Monday, 13 February 2006
It was an absolute untruth, which is why they should be censured—because that was an absolute untruth. That is one of the many reasons why they should be censured. When we asked whether or not electronic files had been passed to Volcker—wherein would lie the vast bulk of any of the considerations and information that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade had upon these matters—‘No’, said the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The whole logical edifice that the Prime Minister has built for constraining the Volcker inquiry’s terms of reference collapses on that answer alone. Volcker, despite what the Prime Minister said to the contrary, did not have all the information that was available from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on the status of official and ministerial knowledge of this scandal before it broke.
The blind eye was matched with an active act of deception. The picture of scrutiny in this place we have now is this: you have the Cole royal commission with half terms of reference in relation to the government, not able to make findings as to the government’s activities with regard to the administration of its portfolios, not able to make a judgment about the state of knowledge, and making recommendations on that judgment in administrative terms—in terms of what the government did. You have Cole over there, nobbled to at least some degree. And then you have the Senate estimates committee process nobbled—for one reason only: the government has the numbers. The government got the numbers last July, and that means that that process of scrutiny—probably one of the most effective in the democratic world, the Senate estimates process—is now gutted for all time, gutted when it has an effect on where the government stands.
We are left with only one place where questions can be answered. They can be asked and answered here in this chamber. We have seen now for more than a week government evasion after government evasion, government half-truth after government half-truth, government untruth after government untruth in all the questions that we have asked of them. Nobody objectively listening to their answers could believe that the Australian people were being provided with the whole picture on this.
This is a massive scandal. It is not simply a question of the treatment of the opposition. It is a $300 million bribe handed to a person who became an enemy of this country, to be utilised for purposes including the possibility of weapons in hostilities with Australian serving personnel. Any decent government would have wanted to get to the bottom of this.