Senate Estimates faces recall over Monis letter

Senate Estimates faces recall over Monis letter

The federal opposition says it expects a Senate estimates will be recalled as early as next week after a finding that a senior official from the Attorney General's department gave false evidence to an earlier hearing.

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

The federal opposition says it expects a Senate estimates will be recalled as early as next week after a finding that a senior official from the Attorney General's department gave false evidence to an earlier hearing.

The department official told the hearing the letter from the Lindt Cafe gunman Man Haron Monis, and the response from the department, were both scrutinised by the joint Commonwealth New South Wales review into the siege.

However Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has now admitted to parliament the information given to the Senate hearing was wrong - and the opposition wants to know why.

Amanda Cavill reports.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)

A top level review of responses by authorities to the Sydney cafe siege did not consider the letter from the gunman to Attorney-General George Brandis or the departmental response to that letter.

Monis wrote to George Brandis in October last year asking if it would be legal to contact the head of Islamic State.

In December, Monis took 18 hostages in the Sydney CBD and two people were killed.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop recently told parliament Monis' letter and the departmental response were scrutinised as part of the review of the siege.

But she has now corrected the record.

"My statement was based on the evidence given by the deputy secretary of the Attorney-General's department, Ms Katherine Jones, in budget estimates the previous day, Wednesday 27th of May 2015. The Attorney-General's department has now advised that Ms Jones' evidence was incorrect and that the letter and reply were not provided to the review due to an administrative error in the Attorney-General's department."

Both letters have now been referred to the officials in the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet responsible for the siege review.

Labor's attorney-general's portfolio spokesman, Mark Dreyfus, says it's quite disturbing that advice provided to the senators confirming that a letter from Man Monis was passed on to officials was completely false.

He says Senator Mr Brandis' failure to provide a letter he received from Man Haron Monis to the joint review into the cafe siege raises serious questions.

Not only should Senator Brandis and Ms Bishop answer questions about why it took them so long and why, in fact, Ms Bishop timed her disclosure to the House of Representatives for the moment after Question Time, or why Senator Brandis sat through estimates reading poetry at one stage, but didn't think it appropriate to advise his fellow Senators that is he'd misled them the previous week."

Prime Minister Tony Abbott says has defended the government's handling of the issue saying it has no case to answer.

He says the matter has been fully looked into by the relevant authorities, who have found the actions taken by the government were appropriate.

"The Director General of Security, the head of ASIO, said that the letter was handled appropriately by the Government. The Secretary of The Department of PM and Cabinet said that the letter would not have made any difference to the outcome of the inquiry. My understanding is that the evidence that was given to the Senate by Deputy Secretary of the Attorney-General's Department, which turned out to be incorrect, was investigated. The investigation concluded and the Foreign Minister made an entirely appropriate disclosure to the Parliament."

Australia's terrorism threat level was changed from medium to high in September last year.

The level for police was raised to high in January.

Senate estimates hearings can be recalled if at least three senators support such action.

 

 

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