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Monday, 30 August 2004
Page: 26686

Senator JACINTA COLLINS (5:29 PM) —I rise to speak in support of the motion as amended by Senator Faulkner. If you listened to Senator Hill earlier, you would have believed that it had not actually been amended. Senator Hill had no basis at all for discrediting the explanation. It was obvious from Senator Hill's contribution that he had very little to rely upon. As I think Senator Bartlett said a moment ago, his argument about funding started to put his case at a ludicrous level. To turn to the points of import here, I do not know if this reference will get up. What I do know, as a member of the first inquiry, is that each of us do have a duty to seek the truth.

We have heard today that Senator Harradine thinks this inquiry should perhaps go to a legislation committee. The first inquiry was established as a Senate select committee. Despite some of the references made today by senators from the coalition, if you go back to their actual report—as Senator Brandis just did—you will see that, although they take issue with many of the conclusions reached in the majority report, they do not take issue with the process itself. Why is it that now—after they reported in detail their comprehensive version of what came before the Senate select committee—coalition senators are saying, `You can't send it to a Senate select committee because that would be a witch-hunt'?

Senator Ferguson —Hang on, this is Senator Harradine's amendment, not ours.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Yes, and I will get to that point, Senator Ferguson. There is nothing at all in the government senators' report that describes this first inquiry as having been conducted like a witch-hunt. Senators from the coalition cannot complain that they did not have adequate time to question witnesses. They cannot complain that we did not hear from the witnesses that they wanted to hear from. In fact, as I recall, Senator Brandis got extensive credit for being able to extend the terms of reference of this inquiry so that we could deal with `certain maritime incidents' rather than the single `children overboard' case—and indeed we did. I assure Senator Harradine that the concerns being raised now in some of the contributions by coalition senators—and certainly by Senator Hill—about the process, or the manner in which this inquiry was conducted, were not reflected in the government senators' report.

Looking at what process is being envisaged here, the terms of reference Senator Faulkner put forward are quite clear, precise and narrow. They focus on:

Matters arising from the public statements made by former ministerial staffer, Mr Mike Scrafton ...

`Why?' might you ask. It is fortunate that in my individual comments in this report of the inquiry into a certain maritime incident I set out precisely why it is relevant that we look at these issues. Senator Ferguson at the time, if I recall correctly, interjected, `Why are you putting down your own report? Why are you making additional comments?' This is why: that was my opportunity at the time to highlight what I thought remained the significant issues. On page 469 of the report, in the fourth paragraph, after my introductory remarks, I say:

What is ... significant is that many trails lead directly to the Prime Minister's Department, his Office and to the Prime Minister himself. Whilst it has not been claimed, nor proven, that the Prime Minister knew the truth and lied, many reports question his claims that “I never received any written contradiction of that (children thrown overboard), nor did I receive any verbal contradiction of that” and, regarding his office, “No”.

This is the significant issue that this new material from Mr Scrafton highlights. It highlights quite clearly that there is alternative material in relation to what the Prime Minister was actually told. It is a duty for the Senate to look at the details of those claims, to assess the merit of those claims. It is unfortunate that those claims were not available at the time of the original inquiry, but they are now.

Before I move on to some of the detail of that, there is one other aspect of Senator Hill's evidence that I think I need to touch upon. Nobody questions, Senator Hill, that there was an erroneous report from the Adelaide. Nobody questions that. For you to hark back to that as being the critical issue here is just a joke. Everyone today knows that the critical issue is that after an erroneous report no correction was made—no correction was made at all.

Moving on to today's circumstances, when Senator Hill was making his contribution I interjected, `Why are we here?' The Prime Minister says that we are here to have that scrutiny that Labor has been talking about—but only a little bit of scrutiny. The Senate cannot, if you listen to coalition senators, have the audacity to establish an inquiry—a pretty standard routine—to look at the detail of these allegations. `That would be outrageous,' they say. The arrogance of that position is outstanding. The Prime Minister has set up this circumstance so that the Senate can sit and address this new material which is quite critical to the issue on which he has claimed this election will be conducted: trust. He said, after this material which fundamentally questions his integrity came out, that trust is the critical issue. Now coalition senators claim that we should only have a little bit of scrutiny. They say, `We don't want a detailed inquiry.' That circumstance is ludicrous.

This brings me to Senator Harradine's point about having a legislation committee inquiry. I think we all know that, were this reference to go to a legislation committee, no genuine inquiry would occur. I think that there is little doubt of that. I want to remind Senator Harradine of some of the contortions that this government has had to conduct in the past to deal with these critical issues. Senator Ferguson is here at the moment, so I will use a case in point which involves him. Senator Ferguson was conveniently swapped as the chair of an inquiry. The Democrats indicated that they had no confidence in Senator Tierney chairing the inquiry, and so in desperation the government swapped its chairs so that they could satisfy those concerns.

I do not intend to reflect poorly on Senator Sandy Macdonald, who is the chair of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee; let me put that clearly on the record. I have no basis to reflect poorly on his conduct as the chair, but I have been involved in several other incidents where government chairs of committees have conducted themselves in very poor fashion. In this case, if you look at what else has occurred around this incident and the certain maritime incident, I would not want to put Senator Macdonald under that type of pressure. Let me go back to what that pressure involves. The pressure involves a man, Mr Scrafton, who was directed by cabinet not to appear before our inquiry. Our committee made several attempts to get Mr Scrafton to appear. In the first instance the Minister for Defence argued in a letter that he sent to the committee:

Your committee is fully aware of the government's position that the longstanding convention that public servants employed under the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act not be called to appear before such committees be upheld.

Senator Hill was reinforcing that point time and time again. But, in relation to Mr Scrafton, we also came across evidence that, after he had moved on from working for Minister Reith and was back within the Department of Defence, he was still in conversations conducting business in relation to this incident. The committee again said that, in relation to Mr Scrafton's conversations with Brigadier Silverstone, they would now like to talk to Mr Scrafton.

The response we got from Senator Hill's office to that request was outstanding. We got a response back, `per' Matt Brown in his office—not even signed by the minister—suggesting that Matt Brown had conducted his own investigation and Mr Scrafton had nothing to offer our committee. The sheer arrogance of a staffer in a minister's office suggesting back to the Senate committee that `we have conducted our own internal investigation: this witness that you are requesting has nothing to offer you; we have spoken to him about it and he has got nothing to offer you'! That is the sort of thing you would get from a government legislation committee. More of the same that applied to Mr Scrafton is exactly what would occur in this case.

Senator Ferguson —You're slurring the committee.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS —No, I am suggesting that the pattern of behaviour that has been conducted by Minister Hill, by the Prime Minister and by cabinet in relation to what Mr Scrafton is able now to refer to is the problem at point. There would be no confidence at all that a legislation committee would bring forward the truth about what has occurred here.

Senator Ferguson —You've got a monopoly on the truth, have you?

Senator JACINTA COLLINS —No, Senator Ferguson, I do not claim to have a monopoly on the truth, but what I do want to do is rectify—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Hutchins)—Senator Ferguson, you have pushed it to the limit there. Give it a go; you are next, if you remember.

Senator Ferguson —I hope Senator Collins stays!


Senator JACINTA COLLINS —What I would like to do, particularly having listened to the session on taking note of answers after question time today, is correct the record about some of the evidence that came from Mr Scrafton in the Bryant report. I have seen several very selective references to that to try and support the government's claim that it is inconsistent with the other material that the Prime Minister has now been forced to release. Let us go back and look at it. In relation to his statement that was included in the attachments to the Bryant report, Mr Scrafton made the situation very clear at the outset. I quote from Ms Bryant's description of her discussion with him:

Mr Scrafton stated that he had been involved in or aware of a number of discussions between Mr Reith's office and the Prime Minister's Office and the Prime Minister, which he could not discuss.

He said at the outset that there were some conversations he simply could not discuss. Going further into it, though—and this is the section that Senator Mason quoted out of context after question time today, the report says:

Mr Scrafton stated that he continued to be marginally involved in events around the incident until the week before the election and never had a sense that the original advice was not correct.

What Senator Mason did not do was explain that the context in which Mr Scrafton was indicating that he never had a sense that the original advice was not correct was in relation to his position up until that last week. That is made very clear on the next page, where Mr Scrafton is described as indicating:

He had never been formally advised that it was not true. However, he noted that he obviously spent time talking to people from the department and got the feeling that the claims may not have been correct.

It was exactly those issues that he now claims he made clear to the Prime Minister during those telephone conversations.

As this matter progresses, what I look forward to seeing is some of the evidence that the Prime Minister has not come forward with. Senator Brandis used an interesting argument earlier when he said that, because the Prime Minister releases some things, he must be bona fide. My concern is what he does not release—what he withholds. That is the issue. Just because he puts forward some things which might be seen to be partially damaging to his case does not mean we have the full facts. And in relation to having the full facts, I am reminded of a press statement that I read recently in relation to Mr Scrafton's evidence where the Prime Minister was asked whether he would now make available the telephone records. Let us see exactly how many telephone conversations occurred. Mr Scrafton says three; the Prime Minister says two; the statements from the Prime Minister's staff say different things. But the core issue in my mind is this: how many conversations about the video can you actually have? If Mr Scrafton's evidence is accurate, he spoke to the Prime Minister, as I recall, after he had viewed the video. Why is there reason for two or three conversations for him to indicate what he claims or what the Prime Minister claims is all that was transferred?

In terms of understanding what happens in telephone conversations, Mr Scrafton's description is far more credible. Why would the Prime Minister ring back two or three times to ask, `Are you still sure now that it was inconclusive?' Why would he do that? There is just no sense to the way the Prime Minister describes it. If the Prime Minister brought forward the telephone records so that we could see clearly how many phone conversations occurred then we might be able to get some more clarity on this point. It is not as if we are asking for material that has not been before the CMI inquiry. The CMI inquiry was able to access telephone logs, email logs, ship logs and all sorts of details in an attempt to get to the facts. That is where I disagree with Senator Brandis that Senate committees are no good at getting to the facts of the matter. Senator Brandis may not like the conclusions that some people reach but there have been many occasions when I would dispute his ability to get to the objective facts—let alone his manner of dealing with witnesses. The only formal complaint about the process and conduct of the CMI inquiry that I can recall was from Vice-Admiral Sir Richard Peek, who took exception to Senator Brandis's manner of dealing with witnesses—as did, informally, several Defence officers.

In terms of actually getting to the facts, the report of Senator Brandis, Senator Ferguson and Senator Mason raises several questions. But we need to go back to the fundamental point. Since the CMI inquiry was closed there has been further evidence. The Senate is now sitting and able to determine how we should deal with that material. We are able to determine that we take a closer look at it. It might not be convenient for the Prime Minister that we do so, but he does not control this chamber. He may not have had the forethought to see that we might go down this path but that is essentially his problem. He can conduct as many internal investigations as he likes but the issues of trust, credibility and integrity will never be met until we can have an open and transparent process. Complaints of process were not raised in relation to the Senate select committee inquiry in the first instance and there is no reason that the same process, maybe on a smaller scale, should not occur on this occasion. A legislation committee simply will not be able to get to the truth. I encourage Senator Harradine to listen to the nature of the debate here today to understand why that would be the case. Senator Hill in his contribution talked about witch-hunts, costs and such. If you listened to Senator Hill you would think that he is a likely adherent of the view of Admiral Barrie and Mr Max Moore-Wilton that children may well have been thrown overboard.

In relation to SIEV4 it became very clear early on that the incident described by the Prime Minister and by the minister for immigration had not occurred. But that was never corrected. That is the issue of trust. When Senator Hill and the Prime Minister say, `Oh, everyone out there is just bored with this; it does not really relate to the contemporary issues and the election before us,' I encourage people to think about the sheer arrogance of that statement—`We will let the Senate sit for two days, we will let them rabbit on about it for a couple of days, but Australians out there do not really care. They are bored with all of this.' I do not think Australians are bored with all of this. I think they do see broader issues of trust and integrity here, and it is finally cutting through.

Senator Bartlett referred to the weekend reports coming from those people who, despite the Prime Minister's assertions at the last election, have made it to our soil. The most heartening thing about those people is that they say, `We love Australians; they are generous people; they are open.' It is important for everyday issues that we deal with this issue of integrity. It is important because the public cannot have confidence in the core or non-core promises of this government—or indeed, as shown by several leaked documents over the last weeks, that what they say is what they will do. (Time expired)