Senator Eric Abetz – Estimates question about investigations into allegations against Mohammed El Halabi

photo of Senator Eric Abetz
October 28, 2021

Questioned the details of the inquiry undertaken by World Vision into allegations that Mohammed El Halabi diverted aid funds to Hamas.

If I can move to Mr El Halabi, whom Senator Wong was asking about. In relation to the inquiry undertaken by World Vision, do we know the organisation that undertook that inquiry for World Vision?

Whole interaction with Mr Marc Innes-Brown PSM (First Assistant Secretary, Middle East and Africa Division, DFAT) and Ms Kathryn Campbell (Secretary, DFAT) during Senate Estimates (Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, Foreign Affairs and Trade Portfolio).

CHAIR: If I can move to Mr El Halabi, whom Senator Wong was asking about. Just bear with me; a number of the questions I was going to ask have been asked. In relation to the inquiry undertaken by World Vision, do we know the organisation that undertook that inquiry for World Vision?


Mr Innes-Brown : There were two inquiries, as I said. World Vision Australia undertook an inquiry, as did World Vision International. World Vision International—I believe the name of the organisation that did the due diligence inquiry was an organisation called Piper. I believe it’s an international legal firm. If my memory serves me correctly, for World Vision Australia it was Ernst & Young.


CHAIR: When was that publicly made available? Do you know?


Mr Innes-Brown : I don’t know whether either of them were publicly made available, but I will—


CHAIR: In July of this year I was being informed—


Mr Innes-Brown : Really?


CHAIR: that it was neither the actual findings nor the name of the accounting firm were made public, leaving the issue unresolved. We are now being told that World Vision Australia engaged Ernst & Young.


Mr Innes-Brown : That’s my recollection.


CHAIR: Take that on notice and just confirm, rather than delaying. Please also take on notice whether the actual findings were made public or whether World Vision just issued a media release saying there’s been an inquiry and a clean bill of health.


Ms Campbell : We’ll take those on notice so we can give you more comprehensive answer.


CHAIR: If you could.


Mr Innes-Brown : The answer I gave you on the companies was correct, but we’ll check the details of the disclosure.


CHAIR: Thank you very much. I’ve also been told that, once the money was sent to Gaza, the ability of World Vision officials to monitor its use was limited by the fact that the territory is under the control of the Hamas terror organisation and that outsiders have no independent sources of information. Would you agree with that assessment?


Ms Campbell : In this context, we might be best to take it on notice.


CHAIR: Alright. Take that on notice. Then I’ve been told that indeed nothing World Vision officials have offered suggests that the organisation had any source of information other than relying on the word of El Halabi and perhaps others who worked with him.


Ms Campbell : I’m not sure we have that level of detail here at the moment. We’ll take it on notice.


CHAIR: See what you can provide to us, please. I did make the comment during Senator Wong’s evidence that—


Senator WONG: Questions. I didn’t give evidence.


CHAIR: Sorry—questions. You can understand how I made the mistake, though, given all your editorialising, Senator Wong.


Senator WONG: Not on that! I asked very straight, flat questions on that one.


CHAIR: I stand corrected.


Senator WONG: On other things, yes, possibly. I concede.


CHAIR: Yes. On the questions that the money in effect becomes sort of fungible—if you make money available, let’s say for education purposes, then Hamas doesn’t have to spend their own money on that and can then use funds for digging tunnels, but I understand that some of the money was provided for building purposes and that some of that may have been for the building of tunnels. Do we have any insight into that?


Ms Campbell : I don’t think we have any insight with us today. We’ll take it on notice and see what we can provide.


CHAIR: Please take that on notice. Thank you.

Link to full Hansard transcript.