Monthly Archives: June 2008

AusGov: Q & A on police and JRH attack, Balibo



Proof Committee Hansard




(Budget Estimates)

MONDAY, 26 MAY 2008


Senator NETTLE—If you could check that for me, that would be
appreciated. I have some questions that I want to ask about the
Australian Federal Police cooperation with East Timor in relation to
the shooting of President Ramos Horta. Could you outline for us any
update on what the current status is in terms of the cooperation with
East Timor, particularly in relation to two matters: one, the phone
calls that were made by Alfredo Reinado to Australia prior to the
shooting of Mr Horta; and, two, the bank accounts in Darwin, about
which there has been much commentary in the press?

Mr Keelty—I would just point out that this is an ongoing investigation
in East Timor being conducted by the Prosecutor-General. The AFP
involvement forms two levels. The first level is those AFP officers who
are part of the United Nations team attached to the investigation. The
second level is those inquiries that you identified that may be
conducted here. My difficulty is that the investigation is underway and
it is at a clearly important phase of the investigation. I do not think
it would be appropriate for me to describe what we have been doing and
the outcome of what we have been doing whilst it is still current.

Senator NETTLE—Is it correct that the AFP is currently cooperating with
the Timorese prosecutor in terms of providing information on both those
two matters—the phone calls and the bank accounts?

Mr Keelty—Yes.

Senator NETTLE—Therehas been commentary in relation to how that
cooperation would occur. In particular there has been comment about the
need to sign a mutual assistance agreement—I think that is the
terminology that is used—prior to that cooperation occurring. Does that
impact on the AFP’s ability to cooperate, or does it relate more to the
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade?

Mr Keelty—If I can talk in hypotheticals rather than the actual case,
it depends to what use the material that has been sought is going to be
put. I am not talking about the East Timor case. If the material being
sought is to be used in a prosecution, then it has to somehow be
admissible in the prosecution within the other jurisdiction. So in the
normal course, that would be done through a mutual legal assistance
request, which would be handled by the department. There are occasions
when there is police-to-police cooperation. The difficulty with the
police-to-police cooperation is that it does not always render the
material that is gathered as admissible in the other prosecution. I
cannot put it any more fully than that. In a hypothetical sense, I
cannot even advise you whether there is a request in place or not. I am
talking about hypothetical situations. If mutual legal assistance
requests are made, we cannot discuss them.

Senator NETTLE—Okay. Can you say whether the cooperation that you were
talking about, which you are having with the Timorese prosecutor, is
for evidence or just police cooperation?

Mr Keelty—We are trying to cooperate, and we are cooperating, to ensure
that the prosecutor has all the material available to him that we can
obtain in the most appropriate course. I do not want to elaborate any

Senator NETTLE—In the media there have been statements by President
Ramos Horta that Australia is not cooperating to the extent that he
would like to see. Would you care to comment on that?

Mr Keelty—No, because it is a newspaper report. I have not spoken to
President Ramos Horta on this issue. I obviously have had a
relationship with him through the last 10 years. We have provided a lot
of assistance to the President in terms of close personal protection
whilst he has been hospitalised in Australia, but as far as I am aware
the relationship between the AFP and President Ramos Horta is a very
positive one and, as you know, we are providing resources to the United
Nations mission in East Timor. Prior to the shooting in December last
year I had very positive discussions with President Ramos Horta about
bilateral development of the police in Timor-Leste, and that is now
going to occur through the budget announcements last week. I would not
like to comment on the veracity or otherwise of the newspaper reports.

Senator NETTLE—Can you say whether the AFP has frozen bank accounts in
Australia in association with this investigation?

Mr Keelty—That is an operational question. I would not be able to
answer that.

Senator NETTLE—Is the AFP investigating individuals who are claimed to
have fled to Australia following the shooting of Mr Horta?

Mr Keelty—Again, I cannot answer the question. Suffice to say that we
giving the East Timorese authorities—the prosecutor-general, the East
Timorese police and the United Nations our fullest cooperation and
assistance where we can.

Senator NETTLE—I want to ask you about another East Timor matter. I
understand the Australian Federal Police is working on a brief in
relation to the Balibo Five matter. Is that correct?

Mr Keelty—I can confirm that we have received a request from the
Attorney-General’s Department in relation to the death of Brian Peters.
We are obviously working on that request. There are a number of legal
issues involved in this matter. Again, I do not think it is appropriate
for me to take it any further, other than to say that we are working
with the department on the request.

Senator NETTLE—Is that a request for the department or for the DPP?

Mr Keelty—My briefing tells me it is for the department, which makes
sense to me because, again, it is a matter where jurisdiction is
founded elsewhere.

Senator NETTLE—Can you explain that to me?

Mr Keelty—Because the events are alleged to have occurred in a foreign
country, there are a lot of issues about the gathering of evidence and
whether it is possible for any prosecution to take place.

Mr Cornall—Just to add to that, the department is responsible for the
processing of requests for mutual assistance in criminal matters. We
are the central agency for dealing with those requests both to and from
Australia but, as Mr Keelty has pointed out, under that legislation we
are required not to talk about those requests publicly.

Senator NETTLE—I amtrying to get my head around this. As a result of
the coronial inquiry that occurred in New South Wales, I thought that
the next stage was for the DPP to make a decision about whether or not
they wanted to pursue charges in Australia rather than in East Timor.
Is that correct?

Mr Cornall—Can I ask that you wait until the criminal justice division
is here later today. It is a level of detail I do not have in my brief
and I do not want to give you inaccurate information. But if it is to
do with mutual assistance requests for information to support the
decision whether to prosecute then we do not talk about mutual
assistance requests on the public record, and that has been our
position, which this committee has respected, I think, for many years.

Senator NETTLE—So the mutual assistance relates to whether the
prosecution was occurring in another country or is it broader than that?

Mr Cornall—It is a process by which countries are able to obtain from
another country in a formal way information which could be used in a
criminal prosecution—if that was the decision that was made—and in a
way that is admissible in evidence, which was the point Commissioner
Keelty was making: that some police cooperation does not result in
information that could be admissible in a court of law.

Senator NETTLE—So if the DPP were to make a prosecution in Australia in
relation to the Balibo Five matter, would that necessarily include a
mutual assistance component to it because it related to matters in
another country?

Mr Cornall—I do not have the details of this matter before me, but the
point I am trying to make is that a prosecution in Australia may
require evidence to be obtained in another country and the way we would
do that is through a mutual assistance request.

Food crisis could hit Pacific hard: experts warn

By Xavier La Canna, South Pacific correspondent

AUCKLAND, June 4 AAP – Across the Pacific, where so many already depend on aid to survive, governments are nervously planning how to best fight the looming threat of hunger.

They are grappling with the issue facing so many developing countries – food security, at a time when food prices are at 30-year highs.

In the past year alone, the cost of staples including rice and wheat has doubled.

As oil prices hover near record levels, and with production curtailed by dought and the trend towards biofuel crops, experts are predicting the situation will only get worse.

A recent Asian Development Bank report predicts an additional five per cent of people in the Pacific – or some 50,000 people – will slip into poverty because of the high prices.

“A lot of people are going to suffer … they may go very hungry and face having a very poor diet,” lead author, economist Craig Sugden, said.

And with hunger often comes unrest.

Riots over high food and fuel costs have already broken out in countries as far flung as Cameroon, Indonesia and Mexico. In Haiti, the prime minister was sacked after protesters angry over soaring prices went on a week-long rampage, killing at least six people.

Brazil, Vietnam, India and Egypt have all imposed food export restrictions. And in Europe, a rash of protests over sky-high fuel prices have hit Spain, France, Britain and Italy.

The threat of hunger on a vast scale is so bad that world leaders are currently attending an emergency summit in Rome, where United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon has called for a 50 per cent rise in world food production by 2030.

Like so many other nations, those in the Pacific are watching closely amid expert warnings that food security issues could lead to renewed trouble in the region.

Research by the Asian Development Bank’s Sugden has found East Timor – where Australian troops are already based to ensure security and political stability – could face unrest due to the food crisis.

Last year, 240,000 East Timorese needed food assistance, under a program that cost the UN World Food Program $A12.8 million.

This year, the WFP has applied to donors to increase funding for the country to $A85 million.

“The big problem is going to be the low-income urban households … It certainly heightens the risk of instability,” Sugden warned.

Other Pacific nations are equally aware of the risks, and are taking steps to boost production of domestic crops.

In the Solomon Islands, a recipient of Australian aid, the government has offered subsidies to farmers to grow rice as world prices soar.

To help keep costs down, the government has also removed the tax and import duty on rice, and is encouraging people to change the focus of their diets to local crops such as taro, yams and bananas, which are cheap and abundant.

Fiji’s military government is also urging people to do what they can to be self-sufficient, telling them to cultivate their own food gardens.

In Papua New Guinea, the non-government policy research group, the Institute of National Affairs (INA), believes up to 40,000 people could be hit hard by the food crisis.

Even though the country is a net winner from high commodity prices, with its oil and food reserves, the problem stems from the many landless squatters in the capital Port Moresby and another large city Lae, INA director Paul Barker said.

Authorities were looking at how to encourage people to better share the food grown in the country, Barker said.

“When the food price hikes go on, a significant portion of the urban population have a hard time with that,” he said.

“I think it will flow on to the crime rate in those settlements that don’t have land, or access to land and gardens.”

While some countries can rely on the solution of home-grown food, others are not so lucky.

In the Marshall Islands, a group of infertile outcrops halfway between PNG and Hawaii, a government group met this week to try and avert serious problems.

Rebecca Lorennig, from the Marshall Islands Ministry of Research and Development, said crops that were plentiful in other Pacific countries simply would not grow in her country’s poor soil.

“Breadfruit can be converted to breadfruit flour. We have just started training people how to do it. But the problem is that we have seasons for breadfruit. It doesn’t come out all the time,” she said.

She said high oil prices were also making it tough for some employees to travel to work.

“Some of us have to drive 60 miles (97km) per day to work, and the fuel is $US7 per gallon ($A7.32 for 3.7 litres). It is a major crisis,” she said.

East Timor to use oil fund to stablise prices

DILI, May 29 (Reuters) – East Timor will use a fraction of its oil fund worth over $2 billion to protect the poor from rising food and fuel prices, Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao said on Thursday.

Gusmao said he would take three percent from the fund to stabilise prices and to import rice, fuel and construction materials. The oil fund was created from revenue earned from the country’s oil and gas sector in 2005 in order to amass money for future generations of Timorese.

Gusmao said the government decided to use a portion of the money, which is deposited in a U.S. bank, because some countries had not made good on their promises to provide aid.

“We are ashamed if we keep asking donors to give us money to resolve our problems,” he told reporters. “Sometimes they renege on their promises.”

East Timor, one of the world’s poorest countries, is vulnerable to rising food prices in the international market because it relies on imports for nearly 60 percent of its rice needs.

Indonesia occupied East Timor for 23 years before the former Portuguese colony voted in favour of independence in a United Nations-sponsored ballot in 1999.

As Asia’s youngest nation, the country is still struggling to achieve stability despite its rich oil and gas resources. (Reporting by Tito Belo; Writing by Ahmad Pathoni; Editing by Valerie Lee)

FRETILIN exposes wholesale land giveaway by Agriculture Minister



Media Release

May 29, 2008

The Deputy Leader of FRETILIN, Francisco Miranda Branco, on Tuesday
(27 May) called on the de-facto Minister for Agriculture and
Fisheries, Mariano Sabino, to release all details of a deal he signed
with Indonesian company GTLeste Biotech to give away 100,000 hectares
of agricultural land for sugarcane cultivation and to build a sugar
and ethanol processing plant. FRETILIN is the largest party in
Timor-Leste’s National Parliament.

The deal gives exclusive rights to GTLeste Biotech to grow and process
sugarcane and to sell and export sugar and ethanol in and from
Timor-Leste for a period of 50 years, with an option for a further 50
years. Timor Leste has an estimated arable land area of 400,000
hectares, so the GTLeste Biotech deal alienates 25% of the arable land
to biofuel production.

Branco and others criticized the deal as being non-transparent and not
in the national interest, because one company has been given exclusive
rights to an industry and land for 100 years without other potential
bidders having had the opportunity, and because of its impact on food

“To keep the deal so secretive violates every principle of good
governance and the public interest, not to mention the national
interest,” said Branco.

But it is not the only deal which has been questioned in parliament.
Last month, the President of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) Mario
Carrascalao MP, queried a deal allegedly signed by the same Minister
for 200,000 hectares to plant rubber trees, in addition to the GTLeste
Biotech deal.

“We share Mr Carrascalao’s concerns. But because we were unable to
obtain a copy of the agreements from the government, we have been
unable to scrutinize the benefits and value of the agreements. Now
that we have a copy of the agreement, it is clear why the minister and
the government have kept the agreement away from public scrutiny,”
explained Branco.

“Given our alarm at the GTLeste Biotech, we are extremely anxious
about what is in the agreement to give 200,000 hectares for rubber
tree planting. It has been even more secretive. No substantial details
have yet been made available to either the parliament or civil
society, despite requests. There is no transparency in how the de
facto government deals with these questions,” stressed Branco.

“FRETILIN contends that if the second agreement does give away 200,000
hectares to a foreign company, then this minister has given away
nearly five percent (5%) of our total land mass in less than his first
year as Minister without any opportunity whatsoever for public
scrutiny of these deals.

“At this rate, if this minister remains in his post for a full five
years, he could well give away close to half of the country to foreign
interests. During the election campaign we warned that this minister’s
party, the Democratic Party, favored too much the access by large
foreign investors to Timor-Leste. It seems we were very right,
unfortunately,” added Branco.

“The Prime Minister announced his intention to establish an anti
corruption commission. If that ever gets up and running, this deal
with GTLeste Biotech would be among the first matters it would have to
investigate. FRETILIN is considering requesting the Ombudsman for
Human Rights and Justice, the constitutionally mandated
anti-corruption watchdog, to investigate this deal,” said Branco in