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Tuesday, 15 October 1985
Page: 1213


Senator WALTERS —Does the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs stand by his answer to Senator Aulich yesterday when he said that Mr Robson, MHA, `visited the Australian Embassy in Berne and handed in a plastic container for return to Australia' and that `Mr Robson assured the officers in Berne that it contained documentary material relating to a European Management Forum symposium he had attended at Davos'? Is the Minister aware that Mr Robson has denied having been at Berne at all last year and that the Australian officials at Davos were aware of the complete contents of the briefcase to be sent back to Australia? Does the Minister now believe he was wrong and has consequently misled the Senate?


Senator GARETH EVANS —In the light of Mr Robson's statement on this matter, which Senator Walters read into the record in the adjournment debate last night, this morning I sought further clarification of this issue and in particular careful analysis of my original briefing note to ensure that no misstatements of fact had been made. There was, in fact, one misstatement of fact which did turn up as a result of that analysis and that was the question of the Tasmanian Minister's actual presence in Berne at the time that was suggested to be the case. That had been confused in the mind of whoever it was who wrote the thing with a visit the previous year. But everything else is, in fact, perfectly accurate. A number of statements were made by Mr Robson last night which have now been quite specifically countered by the officer in the Department of Foreign Affairs who was the Deputy Head of Mission at the Australian Embassy in Berne at the relevant time and who was personally responsible for the course of events to which I adverted in replying to Senator Aulich yesterday. I think that it would clarify the matter for all concerned were I to seek leave to incorporate in Hansard the text of the statement made to me.


Senator Walters —No, read it.


Senator GARETH EVANS —I think that the honourable senator might be a little embarrassed by it and that Mr Robson might be embarrassed by it.


The PRESIDENT —Senator Evans, do you seek leave to incorporate the statement?


Senator GARETH EVANS —I sought leave to incorporate it. I am happy to read it if the Opposition wants me to do so.


Senator Chaney —May I intervene? There is a recommendation of the Standing Orders Committee that when an item is to be incorporated it be shown to the other side for consideration.


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Evans has sought leave to incorporate a document in Hansard. Is leave granted?

Leave granted.

The statement read as follows-

USE OF DIPLOMATIC BAG BY

MR NEIL ROBSON

I served as Deputy Head of Mission at the Australian Embassy in Berne from May 1981 to July 1984. In that capacity I was involved in efforts by the Embassy to give assistance to Mr Neil Robson, both when he attended the European Management Forum Symposium at Davos early in 1984, and in the course of a previous visit to Switzerland aimed at promoting investment in Tasmania.

I have seen the text of Mr Robson's statement, read to the Senate on 14 October 1985 by Senator Walters. I can make the following comments.

It is correct that officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs (specifically, Ambassador Hutton and myself) attempted to be helpful to Mr Robson and other members of the Tasmanian delegation, including the Premier, Mr Gray. Assistance was also extended to representatives of the Australian private sector attending the Symposium. The primary role of Embassy staff was to support the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Senator Button, who warmly approved of our efforts to promote the interests of all Australians present in Davos, consistent with the aim of projecting a vigorous and positive image of Australia.

There were no Australian Trade Commission staff in Davos.

As far as I am aware, Mr Robson did not visit the Australian Embassy in Berne in 1984.

In the general framework of the assistance we provided to members of the Tasmanian delegation, I was asked to accept a briefcase which, I was informed, contained only symposium documentation which Mr Robson did not wish to carry with him on the post-Davos legs of his trip. I was asked to have the bag sent to Tasmania via the diplomatic bag. The briefcase was sealed and addressed when given to me. I was not present when it was packed, I did not provide tape to seal it, and I was not informed that it contained personal items. I agreed to arrange for its dispatch to Australia in the belief that it contained only material which fell within the guidelines laid down by the Department of Foreign Affairs on the use of diplomatic bags. I would not have accepted the briefcase had I been informed that it contained material of a non-official nature. The Minister's statement to me concerning the contents of the briefcase (i.e. symposium documentation only) seemed an acceptable guarantee in this regard.

While the Minister may not have been aware of ``the method the officers would use to send the briefcase back to Australia'', he requested that it be sent by diplomatic bag and would, moveover, have been aware that we would not have taken it to a local post office. Since he could have availed himself of this means of dispatch without any assistance from the Embassy.

R. S. DESIATNIK

Diplomatic Security Section

15 October 1985