Tuesday, 7 November 2006
Questions without Notice
I direct my question to Senator Ellison in his capacity as the Minister for Justice and Customs. Can the minister explain to the Senate why Customs allowed the importation from Iraq of goods that needed to conform to 4QA of the Customs regulations to proceed without the explicit written permission of Minister Downer or his delegate? Why has it taken more than five years to have these breaches referred to the AFP for investigation? Was any consideration given to having Commissioner Cole look at these blatant breaches? If not, why not?
I can only assume that the goods that Senator Ray is referring to—he doesn’t name them, but I understand this—were the subject of a referral of investigation to the AFP in February this year, which was the subject of some evidence given at estimates recently. Firstly, in relation to that matter—if that is what Senator Ray is referring to—that is the subject of an investigation by the Australian Federal Police. That was referred to my office by the department of foreign affairs and referred on to the Australian Federal Police. The circumstances surrounding that importation form part of the investigation of the Australian Federal Police, and I have made it clear, as has the police commissioner, that it is inappropriate to go into those circumstances. If, however, the goods that Senator Ray refers to are something other than what I understand them to be, then perhaps he could advise us. But in relation to that referral I cannot comment on a matter which is now an ongoing investigation.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I am asking process questions, not operational ones. Firstly, I ask the minister when he was first informed of a potential breach of 4QA. When did he first know? Was it in February this year or was he informed when he first came into the portfolio? These matters date back to 1999 and the year 2000. Secondly, can I have an explanation as to why his department refused an FOI request from the 7.30 Report for 15 documents in relation to this matter? Was that because you regarded those documents as infringing on operational matters or was it to prevent politically damaging disclosures?
The decision on the FOI was a decision taken by the Australian Customs Service, and I understand that was on a public interest basis. If there is any other aspect of that which I can advise the Senate of I will. In relation to when I first became aware of the matter that Senator Ray’s question relates to, I will have to check my records to find out when I first became aware and I will advise the Senate.