Howard recalls old Labor criticism of Keelty

By Brendan Nicholson
National Security Correspondent
The Age
24 March 2004

Prime Minister John Howard has used criticisms of Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty by Labor MPs in 2002 to shut down the row over whether he pressured Mr Keelty over his comment on the Iraq war increasing the terrorist threat to Australia.

In question time Mr Howard was yesterday asked by Opposition Leader Mark Latham if Mr Keelty considered resigning during last week's row, when Mr Keelty was criticised for not toeing the Government line that the war did not increase the terror threat to Australia.

Mr Howard said that at no time did Mr Keelty tender his resignation and he would not comment further.

Then the Prime Minister detailed "most violent" attacks made on Mr Keelty in 2002 by Labor senators Robert Ray and John Faulkner during the children overboard inquiry.

He said Senator Ray described Mr Keelty as an "evasive" witness and that demonstrated that Labor did not care about the office of commissioner or Mr Keelty's reputation.

"He (Mr Latham) is perfectly happy to stand by and allow his senior colleagues to traduce his reputation under parliamentary privilege," Mr Howard said. At the time of those comments, Mr Latham was not Labor leader.

Mr Howard quoted Senator Ray as asking why Mr Keelty did not "front up and give straightforward evidence" to the inquiry.

The inquiry was examining claims that someone may have sabotaged boats in Indonesia to stop them bringing asylum seekers to Australia.

Mr Howard then quoted Senator Faulkner as saying he intended pressing for an independent judicial inquiry into these very serious matters.

Senator Faulkner then said: "At no stage do I want to break, nor will I break, the protocols in relation to operational matters involving ASIS (the Australian Secret Intelligence Service which operates overseas) or the AFP."

"And here is the punchline," Mr Howard said, quoting Senator Faulkner as saying: "But those protocols were not meant as a direct or indirect licence to kill."

Mr Howard then produced a statement issued by Mr Keelty at the time in which he said Senator Faulkner should have clarified his position before he made the allegations and complained that: "He has chosen to sully the reputation of the AFP and myself as the commissioner, instead of availing himself of the facts."

He said the remarks destroyed any capacity for Mr Latham to parade himself as a friend and defender of the Federal Police.

When Labor foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd asked Foreign Minister Alexander Downer to apologise for suggesting Mr Keelty was peddling al-Qaeda propaganda, Mr Downer said he was waiting for Senator Faulkner to apologise to Mr Keelty first.


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