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Thursday, 30 June 1994
Page: 2444

Senator HILL —It would be interesting to ask Senator Cook to table it so that we could see who wrote that stuff. My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Will the minister confirm that the Australian Ambassador to Lebanon was called into the foreign ministry in Beirut on Saturday, 18 June 1994 to receive an expression of Lebanon's concern that Australia had not acceded to Lebanon's request in May for the extradition of Mr Antonios Obeid, and the ambassador was requested to convey to the Australian government Lebanon's wish that Australia reconsider its position? If that is so, why did the minister deny knowledge of the matter at the beginning of question time today? Furthermore, if it is so, why did he not correct the answer by Minister Bolkus yesterday, which he would have known to be incorrect?

Senator GARETH EVANS —At the beginning of question time when I heard the question I thought initially that it was a reference to a different matter relating to an extradition that the opposition has been preoccupied with as far as Afghanistan is concerned. At the same time, Senator Bolkus was telling me that he had up-to-date information on the matter. It was on that basis that I deferred to him.

  I have some very general knowledge of this Lebanon request—not up-to-date knowledge, and I am not specifically aware, as far as I can recall, of that most recent meeting that Senator Hill referred to, if such did in fact occur. Of course, there was a horrifying bomb attack in Lebanon. Senator Hill may recall that I got up in this place and said how horrified we in the government were about that, and I expressed our concern. It is the view of the government that there should be full cooperation, so far as is possible and so far as is consistent with our policy in these matters, when it is sought to initiate proceedings of this kind to find the perpetrators. I, of course, make no judgment about who is guilty or whether the named individuals have anything to do with it at all.

  It is my clear recollection from the last time when this matter was drawn to my attention that there has been no formal extradition request; nor, indeed, would that be possible because, as I recall, there are no formal extradition arrangements in place between Australia and Lebanon. That is not to say that requests cannot be made for these matters to be followed up. My understanding is that a formal request has not been made, although there has been some dialogue about it. I will check that to make absolutely sure that I am not misleading the Senate in that respect, but that is my understanding.

  If a formal request were to be made, quite an elaborate procedure would then need to be followed to determine whether or not there is any arrangement in place, or which could be in place, to base the response on. That response would need to take into account a great many factors having to do with the law and justice system as it applies in Lebanon; having regard, among other things, to the policy on capital punishment. I note in that respect that a number of executions have taken place recently in that country. The response would have to take into account a whole series of other considerations as to the nature and application of that criminal justice system. All of those things go to the really quite sensitive and delicate policy decisions that have to be made.

  As far as I am aware, that formal process of considering all these matters has not been triggered by any appropriately formal action taken on the Lebanese side, although there has been some dialogue. That is as much as I can recall of this particular matter. I have not had any recent brief on it. I will seek such further information as I can that is responsive to Senator Hill's question and advise him accordingly.

Senator HILL —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. That is interesting, but exactly what requests have been received by the Australian government in relation to Mr Antonios Obeid? When were those requests made? What has been the Australian government's response?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I have already told Senator Hill that I will seek such further information as I can that is responsive to his question and advise him accordingly. I repeat that.