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Monday, 10 May 1993
Page: 354

Senator HILL (Leader of the Opposition) (3.29 p.m.) —by leave—I move:

  That the Senate take note of the statement.

There are many unsatisfactory matters in relation to the so-called Gillespie affair; some of them we have dealt with on previous occasions. The first was the ease with which these two young children, Australian citizens, could be removed from the jurisdiction of the Australian courts and taken offshore. You will remember, Mr President, our complaints about that and our unhappiness as to the confusion that apparently existed within and between Australian law enforcement bodies which led to the Glenn inquiry and report. That report told us that the police in the north of Australia had not been warned to keep watch on the possibility of the children being taken offshore through a northern port. The report also said that Coastwatch had not been informed to keep watch in case the children were being taken offshore by boat so that then possibly, with a bit of luck, they may have been able to intervene in some way.

  We found out in due course that the children were taken by boat from a northern Australian port and that an Australian naval vessel came ever so close to coming upon the children, in that it seems that it did come upon the boat in which the children were present but, because of this terrible lack of communication, consideration was not given to whether or not the children were on board that boat. It was a highly unsatisfactory sequence of events.

  What worries me now is that, as a result of that experience and as a result of the Glenn report, I do not see that this Government has put in place a structure that will give the Australian people any greater confidence that, in the same circumstance occurring again, there would be any increased likelihood of the children being apprehended and protected by Australian authorities.

  What grieves me most about this process, apart from the fact that these two children were abducted and taken from our shores, is the fact that there is no improved structure in place that can give the Australian people greater confidence of a more satisfactory result in repeat circumstances. Unfortunately, these circumstances do occur. They all vary slightly but they do occur—much more often than we would like. That was an unsatisfactory aspect and remains an unsatisfactory aspect.

  The second matter that caused us concern, and still causes us concern, is the way in which the Minister, Senator Evans, has treated Mrs Gillespie in this case. I would not have thought that it was unreasonable, after all these months, for Mrs Gillespie to expect a personal face-to-face consultation with the Minister to discuss questions of what effort the Australian Government is making to at least provide her with access to her children in Malaysia. The Minister has made the decision that it is not appropriate for him to do so and I think that is highly disappointing.

  It is a fact that Foreign Ministers are busy, and this might be seen in some sense as a matter personal to the Gillespies, although I think it is greater than that because of the abuse of the Australian protective system. Nevertheless, even a Minister must be sensitive to mothers who lose their children in this way. I would have thought that it was not unreasonable for Mrs Gillespie to expect Senator Evans to be prepared to speak to her about the matter. Some personal reassurance by Senator Evans that he was treating this matter seriously might have gone a long way to relieving Mrs Gillespie's very well-based concerns.

Senator Gareth Evans —What about my letter? What about all the contacts with the lawyers? Come on, be fair.

Senator HILL —We spoke to Senator Evans in estimates back in September. One got the impression that this was really not an appropriate matter for a Foreign Minister. He had spoken to his counterpart, the Foreign Minister of Malaysia, and, having discussed it, they said that they had put in train certain processes. That was really about all that an Australian citizen should expect from the Australian Foreign Minister, according to Senator Evans. If Senator Evans disputes what I say, I invite anyone to read the Hansard of 15 September 1992, and I do not think they will reach any other interpretation. There was a lack of sensitivity involved, and, I suspect, a lack of real effort and interest on behalf of Senator Evans to press the Malaysian Foreign Minister and other authorities to provide access—which is all that is being asked for in this particular instance—to the mother of these children. That is something that disappoints me and certainly very reasonably disappoints Mrs Gillespie.

  Thirdly, it concerns me that, although the issue of extradition was before the Attorney-General's Department in September of last year, when the Minister acknowledged that it was under consideration, nothing was done for all of these months. Extradition proceedings were taken out against the accomplice but it was not until some eight months later, after an election and with a new Attorney-General, that any further action was really taken on the extradition issue. I think that is unsatisfactory. There is no explanation as to why it has taken so long.

  Obviously, the longer these matters take before proceedings are instituted, the more difficult they are to prosecute. Furthermore, unfortunately it gives the signal to the other side that perhaps the Australian Government is not really serious. That has been an unsatisfactory matter to date, although I am pleased that the Government is now finally acting in that regard. I acknowledge that it will be difficult.

  Debate interrupted.