Tuesday, 7 November 2006
Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers
I also rise to take note of the answer given by Senator Ellison in question time today. In doing so I understand fully why the Labor opposition may be suffering from a case of the Delta Blues—for the record, that is the name of the horse that won the Melbourne Cup. They are trying to confect some outrage about this government in circumstances where it only followed due and proper procedure once these matters were brought to its attention.
I am very pleased to hear Senator Ray state that he is not blaming Senator Ellison, because Senator Ellison responded entirely appropriately to the information provided to him by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade this year on 9 February, received by him on 10 February. It concerned the prospect that companies other than those that were subject to the Cole inquiry had possibly committed offences under Australian law by breaching trade sanctions associated with the United Nations oil for food program. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade requested that this matter be referred to the Australian Federal Police for investigation. That was done. Correspondence was forwarded to the Australian Federal Police on Monday, 13 February—the next business day. This, might I say, is a very good turnaround for a matter that is quite significant. The Australian Federal Police acted promptly as well. Just three days later they requested additional material in support of the allegations that were made in the original correspondence. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade supplied this additional information, relating to 10 Australian companies that were under suspicion of breaching these guidelines.
All of this is entirely appropriate and all of this, according to the information that I have, is entirely factual. I think we need to stick to the facts. We need to dismiss some of the confected outrage, because this government has been entirely appropriate in following established guidelines when issues of malfeasance are made. I want to stick to the facts of this investigation.
Senator Ray also raised the issue of why these matters were referred to the Australian Federal Police rather than to the Cole inquiry itself. I remind the Senate that the Cole inquiry was established in response to a request from the United Nations Secretary-General, who asked for member states to take action where appropriate against those companies within their jurisdiction that were named in the Volcker report. The matters that have been raised today regarding the investigation into the allegations by these seven companies of inappropriate activity are not related to that request from the Secretary-General. The Australian Federal Police is the appropriate agency to investigate these alleged breaches of Commonwealth law. It has the resources, the powers and the expertise entirely appropriate to undertake such investigations.
The Australian Federal Police have been particularly diligent in following this matter. They have full jurisdiction and they have the powers to investigate these matters appropriately. They are not subject to any limitations as to whom or what they investigate. That includes the government and ministers. This is important for maintaining the accountability of this chamber and of any government. By allowing a full and thorough investigation, sparing no-one, we will ensure that we are going to have an appropriate, considered and accurate report in response to these inquiries.
I understand the Australian Federal Police have advised that their investigations relate directly to companies and that, indeed, no government ministers are under investigation. I think this is important because had it been referred to the Cole inquiry there would have been more allegations and more confected outrage about the limitations on this investigation. Quite simply, we have had a full and thorough investigation that has cleared any minister of any inappropriate behaviour. That is a very important point that we should bear in mind with respect to why it was appropriate that this matter went to the Federal Police. (Time expired)