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Wednesday, 26 May 1993
Page: 1336

Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Foreign Affairs) (3.24 p.m.) —The matter involving the former Australian Ambassador to Chile, Mr Malcolm Dan, has been something of a long running saga. The department has taken disciplinary action against Mr Dan following three findings of misconduct in relation to his purchase of duty free motor vehicles in the course of his two most recent overseas postings as an ambassador in Buenos Aires and Santiago de Chile, and has laid an additional seven charges of misconduct against him. All seven charges relate to his conduct while Ambassador to Chile.

  In February this year, Mr Dan withdrew his appeal to the Merit Protection Review Agency against the earlier findings of misconduct in relation to the first three charges; so those three findings therefore stand. In April this year Mr Dan also withdrew his appeal to the Federal Court on the jurisdictional question of the applicability of the Public Service Act to him while he was serving as an ambassador. The way is now clear for the department to proceed with an inquiry into the second set of seven charges without further delay. An inquiry officer has been appointed to conduct the inquiry.

  I have taken the view that under those circumstances it would be inappropriate for me to make any further comment on this matter. That is certainly the view that I meant to communicate in the course of my earlier response today. I have not thought it appropriate hitherto to become involved in any way in the detailed scrutiny of all the various matters that have been raised by one side or another in the long and tortuous progress of this matter so far. There is adequate and appropriate disciplinary machinery available. There is an opportunity for Mr Dan to go off sideways to the courts if he believes there are procedural defects. He has hitherto threatened to do so on several occasions. But those court actions, for one reason or another, have not been pursued or at least not pursued to the point of appeal to the Federal Court on the jurisdictional question, as I have just said.

Senator Knowles —You don't think a possible breach of the Crimes Act should be something that should be brought to your attention?

Senator GARETH EVANS —There have been a number of matters drawn to my attention in correspondence by Mr Dan and his legal advisers over the course of the past several months and each one of them I have dealt with in an arm's length way by saying that I do not want to get involved personally in the detailed scrutiny of the claims and counterclaims because the machinery exists with which to respond to these matters—either internal machinery or, if Mr Dan is not happy with the internal machinery or the way that is being applied, he has remedies open to him. I am just not sitting in judgment on this situation.

Senator Knowles —I am not asking you to sit in judgment.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Knowles, you have made your contribution.

Senator GARETH EVANS —It is a highly desirable state of affairs for Ministers to avoid sitting in judgment on the detailed scrutiny of these things, unless there is some direct and obvious obligation upon them to take a different course.

  I have no idea what the answer is to the allegation that has been made about tampering with documents. That is an allegation that will have to be tested in an appropriate way: in the first instance, obviously, by internal investigation. If it is thought that internal investigation throws up something that is worthy of attention by the criminal process or criminal investigation process, then of course that is the path we will go down, as we always have in these matters when issues of this kind have arisen or questions of unauthorised leaks of confidential material and so on have been raised. We have no inhibitions about doing that; we have not had them in the past and we will not have them in the future. Certainly there has been no suggestion of any direction by me not to follow this course. I have simply been awaiting events to take their natural course, as they have hitherto, and I think that is the way the matter ought to continue to be treated.

  I will seek some further advice on where this has all got to. I do confess that I have not taken a meticulous interest in the detail of the allegations and counter-allegations that have been made, because I regard it as inappropriate for me to do so. But if there is anything that I can usefully add by way of response to Senator Knowles's question and further comment in the light of this exchange, I will be happy to do so before we get up. But, really and truly, Senator Knowles has gone over the top in the way in which she has attributed views to me today and the way in which she has thrown her considerable weight around in terms of the handling hitherto of this particular matter.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.