Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee
ATTORNEY GENERAL PORTFOLIO
Australian Federal Police
Senator RHIANNON: On Tuesday, 11 March TheGuardian reported that the AFP liaison officers in Columbo refused to see a Sri Lankan man who complained of torture, when he was in Sri Lankan police custody, after he was returned from Australia. Is this report accurate and, if so, why did the AFP officer in this case refuse to speak with the detainee to assess if he had been hurt?
Mr Negus : From the report I have with regard to that, the AFP understands that this alleged incident occurred on 14 August 2010. We have no jurisdiction in Sri Lanka and did not investigate the matter. On 19 August 2010, an AFP officer attended a briefing with the maritime human smuggling unit regarding an investigation of alleged people-smuggling activity. During the visit the AFP officer discreetly observed Mr Mendez while he was being interviewed by the Sri Lankan officers. At no time did the AFP officer speak to or engage with Mr Mendez, although Mr Mendez was observed from a separate room. The AFP officer did not observe any mistreatment of Mr Mendez and this observation was over a period of about 25 minutes. Really, this is a matter for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The AFP do not have any jurisdiction in Sri Lanka. We cannot walk in and claim to do things on behalf of the Australian government in that space. Again, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is probably the appropriate agency to deal with the rest of your question.
Senator RHIANNON: As the AFP had somebody there, clearly there is relevance. The cable, as reported in TheGuardian, sent to Canberra from the high commission in Columbo in August 2010 states that the man was arrested as a result of a disruption-that is the word that is used: 'disruption'. It was in operation, I understand, to combat suspected people smuggling. You have just confirmed that one of your officers did attend what you call a briefing. Was the AFP involved in the so-called disruption?
Mr Negus: I think we have gone through this a couple of times before at previous estimates. We provide intelligence and information, and exchange material with the Sri Lankan authorities, but we do not have operational powers and we do not provide an operational resource in-country. As I said, our officer being there was incidental to the fact that this person was being interviewed. He did observe him. He did not observe any mistreatment over that 25-minute period, and the observation was from an adjoining room, rather than being part of a process of interrogation or discussion.
Senator RHIANNON: Again, you have not actually answer the question, which was this: was the AFP involved in the so-called disruption? And I understand that the disruption occurs before the incident where the man is hurt. Was the AFP involved in the so-called disruption?
Mr Negus: It depends how wide you cast your net. If you are saying that the provision of intelligence and the exchange of intelligence means that we are involved in disruption, the answer is yes. If you are asking if we had operational officers on the ground out there working with the Sri Lankan authorities, the answer is no.
Senator RHIANNON: I understand that the man who complained of torture said that he received a call from the Australian high commission days before the incident. Was the AFP made aware that the high commission had called him?
Mr Negus: I am not aware of that. Perhaps we could take that on notice.
Senator RHIANNON: Will you take it on notice. What is the policy and practice for the AFP following up any complaints of torture and mistreatment in Sri Lanka?
Mr Negus: If we had any particular advice or knowledge in-country we would report that through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade through the high commissioner or the ambassador.
Senator RHIANNON: The question was about the policy and practice. So you do have a protocol that it goes first to the high commissioner? Can you expand on what the process is?
Mr Negus: Mr Wood just reminded me that we have tabled that before. People working in-country work under the same provisions as DFAT, and they would be advised if any of that material came to our notice.
Senator RHIANNON: What directive has the AFP had from either DFAT, PM&C or any Australian government official about how to respond to cases of torture in Sri Lanka of asylum seekers returned by Australia?
Mr Negus: I am just trying to clarify this to answer the question appropriately. There is no separate protocol in regard to people smuggling or those types of matters. This would be a general protocol with Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that if any of that material came to our notice we would report that to them. So there is nothing specific in regard to that.
Senator RHIANNON: Since people from Sri Lanka who have come to Australia have been returned to Sri Lanka, you have received no additional briefings about how that should be handled, and no updates to the protocol?
Mr Negus : We have almost 100 people working offshore as liaison officers and doing a whole range of things in many parts of the world-many troubled parts of the world I might add, as well. We do not need to be told that if we see something unacceptable to Australian standards and against Australian law we should report it. I think the officers we put across there are well skilled in making those judgments, and they would report things out of just their duty as federal police officers, rather than needing a protocol to tell them what to do.
Senator RHIANNON: That was not my question. I was not doubting the commitment to common decency. My question is: has there been any new directive, or changed directives, or advice, or protocols or any briefings since the change in government policy, with people who have sought asylum in Australia being sent back?
Mr Negus : Not that I am aware of. Perhaps if I do take it on notice just to be absolutely clear, because it is not something that has been brought to the attention of me or my officers here.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. I would like to ask about Mr Dinesh Perera. He was formerly a member of the Sri Lankan army, and he was the acting G4S centre operations manager at the Manus Island regional processing centre, in February this year. Was the AFP aware that Mr Dinesh Perera had that job?
Mr Negus : We do not have officers stationed at Manus Island, so the answer is no, as far as I am concerned.
Senator RHIANNON: Do you want to take it on notice? I know you do not have officers on Manus Island, but that was not the question. The question is: were you aware that a member of the Sri Lankan army now has this job?
Mr Negus : Only because of subsequent reporting. I can say that the AFP was not aware. My officers tell me that we have become aware through subsequent reporting.
Senator RHIANNON: Are there any former members of the Sri Lankan army or the Sri Lankan police working for the AFP in Australia or Sri Lanka, both in the past and at the moment?
Mr Negus : No.
CHAIR: That you know of. Would you know?
Mr Negus : I think if we were employing former Sri Lankan military officers in the AFP I would know about it. One, you have to be an Australian citizen to be a member of the AFP, so that would disqualify the vast majority of-
CHAIR: I am being pedantic, though. What about someone who was in the Colombo police, when it was Colombo back 20 years ago?
Mr Negus : You are right, Chair, I probably should take that on notice, but I would be very surprised if that is the case. Given the circumstances around Sri Lanka and the security checks we undertake, I would be very surprised that anyone would make it through any of our screening processes, unless we could categorically state that they were clear of any particular issues, going back some time. We know that in Sri Lanka there have been difficult times, and it is very hard to establish people's work history and other things as well. I will take it on notice, on the advice of the Chair.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. To give you a timeline, could you do it from the end of the civil war, in 2009?
Senator Brandis: The answer to the question will be either no or yes. Commissioner Negus has told the committee the answer is no, and when invited by the chair to reflect upon that answer he said words to the effect that if the answer were other than no he would know about it. So in deference-
Senator RHIANNON: I understand he took it on notice.
Senator Brandis: In deference to the chair Commissioner Negus will take the question on notice. But you asked about a timeline. If there are none, there are none. It is not an issue of timelines, and you should not imply that the answer to the question is other than no.
Senator RHIANNON: I did not make that implication.
CHAIR: I think the Senator has now narrowed the timeline given my example of someone 20 years ago perhaps being in the Ceylonese police. But I suspect now that since whenever it was-
Mr Negus : I have been commissioner since 2009, so it gives me even more comfort the answer will be no. But I will double-check.