Questioned the ongoing detention and trial of Mohammed El Halabi and whether Australia’s findings that no World Vision funds had been diverted to Hamas were communicated to the Israeli government.
I did want an update on Mohammed El Halabi. This is the World Vision employee who was detained by the Israeli government in 2016. There were some accusations of diversion of aid money. I think Ms Bishop required DFAT to undertake its own internal investigation, and it found no evidence to suggest any diversion of Australian government funds. Mr Costello, Tim Costello, has recently made a public statement. Can you provide an update of Mr Halabi’s situation and the status of matters against him?
Whole interaction with Mr Marc Innes-Brown PSM (First Assistant Secretary, Middle East and Africa Division, DFAT) Senator Marise Payne (Minister for Foreign Affairs) during Senate Estimates (Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, Foreign Affairs and Trade Portfolio).
Senator WONG: This may have been raised while I was out of the room, but I did want an update on Mohammed El Halabi. This is the World Vision employee who was detained by the Israeli government in 2016. There were some accusations of diversion of aid money. I think Ms Bishop required DFAT to undertake its own internal investigation, and it found no evidence to suggest any diversion of Australian government funds. Mr Costello, Tim Costello, has recently made a public statement. Can you provide an update of Mr Halabi’s situation and the status of matters against him?
CHAIR: I have a bracket of questions on this as well.
Senator WONG: I figured that.
CHAIR: Has his trial been finished?
Mr Innes-Brown : The proceedings continue. There have been suggestions that they might draw to a close soon. There’s been some discussions in the last few weeks about this, including amongst the NGO community and diplomatic missions. However, at this stage, no determination has been reached.
CHAIR: Are the trials being held in secret because of the allegations or suggestions of the links to terrorism—is that correct? And is that why it’s a bit hard to know what’s going on?
Mr Innes-Brown : I believe so, but I will double check and get some additional information on that.
Senator WONG: Just to confirm, is it your understanding that neither DFAT nor the World Vision reviews indicated that any Australian aid money was diverted to Hamas?
Mr Innes-Brown : The Australian review did not find any evidence of that.
Senator WONG: You can’t speak to the World Vision?
Mr Innes-Brown : My recollection is they engaged some external consultants, both World Vision Australia and World Vision International. My understanding of the findings of those surveys, from recollection, is that they did not find any evidence in their files.
CHAIR: Are their funds fungible though?
Senator WONG: I understand your view about this. I also have a view about people being held for five years without trial. It’s a Magna Carta position.
CHAIR: But when funds are being diverted which then leads to tunnelling et cetera and deaths of other persons—whilst I agree with your concern that people are held for five years, if that which is asserted against him has actually been done, then there is human tragedy.
Senator WONG: Did we provide any findings to the Israeli authorities?
CHAIR: I’d have to take that on notice. They would be aware; it’s in the public record.
Senator WONG: Sure, I just wondered if we provided findings. Do you have any information you could give us as to why it’s taken so long to bring this matter to conclusion?
Mr Innes- Brown : I do not.
Senator WONG: As Senator Abetz said, these trials are conducted in secret—I don’t know the correct phrase; that’s how it’s reported. Do we have any visibility?
Mr Innes-Brown : Not that I’m aware of. I will check.
Senator WONG: No Australian official or officer has any knowledge of the progress of the trial?
Mr Innes-Brown : I’ll take it on notice.
Senator WONG: Does that mean you don’t know?
Mr Innes-Brown : I don’t know.
Senator WONG: Okay. Tim Costello has been quite public about concerns about Mr El-Halabi. He wrote an op-ed earlier this year. Has he met with anyone in the department, the foreign minister or her office about these issues?
Senator Payne: I haven’t met Mr Costello on these issues.
Mr Innes-Brown : Since I’ve come back to this position, he has not met us in the Middle East and Africa Division.
Senator WONG: What’s his citizenship status?
Mr Innes-Brown : He’s a Palestinian.
Senator WONG: He has no dual citizenship?
Mr Innes-Brown : He’s not Australian, no.
Senator WONG: Or any other?
Mr Innes-Brown : I don’t know. I know he’s not Australian.