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Wednesday, 29 June 1994
Page: 2298

Senator SHORT —My question is addressed to Senator Bolkus—

Senator Schacht —Better luck than yesterday.

Senator SHORT —He made such a proper fool of himself yesterday, he has to be a bit less hopeless today. I address my question, obviously, to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and the Minister representing the Attorney-General. Further to my questions in Senate estimates last Thursday, I ask the minister whether he is now aware of the presence in Australia since June 1993 of a Mr Antonios Obeid, aka Elias. If so, could he advise the Senate as to how Mr Obeid came to be accepted for entry into Australia, the nature of the visa he was granted to enter Australia and any travel from Australia since then? Could he also advise whether this is the same Mr Obeid for whom the authorities in Lebanon have issued a warrant for arrest in connection with the horrific slaying in October 1990 of a Maronite Christian political leader, Mr Dany Chamoun, and his family? Will the minister assure the Senate that the government will cooperate fully with the Lebanese authorities to ensure that Mr Obeid is returned to Lebanon to stand trial, if requested? (Time expired)

Senator BOLKUS —Senator Short has referred to the events of last week. When he raised this matter in estimates last week he referred to a Mr Jean Obeid. I was asked whether there was any information about Mr Jean Obeid and whether he had come to Australia. We did not know about Mr Jean Obeid last week, but we have checked in the meantime and found that, in fact, a Jean Obeid has entered Australia since the incident to which Senator Short has referred. Mr Jean Obeid arrived in Australia in January 1992 and left in May 1992. The only problem with Jean Obeid, though, is that he was born in 1991 and, as a consequence, was not alive at the time of the incident to which Senator Short has referred.

  Senator Short now raises the name of another person, Mr Antonios Obeid. We do know about Mr Antonios Obeid. He is a person who has arrived here. He is a person whose entry was cleared by the relevant security agency and he is a person about whom there has not yet been a request for extradition from any government. Of course, if we received a request we would respond to it and the Attorney-General would consider it.

  Let me say to Senator Short once again: do not rush to judgment. There are problems of identity when he comes into this place and raises persons' names. There are problems not just of identity, there are also problems of presuming guilt. In the case he raised last week he would have presumed guilt against a person named in a newspaper and whom he named in the Senate—a person who was not alive at the time of the incident. In the case of Antonios Obeid, another person whose name he raises today, he should not presume guilt in that regard.

  What I will say to Senator Short is that this person who arrived here was cleared by agencies. I am not in the business of presuming innocence or guilt. If another government wants a person to be extradited, the Attorney-General will consider that request. Let me also say to Senator Short that when it comes to the name `Obeid', Obeid in Lebanon is about as common as Campbell and Macdonald in Scotland; it is about as common as Cooney in Ireland; and about as common as Jones in Australia. So Senator Short should be careful with his facts.