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Thursday, 30 June 1994
Page: 2455

Senator BOLKUS (Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Multicultural Affairs) (3.10 p.m.) —I will tell honourable senators who has misled this chamber, and I will make it very clear. Senator Short said a few moments ago that last week, by implication, he raised the matter of Mr Antonios Obeid. Look at the Hansard record of estimates last week. Who did he ask about? He asked about a Jean Obeid. As I said yesterday, in the land of Obeids you do not confuse one with the other. Senator Short came in here yesterday—

Senator Short —I asked about a newspaper article, and you know it.

Senator BOLKUS —I was quiet while Senator Short was speaking, and I hope he will accord me the same courtesy. Senator Short came in last week and asked the wrong question about the wrong person. He asked a question about a bomber who turned out to be a one-year-old, born after the bombing. Last week he asked the wrong question. Yesterday he asked about an Antonios Obeid and somehow tied him in with Jean Obeid. There is a huge difference between a Jean and an Antonios and, of course, a Mr Chahine.

Senator Short —You have had a briefing in your pocket since 24 June.

Senator BOLKUS —I have had briefings on lots of things, but I am not Senator Short's research assistant; I am not his adviser. I am not going to tell Senator Short what questions to ask. If he is goose enough to ask the wrong questions, he will live or die on that. That is the reality of this case.

  Senator Short comes in here and asks about a Mr Antonios Obeid and connects him to the Jounieh bombing in February this year. He selectively quotes from a brief that I am supposed to have had. What else does that briefing say about Mr Antonios Obeid? He arrived on 29 June 1993 and the briefing to me—and these are documents that I will be able to make available—indicates that in all our records he has not departed since. The Jounieh bombing was earlier this year. It may well be that something has happened that has not been known by immigration and customs. But that is Antonios Obeid.

  Let us also look at the ASIO advice in respect of Mr Antonios Obeid and a third person. They were cleared before they left Lebanon. In respect of those people, in an assessment made on 13 April, ASIO did say what Senator Short said. It said the balance of probability is that they have been targeted because of their past association with the Geagea rather than solid evidence of their complicity in the Jounieh bombing—

Senator Short —Read it all.

Senator BOLKUS —You read the first part; I read the second part. To be fair and honest to the people involved, without presuming guilt or innocence, one has to read both parts. One has to keep in mind that our records show that one of them has not left Australia and would not have been at the place at the time of the bombing. Secondly, one has to have a total assessment of the ASIO profile.

  The one person Senator Short has not asked about is Mr Chahine. He is the person about whom there might have been an extradition request. Why has not Senator Short asked about him, if he is so concerned about this matter? Why has he not pursued that matter? No, he just trails down the Obeid path, for some grubby political purpose. He has no bona fide interest in this matter. I repeat: why not ask about Mr Chahine?

  This has been a dismal performance on Senator Short's part over 10 or 12 days. He asked the wrong questions about the wrong people; he has presumed guilt and he has presumed identities that are not there. Senator Short is the one who stands to be judged in the Senate this afternoon, not me. He is the one who has cocked it up. I say that on the basis of all the advice I have had. He has had some of it, but the reality of the advice is that if Senator Short seeks to raise the name of Mr Antonios Obeid here, why does not Senator Short place on record that the Jounieh bombings took place in February this year? If he has so many documents at his disposal, why does he not place on record the fact that this person is not recorded as having left our country at the relevant time? Why does not Senator Short be fair to him?

Senator Short —Where is that reported?

Senator BOLKUS —Senator Short will not do that. He asks where that is reported. He comes in here smelling a little bit of dirt and is overexcited. He made a fool of himself last week when he asked about Jean Obeid. I am saying that this case was processed clearly, was processed in person, and Antonios Obeid was cleared by ASIO in December 1992.

  Not only that, he and his wife submitted clear penal certificates with their applications, dated 22 August 1992 and 22 September 1992. Further to that, Mrs Obeid, his wife, was security cleared on 11 February 1993, and the results of clearances were received on 24 February 1993. If Senator Short is going to come in here and mess it up, do not blame it on me; it rebounds on Senator Short.