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Thursday, 18 November 1993
Page: 3183


Senator BEAHAN —I present the report of the supplementary meetings of Estimates Committee F, together with the Hansard record of proceedings and a letter received from Mr Gerry Hand responding to an issue raised in the committee's report.

  Ordered that the report be printed.


Senator BEAHAN —I seek leave to incorporate the letter in Hansard

  Leave granted.

  The letter read as follows

Gerard Leslie Hand

PO Box 332

Broadford Vic 3658

18 November 1993

Mr Michael McLean

Secretary

Senate Estimates Committee F

The Senate

Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2600

Dear Mr McLean

I refer to your letter of 15 November 1993 in relation to the matters raised at a meeting of the Senate Estimates Committee F on 12 November 1993.

I understand from the transcript of the proceedings that Senator Short raised concerns about comments given in evidence in the Federal Court case of Mo Gek Buoy and Ors v Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs in relation to my stated occupation, as reported in The Age on 12 June 1993.

I note that the Committee has not provided me with a copy of that article.

On 11 June 1993 I appeared on subpoena in the Mok case. I was asked by Counsel:

Question: Mr Hand, your present occupation?

Answer: Primary producer, consultant but not doing a lot because I have been on the stand for this case.

Question: The consultant's—is that the migration consultant or. . . ?

Answer: I have registered as a migration consultant to comply with the law because you are unable to give advice to anybody, as you would be aware, without registering; that is now the law. (pp1683-1684 transcript).

The Committee should note that I stated that "I have registered" not "I am registered".

The details of my registration are as follows:

1. On 6 May 1993 I lodged an application for registration as a Migration Agent.

2. On 12 May 1993 notice of my application was gazetted.

3. On 9 July 1993 my application for registration as a Migration Agent was approved.

In my evidence I also stated that I was a consultant. I confirm that this evidence was correct. I did work as a consultant on matters not within the ambit of the Migration Act and I consciously did not give any advice in contravention of the Act as my application was not fully processed.

The article in The Age stated:

Mr Hand, now a migration consultant and primary producer, was giving evidence in an application by three Cambodian women to review the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs refusal of their applications for refugee status.

Any implication in that article that I was already practising as a migration agent is incorrect.

I have always acted in accordance with the law and am concerned now to protect my personal integrity and reputation.

Senator Short's question to the Minister as to whether I or for that matter the Department took any action to "correct" the terminology used in The Age article is, with respect, irrelevant as I did not commence my work as a migration agent until after I was registered.

If the Committee has information to the contrary then of course the proper course of action would be for the Committee to provide it to me, so that I may respond, and to the Department so that it may take any appropriate action.

Yours sincerely

Gerry Hand


Senator BEAHAN —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the documents.

In the course of the supplementary estimates hearings, questioning by Senator Short could have been construed as reflecting adversely on Mr Gerry Hand, the former Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, in connection with his application for registration as a migration agent. In accordance with the requirements of the procedures for the protection of witnesses before Senate committees adopted by the Senate on 25 February 1988, the committee provided Mr Hand with a copy of the relevant transcript of evidence. I have today received a letter from Mr Hand which has just been incorporated into Hansard.

   I must say that I am disturbed by what seems to me to be an increasing occurrence of personal attacks by opposition senators, either on witnesses before committees or on people mentioned in questions before committees—attacks which, if made outside the protection of parliament, would be slanderous or libellous or both, attacks which are personally hurtful and damaging to the reputations of the individuals concerned.

  Senators should, I believe, exercise extreme caution in checking facts before making accusations about any individual which might in any way damage the reputation of that individual. In this case Senator Short referred to a court report in the Age in which Mr Hand, a subpoenaed witness at the court hearing, was referred to as `now a migration agent'. Senator Short went on to claim that he had had the transcript of evidence from the court case in question checked. I refer to page 214 of the Hansard report of Estimates Committee F of 12 November 1993. It states:

  Senator Bolkus—Have you checked the actual

  proceedings to see what he did say?


Senator SHORT —That is my understanding.

  Senator Bolkus—Through the Age report?


Senator SHORT —No.

  Senator Bolkus—You have actually checked the

  proceedings?


Senator SHORT —I have had them checked.

Senator Short concluded that this showed that Mr Hand had said in evidence that he had acted as a migration agent and that this was before his registration as a migration agent was approved.

  The letter from Mr hand which has just been incorporated into Hansard shows that this is clearly not the case. I quote from Mr Hand's letter. It states:

On 11 June 1993 I appeared on subpoena in the Mok case. I was asked by Counsel:

Question: Mr Hand, your present occupation?

Answer: Primary producer, consultant but not doing a lot because I have been on the stand for this case.

I must say that is a classic Gerry Hand response. The letter continues:

Question: The consultant's—is that the migration consultant or . . .

Answer: I have registered as a migration consultant to comply with the law because you are unable to give advice to anybody, as you would be aware, without registering; that is now the law.

That is at pages 1683 and 1684 of the transcript of evidence of that court case, the Mok case.

  Clearly Senator Short had neither checked the transcript of proceedings, nor had he had it checked. Yet he was prepared to imply dishonest, if not illegal, behaviour on the part of Mr Hand under the privilege of parliament—implications which, if uttered outside, would be clearly defamatory. I must say I am surprised and disappointed at Senator Short, whom I regard usually as a reasonable and fair person and not somebody who involves himself in these sorts of personal cowardly attacks in the parliament.

  I ask Senator Short, though, to imagine Mr Hand's anger and distress. He expected and could cope with attacks when he was in parliament and a minister, but now out of parliament and trying to carve out a new life and a new career for himself, he finds himself the subject of cowardly attacks which, as I have said, are totally baseless. It is not an isolated incident—I am not suggesting that Senator Short has been involved in a number of these other incidents—but it does appear to be an increasingly common practice within the Senate.

  It is a serious reflection on the attitudes of senators opposite to the individual rights of others, particularly as they regard themselves as the champions of individual rights. It is a serious reflection on the lack of attention to detail. Frankly, it is to be deplored.

  The second matter I wish to raise very quickly was raised in the report also, and that refers to some procedural difficulties that we had. There was a recommendation in the report that we refer the matter to the Procedure Committee for its consideration. I foreshadow now that, following the resumption of the second reading debate of the appropriation bills later on today, I will move an amendment to give effect to this.