for Griffith put out on 13 March. It seems to me perfectly clear from what was said on 13 March—the member for Griffith was attacking me for ignoring Mr Wilkie's advice—that the opposition spokesman on foreign affairs knew a good deal about what was in Mr Wilkie's report and referred back to his December report. There is one other point that I would make on this issue, which is a particularly important point—that is, I have noticed on occasions that the member for Griffith quotes the exact security classification of this report—the top secret AUSTEO code word—and he uses this from time to time. That is not in the Bolt article; Senator Macdonald did not use that expression.

I think it is very interesting that the member for Griffith knew precisely what the classification of the document was, that the member for Griffith knew what was in the document on 13 March and put it in his press release, and that the member for Griffith is involved in the most manifest mock indignation over some comments that Senator Macdonald made, or whatever it may be, which have absolutely no implications whatsoever for our national interest—absolutely none.