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Friday, 2 March 1984
Page: 319

Senator MASON(12.23) —The Australian Democrats would agree with the general principles which the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Chaney) has put forward in this matter, although I feel he has somewhat understated them . We feel that this sorry incident of smashed doors and affronted guests in the Sheraton Hotel in Melbourne requires some comment which one might encapsulate by simply saying that nothing like that must ever happen again in Australia in the particular circumstances in which that event happened. In saying that, I do not in any way want to say that there might not at some time be the necessity for such an incident. We are fortunate that we are a peaceful country. It could happen at some stage that that type of incident could happen in reality. That is something we must bear in mind. It is reasonable that we should have persons who are trained to carry out that kind of operation, as long as they are trained in a proper and reasonable way. For an incident to happen purely in the course of training is completely inexcusable and unpardonable.

Page 3 of the original typescript of the statement by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Button) sets out the background to the incident. It states:

A minor function, specified in the directive, requires ASIS to maintain a special operations capability for wartime and other very special situations.

Of course, I mentioned those situations when I first spoke. The Minister's statement continues:

As Mr Justice Hope notes, that capability is maintained only on a contingency basis. The Government notes that the whole question of ASIS's special operations function will be dealt with in the Royal Commissioner's report on ASIS due later in the year.

I hope that that function will be regularised in the general review, because one of the major lessons of this incident must be that the performance of this kind of operation-if we are to have that capability-ought to be a proper one which will work with a minimum of fuss and nonsense and which will not create the kind of situation that happened at the Sheraton. If that incident were for real it would really have been burlesque and in the circumstances it might have been quite tragic for this country if the issue which had prompted it has been a large one. On page 3 of the original typescript of the ministerial statement it is revealed:

The Minister for Foreign Affairs has made it clear that he was not aware of the planned exercise . . .

That is something that seems inexcusable in all the circumstances. In view of the ambiguous overtones of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service-that is not a criticism of the organisation as such-the authority of the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) ought to be absolute where time and circumstances permit. They certainly did permit in this case. Also in the ministerial statement Mr Justice Hope is reported as saying:

. . . identifies as an obvious deficiency in the planning of the exercise the failure to notify either the Victorian Police or the manager of the Sheraton Hotel.

I find the use of the word 'notify' in that circumstance absolutely staggering. It makes me wonder whether indeed we are not all living now in a 1984-type dictatorship without knowing it. The use of the word 'notify' would seem to assume no special need to obtain the authorisation or permission of the management of the Sheraton Hotel to have this violent, illegal and dangerous game played on its premises to the physical detriment of those premises and the overall detriment of the business. That is a matter which I hope the Attorney- General (Senator Gareth Evans) will clarify later in this debate, as I know he will do. I feel really left up in the air by the words relating to disciplinary action where it is stated:

While His Honour touches on the question of disciplinary or other action for those involved in the exercise, he has not made recommendations as to what disciplinary or other action, if any, should be taken. Those questions have been left for the responsible authorities to resolve.

I believe it would be useful for the Senate to know in due course just who the responsible authorities are and what action they take. It is vital to the community interest that this issue is followed up and resolved and the resolution made public. I think it is also vital for the people who work for ASIS that that should happen. If a degree of blame is to be attached to this matter I would say that it would be at least partially a very messy system under which ASIS operates. It is the business of the Government to see that this messy system is not perpetuated. But while it is one can hardly blame people if they take advantage of it or think that they can operate under guidelines that are not sufficiently strict. I will turn now to Mr Justice Hope's Report on the Sheraton Hotel Incident. On page 2, paragraph 1.7 of the report it is stated:

It was intended to conduct the exercise without publicity and without involving persons other than those directly taking part. In the event, members of the public did become involved and it was publicly revealed that the trainees had been carrying weapons, had threatened members of the public with them and had forced an entry into a room of the hotel causing damage to the hotel.

It seems a very naive assumption on the part of those concerned that an operation of that kind could actually be carried out at a major hotel in one of our major cities without rocking the boat very considerably indeed, as of course , was the case. We are also concerned about the carrying of weapons and the nature of those weapons. In this situation one would have thought that if this were merely a mock-up, a situation where indeed the later injections of the so- called security guards were simulated, there really would have been no need to be waving weapons around. A description of the weapons is contained on page 7 of Mr Justice Hope's report which states:

The list of equipment included four Heckler and Koch submachine guns, two of them silenced, and six Browning 9 mm automatic pistols.

Senator Chipp —Were they loaded?

Senator MASON —We do not know whether they were loaded. That is an interesting point of Senator Chipp's. There is no statement that I can find on that.

Senator Lewis —Yes, they were loaded.

Senator MASON —I gather from the interjection by Senator Lewis that they were loaded.

Senator Lewis —They were loaded with plastic bullets.

Senator MASON —Thank you. That is a matter which the Attorney-General may like to take up later. The presence of any kind of loaded firearms in a public situation of that kind--

Senator Gareth Evans —They were loaded with plastic blanks.

Senator MASON —Of course, that information alters the situation substantially. Nevertheless there is no way that people terrorised with the firearms would know that. Again even weapons which are believed to be loaded with blanks are frequently known not to be. In fact, I think that such a situation might be even more dangerous. Perhaps one of those guns could even have been fired on the understanding that it was loaded with blanks even though it was not. That situation has occurred tragically many times. Cogent to this point we have a description on page 14 of Mr Justice Hope's report-a point which I think ought to be recorded in Hansard-of just how the weapons were actually used. The report states:

One of the team members lowered his submachine gun and pointed it at the Hotel Manager. A trainee held his hand gun in the air so that it could be seen. Seeking a way out of the hotel, the team advanced into the kitchen with some hotel staff, including the Manager, retreating before them. There is a conflict of evidence about whether guns were pointed at hotel staff in the kitchen. Hotel staff maintain that submachine guns were pointed directly at them, and that a hand gun was waved about. The trainees contend that the submachine guns were held across their chests and that one hand gun was held up, but not pointed at anyone.

I think a relevant point concerning the question of liquor is made on page 55 of the report. It states:

Although John--

John was the hostage who was to be rescued from the hotel room-

and the two 'foreign intelligence officers' had consumed about $70 worth of liquor over the 3 day duration of their stay in the hotel, this was not regarded by hotel management as excessive.

I will leave that point without further comment.

Senator Chipp —Not at those prices.

Senator MASON —Senator Chipp makes an excellent point. One would want to know the prices of the liquor to see how far the $70 went. Nevertheless I think if there is any evidence that there was an unreasonable amount of liquor consumed in that time that is something that ought not to have happened. I mentioned the recommendations made on page 69 of the report. Mr Justice Hope recommends:

(a) no ASIS officer, trainee or agent be permitted to carry any type of firearms in any public place in Australia.

I hope that the Attorney-General will comment at this stage giving us his view and that of the Government on these recommendations if he can. The recommendations continued:

(b) no ASIS exercise, conducted outside ASIS' own facilities, which may attract the attention of the police or members of the public, should be undertaken without clearance from the police, from the local military district . . . and from any private citizen whose property may be affected or who may become in some way involved in the exercise;

(c) no exercise should be conducted by ASIS which would harm or alarm members of the public, and ASIS trainees should be so instructed.

I think those are the most important recommendations except for recommendation ( f) which states:

(f) ASIS training manuals should be amended or completed as a matter of urgency to incorporate the above recommendations;

Perhaps that is the most important recommendation of all.

The Sheraton incident has revealed the necessity of not going in for this cloak and dagger activity as if it were some kind of game, as if it were an operation to be done light-heartedly. It is a very serious matter and should be subject to the most stringent planning and supervision.