“More and
more we can see the character of this Government,” Kim Beazley told Caucus this
morning, discussing yesterday’s gagging of Senate Estimates hearings on the AWB allegations that are rocking a $3.5 billion export industry.

Yet more
on the nature of the Government may still come out, according to informed
sources who have spoken to Crikey.

When the
Prime Minister says that nothing has been reported to him about knowledge of
the oil for food scandal, he is skipping through a semantic and procedural
minefield. Crikey
understands the procedures go like this:

If ASIS,
the Australian government intelligence agency responsible
for collecting foreign intelligence gets information regarding an Australian
company, they are forbidden from naming it in formal reports.

And if such information came into ASIS, it
would not necessarily be passed on to ONA, the security body cited by the Prime Minister on the Sunday
program last weekend in a formal report.

However, Crikey
is told anything of any significance is certain to be disclosed to the
secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – but not necessarily on
paper.

The
secretary then goes to his boss – the Minister for Foreign Affairs – who goes
to his boss – the PM. The Minister can ask to be briefed by head of his
department. The Prime Minister may even request a brief.

But all
of this is done without anything in writing.

Representatives
of these bodies – from the spooks on down – need to appear before the Cole
Inquiry.

They need
to be asked if they had any knowledge of the AWB activities in any form, since
having that knowledge isn’t necessarily the same as formally reporting it.

How
common are these sorts of procedures? Well, Treasury Secretary Ken Henry made
some interesting comments in The Canberra Times last month when he was asked
about Freedom of Information issues.

“It is not my role to help people embarrass
the Government. So how am I going to respond? There are two likely responses.

“The first is that you will see Conclusive
Certificates, stating conclusively that it is not in the public interest for
the information to be released, issued on every one of them. That’s very
likely.” The second response, which he says is already happening, is that
documents will not be produced.

Communication on sensitive policy issues will
be verbal. “Communication with the Treasurer is obviously vital. But, because
of FOI, records are not always kept.”

Presumably
these sorts of practices apply throughout the Australian Public Service. Another
question for Cole to ask?

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.

 

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW