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Thursday, 27 May 1993
Page: 1489

Senator GARETH EVANS —Yesterday, Senator Knowles asked a number of questions about alleged tampering with documents related to disciplinary action against the former Ambassador to Chile, Mr Malcolm Dan. I undertook to seek further advice from the department in order to refresh my recollection, among other things, as to what had happened and to provide any additional comment to the Senate before it rises today.

  I stated yesterday that the allegation that there had been tampering with documents would have to be tested in an appropriate way, in the first instance by internal investigation. I have been reminded that an internal investigation was in fact conducted promptly within my department following the inquiry officer's receipt of a letter from Mr Dan in this connection dated 7 April 1993. I was in fact advised of that by the department on 30 April. I had forgotten that earlier exchange when I responded yesterday.

  That investigation found that there was no evidence of any tampering with documents in the possession of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It was therefore neither necessary nor appropriate for my department to request action by the Australian Federal Police. There was, however, evidence that a document in the possession of OPG, the overseas property group, had been altered. My department therefore referred the matter to the Department of Administrative Services, which has the responsibility for the OPG, for attention and appropriate action. I understand that those investigations are continuing.

  The effect of my department's finding was that there was no impediment to its inquiry into the seven charges against Mr Dan, which I referred to yesterday, proceeding. Evidence that a version of the document held elsewhere had been altered did not affect my own department's inquiry process. I have not myself seen the actual documents. I have no requirement to do so, consistent with the approach that I outlined in my initial response to Senator Knowles's questions yesterday. My office referred Mr Dan's letter to me on this matter of 13 April to the department for direct reply. A further letter from Mr Dan to me has similarly been referred to my department.

  As I stated yesterday, had the department found evidence of tampering with the documentation connected to the disciplinary action it is taking against Mr Dan, it would have referred that matter automatically to the AFP in accordance with a memorandum of understanding between the department and the AFP and I would have been advised of that action.

  I am informed that the department has sent a reply to Mr Dan's letter to me of 13 April and that a reply to the more recent letter is being prepared. The inquiry officer had already replied to Mr Dan's letter to him, informing Mr Dan of the results of the department's investigation. I am advised that the letter from Mr Dan's solicitor of 11 March 1993 did not refer to the tampering issue.

  What all that boils down to is that my department has, therefore, promptly taken all the appropriate steps in response to Mr Dan's raising of this matter. I reiterate that it is not appropriate for me as Minister to intervene in the detailed scrutiny of all the matters raised by either side in this or any other disciplinary action, for that matter, taken by my department pursuant to the disciplinary provisions of the Public Service Act. The department proceeds strictly in accordance with the Act on the basis of legal advice and keeps me informed of significant developments. That procedure is being adhered to in respect of the department's disciplinary action against Mr Dan.

  I think it would be inappropriate now—as it is likely to be in the future—for me to comment in any more detail on this case, given that this inquiry is in process and given that action is being taken, as I said, by another department in response to my department's referral to it of the tampering issue.