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Tuesday, 28 June 1994
Page: 2070

Senator SHORT —My question is directed to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. I refer the minister to a letter to him dated 24 May 1993 from the president of the Afghan Australian Association raising what the minister's senior adviser called `serious allegations' about the presence in Australia of Abdul Miakhel, the former deputy head of the Najibullah communist regime's brutal secret police, the Khad. I note that the minister failed for three months even to acknowledge the receipt of that letter. I also refer to a follow-up letter from the president in October 1993 and to a letter from another Afghan Australian community leader raising further serious allegations concerning the background to Mr Miakhel's presence in Australia. I ask the minister: why did he do nothing to follow up these serious allegations for 13 months, from May 1993 to last Wednesday, and only then after they were aired on national television and in this chamber 24 hours earlier, despite receiving at least three representations about the matter?

Senator BOLKUS —Senator Short raises a matter which has been of concern. He referred to a letter of 24 May 1993 from Mr Besodi, I believe. I have gone through my office files and processes. In fact, there have been six contacts with the department with respect to that correspondence between the date that it was sent and a few weeks before this matter was raised publicly. It is not that I did nothing. In fact, we have had this under active consideration. As Senator Short knows, the process in the department has not responded to the references by the department.

  The area that Senator Short is talking about is not an easy one. It has problems in terms of identity and we recognised those before. It also has problems in terms of presuming guilt or jumping to conclusions. The matters Senator Short raises have been aired quite recently on the 7.30 Report. They go to a number of individuals. In fact one person that those opposite have consistently asked me about is a third person involved here—not Mr Miakhel but a third person.

  I think that in this particular case when those opposite raise these sorts of issues they should appreciate there are problems for all of us—problems of identity and problems of presuming guilt. It is almost certain that the third person, for instance, in this matter is a person who was initially refused his claim by the department. The matter was raised with Minister Ray, it was reassessed and after a process the UNHCR accorded this person refugee status. But that refugee status was not granted just by the UNHCR. In regard to the third person, the person those opposite are so concerned about with respect to this government tracking him down, that matter also was of interest to the opposition.

  When Senator Robert Ray was minister, Senator Alston wrote to him at the time claiming that the case of the third person was becoming acute. He also went on to say—in fact urgently demanded—that the Australian government should issue a temporary entry permit to the person involved, to the general, the third person, in order to prevent his deportation and certain execution. That is the person who is supposed to have been the terrorist—the third person those opposite have referred to, the third person whose identity is almost certainly known.

  Not only that, but he got universal endorsement by the opposition leadership. Senator Hill on 20 June with respect to this person wrote to the minister saying, `As the situation is urgent I am appealing to you to exercise your powers . . . and grant' the general `immediate entry to Australia on special humanitarian grounds.' Not only that but two days after Senator Hill put out a press statement expressing his deep disgust that Senator Ray had taken two days to consider this application. He said, `The acting minister should immediately grant a temporary visa to the general so that at least he will be out of the considerable danger he will be in after Friday.'

  These cases are difficult because of identification, as I said earlier. Those opposite cannot have it both ways. They cannot on the one hand come in here and condemn government for allowing someone in when, in 1989, the united leadership opposite urged us to approve the matter urgently. They cannot come in here now and accuse someone of having a sleazy character and condemn that person, when four years ago those opposite presented him as an acceptable character.

  We have been pursing these matters and are investigating them thoroughly. That is the way to do it, not the presumption of guilt or innocence those opposite are making. This matter has been pursued by my office on six occasions. Those opposite well know that there are difficulties of identification. But on this particular point those opposite do not have egg on their face; they have the whole omelette.

Senator SHORT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I draw the minister's attention to the fact that my question related to a Mr Abdul Miakhel. All of the minister's four-minute answer related to another person about whom I did not direct the question. Is the minister saying that a 13-month delay on his part in investigating this matter and a 10-month delay in referring it to his department, and not even following it up to get an answer, is good enough? Is he saying that such irresponsible and reckless behaviour is acceptable from the minister who is charged with enforcing Australia's immigration laws? If that is what the minister is saying, I ask why he should not resign for gross dereliction of ministerial duty in not being fit or competent to hold ministerial office.

Senator BOLKUS —In case Senator Short did not get the point, I table a letter from Senator Hill, a letter from Senator Alston and a press statement from Senator Hill. Senator Short knows that when this matter was raised by Mr Besodi it was raised not just with my office but also with the department. The matter was immediately referred to the department. The senior adviser responded to Mr Besodi within 2 1/2 months.

  As I said, this matter has been raised six times with the department over this period. Let me repeat the point I made initially: when it comes to these particular matters, what is necessary is thorough investigation. Senator Short has not done that. I table the documents.

Senator Short —Mr President, I raise a point of order relating, yet again, to relevance. The minister is referring to a totally different case. If he is not aware of that, then he is even more incompetent than I thought he was.

Senator Robert Ray —Mr President, on the same point of order. This particular question was asked last week and the credibility of it related to three cases all joined together. It is quite proper for Senator Bolkus to put on the record how wrong Senator Short was in this other case. Senator Bolkus has indicated directly in his answer what steps his office is taking.

Senator Short —Mr President, my question today had nothing to do with the three people mentioned last week, with the exception of one of them. In his answer and in his supplementary answer today Senator Bolkus did not at all refer to the person who was the subject of my question.

Senator Bolkus —Today Senator Short asked about a particular matter and went directly to the question of the government investigating allegations raised. My answer went to the specific allegations—the specific matter raised—as well as to other matters which have been raised and which go to the question of the government's handling of this issue at my level and at the department's level. In answering that question, Mr President, I have despatched all Senator Short's question to the boundary. That is what Senator Short cannot handle.

The PRESIDENT —Order! No matter what is the truth on either side of this debate, it would be impossible for me to make judgments on relevance in that case. There is no point of order.