Australian Commonwealth Coat of Arms

Abuse of Australian Passports

Statement to the House of Representatives (check against delivery)

24 May 2010

Mr Speaker

On 25 February, I advised the House of the suspected fraudulent use of a number of Australian passports in connection with the murder of senior Hamas figure Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh.

I now advise the House of the Government's response to this matter.

First it is worth recalling the circumstances in which this came to the Government's attention and our response to date.

On 20 January, Mr Al-Mabhouh was found murdered in a hotel room in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

On 16 February, police in Dubai announced that falsified passports from the United Kingdom, Ireland, France and Germany had been used in connection with the murder.

Late on 22 February, Dubai authorities approached Australian officials with an inquiry about two Australian passports.

The following day, 23 February, Dubai authorities confirmed to Australian officials that they were investigating a number of Australian passports in connection with the murder.

Since that time, Dubai authorities have announced that they are investigating four Australian passports in connection with the murder.

Those four Australian passports are in the names of: Mr Adam Korman, Mr Joshua Bruce, Ms Nicole McCabe, and Mr Joshua Krycer.

From the first contact on 22 February, Australian authorities have cooperated fully with Dubai investigators.

On 25 February, I expressed to the House my concern that these Australian passports had been used fraudulently.

Both the Prime Minister and I condemned in the strongest possible terms this apparent misuse and abuse of Australian passports.

On 25 February, I also announced that the Australian Federal Police, in conjunction with relevant agencies, had been asked to investigate the possible abuse of these passports.

These agencies included the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) and the Australian Passport Office.

On 9 April, I received the Australian Federal Police report.

Upon a preliminary assessment of that report, it was clear that further work and advice was required from other agencies, in particular ASIO and ASIS.

I made this known publicly on 11 April.

This further work included a visit to Israel this month by the Director General of ASIO.

I received my final advice from agencies last week.

I briefed the National Security Committee of the Cabinet this morning and have taken steps to ensure that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs has been briefed.

This advice leads to the following key conclusions:

Firstly, and very importantly, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that those Australian passport holders identified by Dubai authorities were anything other than innocent victims of identity theft;

Secondly, the passports in question were deliberately counterfeited and cloned for use. The high quality of these counterfeited passports points to the involvement of a State intelligence service;

Thirdly, these investigations and advice have left the Government in no doubt that Israel was responsible for the abuse and counterfeiting of these passports.

I note that a similar conclusion was reached by the United Kingdom Government in the course of their official investigations.

No Government can tolerate the abuse of its passports, especially by a foreign Government.

This represents a clear affront to the security of our passport system.

Nor can we tolerate the abuse by a foreign Government of the personal details of the Australian nationals concerned.

These are not the actions of a friend.

I regret to advise the House that this is not the first occasion that Australian passports have been misused by Israeli authorities.

The Dubai passports incident also constitutes a clear and direct breach of confidential understandings between Australia and Israel dating back some years.

This is not what we expect from a nation with whom we have had such a close, friendly and supportive relationship.

After careful deliberation, the Government has asked that a member of the Israeli Embassy in Canberra be withdrawn from Australia. I have asked that the withdrawal be effected within the week.

Earlier this morning, at my request, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade called in the Israeli Charge d'Affaires. Israeli Ambassador Rotem, whom I called in on 25 February, is absent from Australia until 8 June. If Ambassador Rotem had been in Australia, I would have again spoken to him myself.

The Department conveyed the Government's deep disappointment over Israeli involvement in this affair.

The Department made it clear that Australia regarded the abuse of these passports as inconsistent with the friendship and support provided by successive Australian Governments to Israel since its creation as a nation.

Australia's relationship with Israel has always been founded on a basis of mutual respect and trust.

But Israel's actions in this regard have undermined that respect and trust.

The Government takes this step much more in sorrow than in anger or retaliation.

It is a decision taken in our national security interests.

The Government has done so in accordance with the findings of the investigation and after a careful assessment of Australia's national interests by relevant agencies.

The Government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, will continue to provide consular assistance on an as needs basis to those Australians whose identities were stolen and who were therefore adversely affected by Israel's actions.

We have already, on request, replaced the passports of a number of those involved.

I convey publicly a final point made to the Israeli Charge d'Affaires by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade:

Insofar as the Australia-Israel bilateral relationship is concerned, our expectation is that our relationship with Israel can and will continue in a mutually productive and beneficial manner.

Australia's support for the State of Israel goes back to its creation.

Australia's support for the State of Israel has long enjoyed bipartisan support.

We have always shared a relationship reflecting our joint commitment to freedom, security and democracy.

Australia remains a firm friend of Israel.

But, as I noted previously, our relationship must be conducted on the basis of mutual trust and respect.

Genuine friendship runs both ways.

We expect this and future Israeli Governments to ensure that this incident is not repeated.

We now look forward to working to restore the highest standards of trust in our relationship with Israel.

I thank the House.

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