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Thursday, 9 December 2004
Page: 15

Senator BRANDIS (10:27 AM) —The poor old Australian Labor Party. For the last two months we have seen the unseemly spectacle of the Australian Labor Party refighting the 2004 election. I am sure that all of us who are professional politicians feel a little sympathy for a political party in such a devastating condition. But what we had never thought and what, I am sure, the Australian people never expected was that today, on the last day of the parliamentary year, we would see the even more absurd and ludicrous spectacle of the Australian Labor Party not refighting the last election but refighting the election before last.

As anybody who took the care to sit through the `children overboard' inquiry and the Scrafton inquiry and study the evidence—the Hansard and the documentary evidence—with an objective, analytical, clinical and forensic mind knows, just as the first children overboard inquiry was a stunt, an attempt by the Australian Labor Party to refight the 2001 election, so the Scrafton inquiry, this cooked-up kangaroo court established by this Senate on the first day of the 2004 election campaign for a nakedly political purpose, was yet another attempt by the Australian Labor Party to use the processes of this place to score cheap political points. Anybody who thinks that either the `children overboard' inquiry or the Scrafton inquiry was some attempt at an objective, neutral, forensic canvassing of evidence is deluding themselves.

As for Senator Collins, from whom we just heard a speech that misrepresented the position of the government senators in an egregious way, Senator Collins was not even on the Scrafton inquiry, Senator Collins was not even there on the day that Mr Scrafton was examined by this Senate committee. She was substituted after Senator Ray resigned as chairman. The matters of which Senator Collins speaks are matters of which she has no personal knowledge at all.

Mr Acting Deputy President, let me tell you what the facts are—they are in a very simple compass. Mr Scrafton, a man who had been a senior adviser to the former Minister for Defence, Mr Reith, was asked to view a video of the so-called `children overboard' event, which took place on 7 October 2001. He reviewed that video on 7 November 2001. He was asked to do that by Mr Reith. He was also asked by Mr Reith to speak to the Prime Minister on the telephone—it is uncontroversial that the Prime Minister rang him—to tell him what was on the video. That was Mr Scrafton's only relevant involvement in these events. The Prime Minister, who was in Canberra at the Lodge on the evening of 7 November 2001 with four of his senior advisers and Mrs Howard, was preparing to speak to the National Press Club the next day, 8 November 2001, in the last week of the 2001 election campaign. The `children overboard' issue had bubbled to the surface again late in the campaign and Mr Howard wanted to make sure that he was fully informed of all the material facts and circumstances. Mr Howard rang Mr Scrafton on the evening of 7 November. We know that because Mr Scrafton said so and the Prime Minister said so. It is uncontroversial that there was at least one fairly lengthy telephone call.

At the Scrafton inquiry I produced the telephone records of every telephone that was at the Lodge that night, both for the landlines and the mobile phones of the Prime Minister, Mrs Howard and the four senior advisers.

Senator BRANDIS —There is nothing strange about these telephone records, Senator Collins. I offered to show them to Senator Ray and Senator Faulkner, but they did not want to look at them because they did not want to see the truth. They wanted to avert their eyes from the truth. There is no suggestion that these were other than perfectly ordinary, commonplace telephone records that recorded the calls made. I have seen them, Senator Collins. Don't call me a liar. I have seen the telephone records, and I can tell you they are completely ordinary, commonplace telephone records. They show that the Prime Minister initiated, from his mobile telephone on the evening of 7 November 2001, two telephone calls to Mr Scrafton. The first one was a longish telephone call at 8.41 p.m. that lasted some 9½ minutes, and the second one was a very brief telephone call that lasted for 51 seconds some time after 10 p.m. Mr Scrafton was at a restaurant in Sydney at the time he received those calls.

The number of telephone calls becomes important only if you have a mind that can grasp the sequence of events and a mind that can understand evidence which obviously Senator Collins, with respect, you do not have. One thing is common to all witnesses: to Mr Scrafton, to the Prime Minister and to the four senior advisers who were with the Prime Minister at the Lodge on that evening at the time that he placed the first telephone call to Mr Scrafton, and that is that they only talked about the contents of the video. That is why Mr Howard was ringing Mr Scrafton, because Mr Scrafton was the man who had been given the job to look at the video. That was the only involvement relevant to these events that Mr Scrafton had. It was the only reason why the Prime Minister would have been ringing him. So he rang him. They had a conversation that lasted about 9½ minutes in which Mr Scrafton described to the Prime Minister what he had seen, having viewed the video earlier that day in Sydney.

How do we know that the only topic in the first telephone conversation was the video? Because everybody says so. And Mr Scrafton himself said that the Prime Minister, when they were having the telephone conversation, adopted the practice of repeating aloud so that the four senior advisers who were with him in his study at the Lodge could hear what Mr Scrafton was telling him. So we have Mr Scrafton saying, `I only told the Prime Minister about the video in that first telephone conversation and, as I was relating this information to him, he repeated it aloud so that others could hear him.' Mr Scrafton was aware the Prime Minister was in the company of other people. Mr Scrafton never suggested that the Prime Minister's reiteration of what he, Scrafton, was telling the Prime Minister was other than thorough and accurate.

The Prime Minister said the same thing: `All Scrafton told me about was the video.' The four people in the room with the Prime Minister—the Secretary to the Cabinet, Mr McClintock; the Prime Minister's Principal Private Secretary, Mr Nutt; his Chief of Staff, Mr Sinodinos; and his Press Secretary, Mr O'Leary—have all given statements, which are appendix 4 to the report, saying the same thing. They said that all the Prime Minister talked about in that 9½-minute telephone conversation with Mr Scrafton was the video. So we are all in agreement about that.

Senator Ludwig —Were you there?

Senator BRANDIS —No, but everybody who was there, Senator Ludwig, said the same thing, and that is what Mr Scrafton said. After the Labor Party lost the election before last, the Prime Minister initiated the Bryant inquiry. On 14 December, 37 days after these events, when they were still fresh in his mind and when he had no motive to lie, Mr Scrafton appeared before the Bryant inquiry. His statement to the Bryant inquiry stated: `Mr Scrafton stated that he continued to be marginally involved in events around the incident'—that is, the `children overboard' incident—`until the week before the election and never had a sense that the original advice was incorrect.' That is what Mr Scrafton said 37 days later. Then, out of the blue, three years later at a time when another election was about to be called, Mr Scrafton changed his story in a material way and said, `Well, I actually talked about three other substantial matters—the still photographs, the ONA report, and I told them the original report about children overboard was wrong.'

Senator BRANDIS —That is the evidence, Senator Collins. The evidence is Mr Scrafton's own words, 37 days after the event, when he had no motive to lie and his sudden recollection of all these other topics, which he could not possibly have discussed in a brief, subsequent 51-second telephone conversation—the only other telephone conversation that took place between those two men on that evening. The conclusion of the committee is absurd and against the weight of the evidence. (Time expired)