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The fall of Fitzgibbon?

By Peter Coates - posted Tuesday, 31 March 2009


In 2002 and 2005 Chinese-Australian businesswoman Ms Helen Liu funded two visits by Mr Joel Fitzgibbon to China. This would be unremarkable in political circles except that Fitzgibbon failed to declare these visits on the parliamentary register until a week ago. The Government has also attempted to divert attention from ministerial deception by launching inquiries into what is probably legitimate whistle blowing by officers of the Defence Department. That is, the government has been attempting to protect its own by shooting the messengers.

As in the Haneef Affair, but this time under Labor, the government is using departments and agencies, such as ASIO, to confuse the matter while the government economises with the truth. The government may simply decide not to reveal all the actors and interests involved in the Fitzgibbon affair.

This knowledge vacuum invites the following “estimate” (intelligence jargon for “educated guess”) about what has occurred.

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The way I see it is that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd recognises he has a chronically underperforming Defence Minister who he had to hire due to the continued system of appointing ministers on factional lines. Furthermore the Defence Minister's father is a retired but still influential force in Labor.

The Defence Department and the National Security Adviser, former Major General (retired) Duncan Lewis within the Prime Minister's Department, would probably recognise the damage Fitzgibbon is doing to the Defence portfolio. This is especially serious because members of the Army, who are indirectly working for Fitzgibbon, are fighting and dying for their country in Afghanistan.

As a patriotic duty members of Defence, including DSD, might be prepared to sacrifice their careers to rid Defence of Fitzgibbon. However, it is more likely that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) has been legitimately doing this job through an investigation of Mr Fitzgibbon and Ms Liu. The financial links between them such as free flights to China suggest other linkages, or money trails - an area in which the AFP specialises and notably ASIO does not.

Investigating possible money trails might legitimately involve accessing Fitzgibbon's ministerial offices at Parliament House. If a DSD employee were involved in this activity it would most likely be as a technical expert in IT security assisting the AFP.

Note that this expectation of AFP involvement is not devalued by Commissioner Keelty's statement on March 29, 2009 that the AFP had not been asked to investigate the Defence Department over the Fitzgibbon matter. He did not say that the AFP had not already been involved in an investigation (probably several weeks ago) of Mr Fitzgibbon or Ms Liu.

The Australian Government has attempted to obscure the issue of Fitzgibbon's deception when Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Attorney-General McClelland referred to ASIO not considering Ms Liu a threat to national security. Note that ASIO's non-financial specialties are not at issue in this matter. The issue is one of Fitzgibbon's failure to report financial benefits arising from his friendship with Ms Liu.

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ASIO advises that it: "... does not carry out criminal investigations ... but does work closely with Federal and State and Territory police forces ..." Along those lines ASIO would probably rely on the AFP to collect intelligence on financial links between Mr Fitzgibbon and Ms Liu.

Meanwhile the AFP offers:

... a range of investigation services to agencies ... including:

  • investigation of serious and complex matters including fraud ...;
  • operational assistance requested by agencies in the course of their criminal investigations, including execution of ... search warrants, international liaison and Interpol requests;
  • financial investigation services including training, advice and guidance relating to proceeds of crime;
  • forensic examination of seized computers and electronic items.
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About the Author

Peter Coates has been writing articles on military, security and international relations issues since 2006. In 2014 he completed a Masterís Degree in International Relations, with a high distinction average. His website is Submarine Matters.

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