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Senate Estimates: Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFP)

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 18 Nov 2013

Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee
18/11/2013
Estimates
ATTORNEY-GENERAL PORTFOLIO
Australian Federal Police

Senator RHIANNON: What will the Australian Federal Police involvement be in the operation of Sri Lankan officials using the two boats that Australia has just given to Sri Lanka?
Mr Negus : Virtually none. We have, as you know from previous questioning, an officer based in Sri Lanka who is a liaison point, but we do not have any formal or informal relationship with the navy.
Senator RHIANNON: You said 'virtually none'. Could you expand on that, please. I understood that you advise Sri Lankan officials involved in potential people smuggling, so I am trying to understand how this will work.
Mr Negus : That is right. We have a relationship with the Sri Lankan police but we do not have a relationship with the Sri Lankan military.
Senator RHIANNON: I understood from previous responses to questions, that you have been able to gain intelligence to stop people leaving Sri Lanka by boat. If that is the case, how will you be interacting-
Mr Negus : I said 'virtually none' because if there was information gathered by the navy that could be passed to the police, which would be passed to us, but we do not have a direct relationship with the navy, per se.
Senator RHIANNON: Do I understand correctly: that you do not have a relationship with the Sri Lankan navy, but information you supply to Sri Lankan police could then go on to the navy who are using the two boats?
Mr Negus : That is a supposition, I suppose. I might pass to Deputy Commissioner Phelan just to tell you in a bit more detail about the role of the liaison officer we have in Sri Lanka, but it is a very carefully controlled one, as we have said before.
Mr Phelan : The relationship that we have with the Sri Lankans is that all of our information exchange is through our liaison officer in Colombo, who works very closely with the anti-people smuggling teams within the police in Sri Lanka. Obviously, there are a number of ways disruptions can occur, onshore and offshore. If the local authorities determine that information needs to be passed, for offshore interdiction, to their navy, then I think it would be a natural consequence of their actions that that information would be passed.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Do you have an officer in Sri Lanka called Mr Pong, or a name like that?
Mr Phelan : Not that I know of; no.
Senator RHIANNON: I will come back to that question. I understand that tomorrow, a 22-year-old Tamil who is currently held in a Brisbane detention centre will be flown back to Sri Lanka, and that a 19-year-old Tamil man was sent back last week, and that he has already been beaten when he was put in prison in Sri Lanka. Could you share with us whether you follow up on any cases of abuse of people who are returned from Australia to Sri Lanka?
Mr Negus : That is not a role for the AFP. Certainly in the course of our duties, if we would come across allegations of that sort, we would pass those to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and to the appropriate agencies-the Department of Immigration or others. We do not have a monitoring role in country; we have purely a liaison role. We do not have any police powers in Sri Lanka. We pass intelligence from one agency to the other and that, really, is the extent of it.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.
Senator BOYCE: Could you perhaps tell us what you think the reaction might be if you were to start making inquiries, as a police force in another country, about how people were being treated?
Mr Negus : We do not have any powers to do that. Certainly, you can imagine, if police agencies from other countries came to Australia and started conducting their own inquiries here, how the community, the government and ourselves as police agencies might respond. It just would not be tolerated.
Senator RHIANNON: Have you been given any briefs about cases of abuse or torture by Sri Lankan government officials? Has that been supplied to you in any way from non-government groups? Have you been given any information?
Mr Phelan : Senator, in the past I think we have answered some questions on notice to you that some matters have been referred to the AFP in relation to potential war crimes et cetera and mistreatments. So, yes.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. I would like to go to the case of Lieutenant Commander Sanjeewa Annatugoda. Has the AFP had contact with this Lieutenant Commander and, if so, when was the last time that you had contact with him?
Mr Phelan : I think you are referring to the gentleman who was in the press in the last week or so?
Senator RHIANNON: Yes.
Mr Phelan : The AFP has had no contact with that person at all.
Senator RHIANNON: The Sydney Morning Herald described Christopher Wood, who was involved in this case, as being an adviser to the AFP. Is that correct?
Mr Phelan : Christopher Wood is our liaison officer.
Mr Negus : He is an AFP member, a police officer based in Sri Lanka. He is an adviser to the Sri Lankan police force on those issues, in its broadest sense. But, as I said, it is a liaison role, where he would liaise with them and pass intelligence back and forwards.
Senator RHIANNON: I would just like to clear this up. Maybe I have misunderstood. I thought that you just said that no AFP officer, or anybody employed by you, has had any relationship with the lieutenant commander. Did I understand that correctly?
Mr Phelan : Yes. That is my advice, Senator.
Senator RHIANNON: With regard to Christopher Wood, could you just say what his position is with the AFP please?
Mr Phelan : He is the senior liaison officer in Colombo.
Senator RHIANNON: Right. Are you saying that he did not meet with the lieutenant commander but that he was able to collect information that exposed this people smuggling incident? Is that what happened?
Mr Phelan : No, I did not say anything about the latter. But, on the first point, my advice is that we have had no contact with that person whatsoever.
Senator RHIANNON: Okay. So can you explain how Christopher Wood undertook his work, which has led to this exposure, this investigation, of Mr Annatugoda ? And I understand that he was interrogated in custody by him.
CHAIR: Are you aware of this Sydney Morning Herald article that the senator is referring to?
Mr Phelan : Only broadly, Mr Chair. I have not read the article.
CHAIR: I was just going to say, do you agree or disagree with it? That might be the starting point. It sounds to me like you disagree with it, but you have not seen it.
Mr Phelan : That is right.
Senator RHIANNON: Mr Chair-
CHAIR: I am just trying to be helpful.
Senator RHIANNON: can we just let them answer the questions?
CHAIR: Okay.
Senator RHIANNON: I am trying to ascertain-because the article does say that the adviser to the AFP, which I think that you have established is the case, Christopher Wood, was involved in the investigation of Annatugoda and has interrogated him in custody.
CHAIR: Senator, could we get a copy of that article and give it to the officers? That might speed things up and help you get a better answer.
Senator RHIANNON: I think they are aware of it, so I am happy to continue with the questions. While we are speaking I am sure an article will arrive and we can go into it in more detail. Could you just spell that out, please?
Mr Phelan : Certainly, Senator. For a start, not everything in the newspaper is truthful.
Senator RHIANNON: No, that is why I am asking the questions.
Mr Phelan : I will go back to what I said before. My advice is that our officer has had no contact with that person at all.
Senator RHIANNON: So that statement, that Christopher Wood was involved in the investigation and has interrogated him, is incorrect?
Mr Phelan : You used the word 'and' in there. I said he has not interrogated him, he has not spoken to him at all, we have had no contact with him. As to what involvement we may have had in relation to passing information and working with the Sri Lankan police authorities, I would have to take that on notice.
Senator RHIANNON: I will separate it. I was giving you the full quote. So we will separate that out so we can clarify. So Christopher Wood investigated Annatugoda but, you are saying, he did not interrogate him?
Mr Phelan : No. I did not even affirm to the first part. I need to take that on advice, Senator. In terms of the second part, I think for now the fifth time, my advice is we have had no contact with that person at all.
Senator RHIANNON: So we have got to spell it out. No AFP person has actually met him directly or asked him questions?
Mr Phelan : That is what I said, yes.
Senator RHIANNON: Okay. Therefore, can we go back to the investigation. Can you share any information with us at all about the investigation that is being undertaken by the AFP of Annatugoda ?
Mr Phelan : No, I would have to take that on notice, but we do not do investigations in Sri Lanka. We pass information to Sri Lankan police as a normal course of action, but in relation to this particular matter I would have to take it on notice to absolutely accurately inform you what our involvement was, if any at all.
Senator RHIANNON: So you are leaving it open that there could have been an investigation?
Mr Phelan : I think I have said that a couple of times-
Senator RHIANNON: It is just that we have to pin it down. That is all we are trying to do here.
Mr Phelan : Certainly I will reiterate again: there was no investigation by the AFP. We do not investigate offshore.
Senator RHIANNON: I thought you said you were taking it on notice, but you are now saying that neither Christopher Wood nor any other AFP person investigated Annatugoda?
Mr Phelan : What I think I said-and I will read this back if necessary-is that I would take on notice and find out exactly what involvement we did have, if any, in relation to the investigation that occurred in Sri Lanka. I am not saying we investigated at all, but I am referring to what involvement we may have had, whether it was post the fact or even before the fact.
Senator RHIANNON: Can before the fact include any police work which led to the arrest of Mr Annatugoda?
Mr Phelan : Yes, certainly.
Senator RHIANNON: Have you worked with any other Australian government departments on this issue?
Mr Phelan : I would have to take that on notice as well, within exactly the same bounds as we did before.
Senator RHIANNON: Considering this is an issue that has been in the news considerably, wouldn't you have come here with a great deal of detail to share with the committee about what actually happened? It just seems surprising you have to take so much notice when it is a very big issue and you are before estimates this week.
Mr Phelan : Some of the questions you asked are very narrow and I want to be very careful that I do not mislead the Senate in terms of my answers. I have come to this forum for many, many years now and I try and impart as much information as I possibly can to the Senate. Certainly, as I said before, we have had no direct contact with this person, but as to what involvement we did have, if any, in relation to the circumstances that led to his charging or detention, whatever form that took, I would much rather we be accurate with the information rather than guess.
Mr Negus : Can I add something there. I have the article before me. The sentence starts by saying, 'Mr Christopher Wood, an adviser to the AFP.' That is an inaccurate statement and is clearly incorrect. In what follows from there, it says he was involved in the investigation and interrogated the person whilst in custody. Considering the fact that they did not know he was a member of the AFP-they have referred to him as an adviser-it would be highly irregular and highly unusual for an AFP officer in another country to be involved in any form of interview, let alone interrogation, of a suspect on any offence. That is why I think Mr Phelan is absolutely right: the questions you are asking presume a level of involvement which I think would be highly unusual, and we have not been briefed about anything like this as to the AFP's involvement offshore. I would be very, very surprised-and we will correct the record if it is not the case-if his involvement went any further than just being an information conduit between the Sri Lankan police and the Australian police.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you for that information. Are you saying at this point that you are not actually sure of Mr Wood's position within the AFP or relationship with the AFP?
Mr Negus : No, I know what his position in the AFP is: he is a sworn police officer who is a senior liaison officer in Colombo, Sri Lanka and has been from a number of years. The article states that he was an adviser to the Australian Federal Police; he is not. He is a sworn AFP officer and has been the liaison point there for a couple of years. And that is the first inaccuracy. As I said, it would be highly unusual for him to be involved in any interrogation or interview offshore. So I suspect the rest of that article is also inaccurate, but we will double-check that because we do not have any advice to suggest the negative, but what you are proposing is a fairly strong positive.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. So we are clear about what we are putting on notice, please take it on notice to identify the inaccuracies in that article on 15 November in the Sydney Morning Herald by Ben Doherty?
CHAIR: It might be easier to identify the accuracies.
Senator RHIANNON: Maybe the AFP would like to take the question on notice as well. Mr Negus, what mechanisms does the AFP have in place to ensure that they are not inadvertently supporting Sri Lankan officials that may be engaged in people smuggling?
Mr Negus : When our officers are offshore they are very clear on where their obligations start and finish. As I said, they have no sworn powers, they are not to be involved in any investigation in country, and they work in the consulate or the embassy, as it may be, with DFAT. They report back to us on their actions on a weekly or monthly basis, or on a needs basis. They are not involved in any activities which would not be supported by the AFP.
Senator RHIANNON: Do you have any special measures in place for Sri Lanka that you would not have in place for a country where there are no people regularly leaving to seek asylum? Are there no special measures to ensure things do not happen improperly?
Mr Negus : The standards we apply are across the board and they are set very high. These people undergo a significant amount of training before they are deployed. They understand that they represent this country in the actions that they undertake offshore and that they are ambassadors in that way for this nation and for the organisation. So they are restricted in what they can do and they understand clearly what they can do.
Senator RHIANNON: Has AFP given DFAT a briefing about Mr Annatugoda since the arrest?
Mr Negus : No, we have not.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. There was a freedom of information document that came out and was cleared in September 2012. It is headed 'Attorney-General's meeting with his Excellency Admiral Samarasinghe'. In the second page, where it has item and key issues, it states:
The AFP enjoys continued support and cooperation from key operational level contacts in SLPS including Criminal Intelligence Division (CID) elements...
Could you outline what kinds of opportunities would lead to joint operations?
Mr Negus : I am sorry, senator, you would have to read that out again. It was a long paragraph that I lost the train of halfway through.
Senator RHIANNON: It states:
The AFP enjoys continued support and cooperation from key operational level contacts in SLPS including Criminal Intelligence Division (CID) elements...
My question was: what kind of opportunities would lead to joint operations?
Mr Negus : It could be the exchange of intelligence which could lead to the interdiction of people smugglers, whether they be in Sri Lanka, in Australia or anywhere in between.
Senator RHIANNON: The SLPS might share information with you and you might share information with them. It goes both ways.
Mr Negus : That is right. It could occur under appropriate protocols, yes.
Senator RHIANNON: Can you share some details with us of joint operations that have happened in the past that you would be able to disclose?
Mr Negus : We do not have anything in front of us. I am just seeing whether one of the deputies might recall an example of this in dealing with the Sri Lankan authorities.
Senator RHIANNON: I was just trying to understand how it would work and if it was done with any Sri Lankan government departments other than the SLPS.
Mr Negus : No. As I said at the very start, and I think I have said it three times now, we do not have relationships with government departments in Sri Lanka other than the police. We work through very strict protocols in regard to how we exchange intelligence in what we do. Joint operations is probably an overstatement in the context of exchanging intelligence and working with them to try and disrupt people-smuggling operations, whether they be in Sri Lanka, on the water or anywhere in between here and there.
Senator RHIANNON: You have just said that joint operations might be an overstatement. That was in a briefing for the Attorney-General. It says it was cleared in September 2012-the date has been taken out. Are you saying that is actually inaccurate or is it an over emphasis?
Mr Negus : We do joint operations with a range of countries around the world where we have partnership arrangements and we have people collocated together and we are investigating particular issues in a true joint operational stance. But it is my understanding that what takes place in the Sri Lankan environment is very much an intelligence exchange, and we might work with them on elements of that. But I do not recall-and the deputies can correct me if I am wrong-us having Sri Lankan officers working in this country or vice versa, only the fact that we have done that.
Senator RHIANNON: My question was referring to Sri Lanka. Because it says joint operations, and I was assuming that was in Sri Lanka, could you take it on notice and supply any examples of those operations?
Mr Negus : I will take that on notice. I have just spoken to Deputy Commissioner Colvin, who has been in charge of this area for the last three years, and he cannot recall something that would be characterised in the way I think you are perceiving it. But we will take it on notice and come back to you.
Senator RHIANNON: When I hear those words it always reminds me it sounds like it needs to be taken on notice.
Mr Negus : I am happy to take it on notice. But, as I said, just to give you an indication, and perhaps to temper your expectations, we cannot recall that from the last three years.
Senator RHIANNON: What was the total AFP budget for the Sri Lankan operations in the last two financial years and in the one coming?
Mr Phelan : The total budget for 2013-14 is $350,000. The budget for the previous year, 2012-13, was $540,000. I do not have the year before that, but I am happy to take it on notice.
Senator RHIANNON: And that is the total AFP budget for your Sri Lankan operations?
Mr Phelan : That is our operational budget, and then of course you have got the salary of our person who is there, the costs of accommodation and all those sorts of things-in-country allowances et cetera. I am happy to take that on notice to get you an exact figure for those three years.
Senator RHIANNON: Okay. If you can give me the total figure for that, that would be good. Within that, can you give me a breakdown of the expenditures by program that you are doing in that country?
Mr Phelan : It would pretty much be one program, but we will do the best we can for you.

Senator RHIANNON: The AFP work with a range of police agencies in Sri Lanka. A range of organisations, including Human Rights Watch, Freedom from Torture and Medac, have documented hundreds of cases of rape, sexual abuse, torture and assaults in that country, and the International Commission of Jurists and two UN reports have warned of continuing incidents of torture, and that many of the documented cases of rape and torture involve members of the Sri Lankan security, both military and police. Considering the AFP works with a range of Sri Lankan police services agencies, including the Maritime Human Smuggling Investigation Unit, the Criminal Intelligence Division elements, the Anti-Human Smuggling Investigation Bureau and the airport CID team, what measures does the AFP take to ensure its officers are not working with Sri Lankan officers who have committed rape, torture and/or assaults.
Mr Negus : I answered this, I think, in the opening series of questions, where we said we train our officers to a very high standard. They are aware to keep an eye out for any inappropriate behaviour. They are trained and live the values of the AFP. When they are offshore they recognise they have a responsibility under Australian standards to report any inappropriate behaviour to the appropriate authorities. Beyond that we do not send people overseas who would tolerate any of the sort of behaviours you have suggested. If they were to see something like that they would report it to the appropriate authorities.
I mentioned as well that all of the agencies you have talked about are elements of the police force. That is where we constrain our connection and our activities under very tight circumstances about the exchange of intelligence. Again, we would not condone or tolerate any of that which you have suggested. If it came to our attention we would report it accordingly. Our officers are trained to a very high standard before they leave the country.
Senator RHIANNON: You have said that if it comes to your attention you would report it and if they saw anything they would report it. But my question concerns the extensive reports that are now around from a whole range of well-respected agencies about the levels of rape, torture, assaults and beatings, to a great level of details, well documented and with medical evidence. I am not talking about reporting what your officers might see. I think we know the AFP are trained to high standards and one would expect that would happen. That is a given. What we are talking about here is how you ensure your officers are not working with people who have committed crimes against humanity. The Prime Minister of Britain was there talking about this very issue and that this issue has to be investigated and addressed now. My question is about how you handle your officers and who they are working with.
Mr Negus : We trust the judgment of the officer on the ground. I know that Federal Agent Wood is a fine young officer. I know him personally. He is of the highest calibre and he would not tolerate anything that was seen. It is impossible to give you categorical assurances. We are in almost 40 countries around the world with probably 450 to 500 people working alongside police from many different nations around the world. Can I assure you that each one of those has not committed a criminal offence? No, I cannot. But we do our best to try to work with them to apply the standards you would expect in Australia and to make sure that human rights is central to what we actually do as any agency. In any training we deliver, and those sorts of things, it is central to what we do in a training sense. But I cannot give you categorical assurances as to the quality and calibre of officers from other countries around the world, because they are not my responsibility and they are not Federal Agent Wood's responsibility.
Senator RHIANNON: I was not asking about categorical assurances. I was asking what you do so that you can do your best to ensure that AFP officers, whom you obviously hold and train to very high standards, are not working with people who have committed these crimes. There is so much evidence out there, surely you must have some level of discussions, engagement and training and asking the Sri Lankan authorities who the people are you are working with? Isn't there something you are doing? That is all I am asking. What are you doing?
Mr Negus : I think I have said as much as I can say. I do not have anything further to convince you of the case, other than to say that we insist on high standards from our own police and if they see anything inappropriate they would report it accordingly. That is about all I can say.
Senator RHIANNON: What I take from that is that you do not actually have it built into your training programs or when you are doing your memoranda of understanding with the Sri Lankan police force you are not actually stipulating who the people you are working with are. That is not done.
Mr Negus : You listed them yourself. There are at least half a dozen agencies within the Sri Lankan police force that we have a relationship with. It is a very well controlled relationship, but it is not one where they are sitting in patrol cars with them driving around Sri Lanka. They are exchanging intelligence and representing this country, offshore, to try to stop the scourge of people smuggling. That is what they do, period.

 

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