Questioned whether the Palestinian Authority provides financial support for families of suicide bombers.
Senator Abetz: In relation to the Middle East and the Palestinian Authority, there have been some suggestions that the authority may provide financial support, if not financial rewards, to the families of those that are engaged in suicide bombings. Is there anybody who can shed some light on that?
Mr Neuhaus: I do not know, Senator, whether we can actually shed any light on that particular assertion.
Whole interaction with Mr Matthew Neuhaus (Acting First Assistant Secretary, Middle East and Africa Division, DFAT), Ms Frances Adamson (Secretary, DFAT), Mr Ewen McDonald (Deputy Secretary, DFAT) and Senator David Fawcett (Liberal Party of Australia) during Senate Estimates (Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, Foreign Affairs and Trade Portfolio).
Senator ABETZ: Hopefully, I will not delay the committee too long. In relation to the Middle East and the Palestinian Authority, there have been some suggestions that the authority may provide financial support, if not financial rewards, to the families of those that are engaged in suicide bombings. Is there anybody who can shed some light on that?
Mr Neuhaus : I do not know, Senator, whether we can actually shed any light on that particular assertion.
Senator ABETZ: The State of Israel asserts that—you would agree?
Mr Neuhaus : The State of Israel, I believe, does assert that. Yes.
Senator ABETZ: Have we sought to ascertain the basis on which they make that assertion?
Mr Neuhaus : We have had discussions over the years and continue to have discussions with the State of Israel on all matters involving the Middle East.
Senator ABETZ: But have we had any discussions on that matter in particular?
Mr Neuhaus : I have no specific information on that matter.
Senator FAWCETT: You would be aware that only two days ago, I believe, the Taylor Force bill was introduced into the American Congress and Senate dealing specifically with this issue and calling on the American government to cease any of their development and aid payments to the Palestinian Authority until it stops paying money to the convicted terrorists and their families?
Mr Neuhaus : I understand that to be correct insofar as it refers to United States action. Yes, Senator.
Senator FAWCETT: They would hardly be doing that if they did not have some substantial factual knowledge of the existence of the payments.
Mr Neuhaus : That is a reasonable assertion, but I have nothing specific that I can provide you with at this point.
Senator FAWCETT: Okay. My understanding, Secretary, is that you have still taken on notice my earlier question today on the same topic.
Ms Adamson : We have indeed. The questions that you asked, Senator Fawcett, to which we are adding those that Senator Abetz has asked. I think there may have been another senator during the course of the day, but we will certainly come back to you with answers to those questions.
Senator FAWCETT: Sure, and particularly to make sure that no Australian taxpayers’ money is in any way finding its way into those payments to convicted terrorists or their families.
Mr Neuhaus : Yes. We are very seized of that particular issue.
Ms Adamson : In fact, Mr McDonald can, perhaps from a slightly different direction, provide some information that is relevant to this discussion.
Mr McDonald : Yes. It does not go specifically to this program, but it is our approach to development, which I think is important, given the high-risk areas that we work in. When we put our programs together we have a fraud control framework that we work with. Firstly, that looks at all aid investments in terms of a risk management plan, so there are risks identified first. Those risks are then checked with due diligence processes, and you know we have a number of checks in place for NGOs and the like around that in terms of accreditation. We also do checks on publicly available information as well as check all the history et cetera of those partners. We also put in place fraud corruption and anticorruption strategies to manage that, so the higher the risk the more detailed they are in terms of what we do. We provide a very comprehensive training program for the staff on those aspects, on how to manage those particular risks. We also ensure that there are standard clauses in there that provide us with the ability to either suspend funding or cease contracts if any of that occurs.
So we take a very strong and zero-tolerance approach to this. We investigate everything thoroughly. We do our best to recoup any funding, and we have been quite successful with that. So this is an area that not only is looked at by the people who manage the programs but also is a standing item in our Audit and Risk Committee, which I chair. It is an area that we focus on very closely. We also have our Aid Investment Committee, which oversees high-risk concepts and designs and, therefore, has I suppose the assurance that we are putting in place everything we can. That said, we work in countries that are difficult, so we are constantly reviewing those as we go through.
Senator FAWCETT: I understand all that. If I could make a final comment. If you could examine it to the extent of understanding where cost-shifting is occurring, because clearly that is one of the key risks—that we supply funding that is legitimately used in area A, which enables them to supply money to area B, which is something that we find objectionable.
Mr McDonald : Yes, and, given what has occurred in the US, we will be looking very closely at that with those partners.
Senator ABETZ: Putting the Palestine Authority aside, are we aware of any other country that may possibly provide support or rewards for suicide bombers?
Mr Neuhaus : No.