Mike Scrafton speaks live about children overboard affairThe World Today - Monday, 16 August , 2004 12:18:00
Reporter: Catherine McGrath
ELEANOR HALL: Joining us now from Melbourne is the man at the centre of today's revelations, Mike Scrafton, the former advisor to the Defence Minister at the time, Peter Reith. Mr Scrafton is now a private citizen, no longer employed by the Defence Department.
And he is speaking to our Chief Political Correspondent Catherine McGrath.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: Mike Scrafton, thank you for joining The World Today. Can you take us back to that time, nearly three years ago, when you spoke to the Prime Minister on the evening of the 7th of November? What did you tell him?
MIKE SCRAFTON: I'd been asked to go to the Maritime headquarters and have a look at the video. I did. I went- I had spoken to Peter Reith earlier that afternoon, who had said he'd been speaking to the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister had said he wanted somebody they could trust to go and have a look at the video.
I did that and the Prime Minister was given my mobile number by Peter Reith. The Prime Minister rang me that evening. I explained to him that the video was inconclusive, it certainly didn't provide any evidence supporting the claim that children were thrown overboard.
In the context of that he rang me back seeking some clarification. I spoke to him again, telling him that we didn't believe the event had actually happened and that the photos that had been relied on certainly were well known not to be of the event, but of the sinking afterwards.
He asked me specifically about the ONA report and how it was that he had this advice and at the time I got the impression that he was surprised greatly that there was an inconsistency between the advice and the intelligence report.
And I said that my understanding, from talking to people around the place, was that they were just simply picking up the minister's comments and that he really should check with ONA as to the veracity of it.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: Now, it's now clear from what the Prime Minister said the next day that he was referring to the fact that you'd told him it was inconclusive, so that part was publicised. But really, you told him much more than that, didn't you, and he didn't go public with the further information?
MIKE SCRAFTON: That's right.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: So what do you conclude from that?
MIKE SCRAFTON: Well, I suppose it's not my position to conclude. I don't know what advice the Prime Minister was getting.
At the time that I spoke to him he made it clear to me that there were a range of other people at Kirribilli House with whom he, actually as I spoke, he repeated the words I was saying - I think he's a little hard of hearing - but he was also repeating them for the benefit of the other people sitting in the room, his Chief of Staff and some others, who I can't recall the names of, what advice they might have given him or had access to. Otherwise, I don't know.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: Just to clarify, Mike Scrafton, you said to him, we didn't, that is, Defence I take it, didn't believe the incident actually happened.
MIKE SCRAFTON: That's right. And I also told him that I thought that the intelligence he was relying on was suspect.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: Did he repeat that to the audience around him?
MIKE SCRAFTON: Yes, he has a habit of repeating everything that's said to him in those circumstances.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: So he said to those around him that Mike Scrafton is telling me that Defence doesn't actually believe the incident happened?
MIKE SCRAFTON: He was repeating the words that I was saying, yes.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: So up until now, there's been no ability for the Opposition to prove that the Prime Minister was ever told that the incident didn't happen. There was evidence that Angus Houston, the then Acting Chief of the Defence Force, had told Peter Reith.
But you're confirming now that the Prime Minister was told by you the event didn't happen?
MIKE SCRAFTON: That's right.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: Did you know for sure it didn't happen or you just suspected it didn't happen?
MIKE SCRAFTON: I knew that there was no evidence held by Defence that indicated that it had happened.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: And were you personally concerned that the wrong story seemed to be getting out and seemed to be repeated by the Government?
MIKE SCRAFTON: It depends at what point you're talking about. It was very confused, I think as even Angus has acknowledged, up to the point to that day of the 7th where Peter Reith was told categorically. I was surprised the following day that such unqualified weight was given to information that the Prime Minister was told was suspect.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: Now, I asked the Prime Minister specifically the next morning on the AM program whether he'd been given revised advice from the Navy that the information wasn't true and he said no.
MIKE SCRAFTON: And I have no idea whether he had advice directly from the Navy or not.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: So it may have been a dispute over words there. I mean, he was told by others that it wasn't true.
MIKE SCRAFTON: That's right, yes.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: So going back to who was in the room - his Chief of Staff Arthur Sinodinos, presumably. Anyone else?
MIKE SCRAFTON: I can't recall who else it was, but there were another two or three people there.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: And why have you waited until now, Mike Scrafton, to talk about all of this?
MIKE SCRAFTON: Three reasons, really. One was that while I was a public servant- after the election I went back to the Department of Defence, it would have been both inappropriate and very difficult for me to have said anything. I'm a great believer in the probity of being a public servant and dealing with Government information.
But there was also a Cabinet decision that I'd been informed of, telling me that I hadn't done it, I couldn't do it. I didn't have the protection of privilege because the Senate committee wouldn't subpoena me. So the reason I didn't do it then was for a range of those sorts of reasons.
Since then, almost every book that's come out has described one way or other my role in this and they've almost all been inaccurate as to what my role in the office was.
But I suppose the trigger was the disrespect with which the 43 signatories of the open letter were treated and how the issue was moved away from truth in government onto them personally I think triggered me to correct the record.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: So as an insider, as part of Peter Reith's office then, you had knowledge that, really, the general community never have access to. What's the general community to make of this issue and what you tell us now?
MIKE SCRAFTON: This is not a political issue for me, this is simply a matter of principle, and I suppose the community has got to draw its own conclusions.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: But from what you're indicating, the Government hasn't been honest about this.
MIKE SCRAFTON: They certainly weren't, the advice that- What the Prime Minister said in my view was certainly not qualified enough based on the information that he had.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: And you have no doubt at all that you indicated to him firmly that the story was wrong?
MIKE SCRAFTON: No, none at all. And the clinch is that I can remember clearly advising him that if he wanted to know why the ONA report was wrong that he should talk to Kim Jones. That was a specific part of the discussion.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: Do you feel let down by the Prime Minister?
MIKE SCRAFTON: They're personal comments. My interest is in correcting the record.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: So your message to the public today is what, Mike Scrafton?
MIKE SCRAFTON: I don't have a message to the public, what I'm interested in is making sure that a process that the senate inquiry has put in place now has full information.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: Mike Scrafton, thank you very much for giving your full story today on The World Today.
MIKE SCRAFTON: Thank you.
ELEANOR HALL: Mike Scrafton, the former adviser to the Defence Minister Peter Reith at the time, with Catherine McGrath