SENATOR THE HONOURABLE CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS

Transcript

2CC Breakfast Show, Stephen Cenatiempo

22nd December 2020

SUBJECTS:

Cardinal George Pell, transfer of Vatican funds to Australia, AUSTRAC, AFP, Victoria Police, IBAC Victoria, Royal Commission

 

E&OE …

 

Stephen Cenatiempo:

Now I spoke about this yesterday.  Chris Mitchell from The Australian has called for a Royal Commission into sex abuse cases in Victoria in the wake of the George Pell verdict.  Now, you would know that George Pell was convicted of two counts of child sexual abuse and he was then acquitted by unanimous ruling of the High Court.  The High Court found that certain amounts of evidence were not presented properly and the juries were not given the full story as to what actually went on.  But there’s another side to this and it turns out that there might be more nefarious parties in play here with the allegations originally being levelled against George Pell.  Now somebody that’s been across this is NSW Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.  Obviously, like myself, she comes from an Italian background and has been keeping an eye on the Italian newspapers.  Now recently George Pell himself has broken his silence on this and talked about what might actually have happened with senior Vatican figures being involved in large amounts of money being shipped to Australia in order to, ah, launch a prosecution against George Pell.  Concetta Fierravanti-Wells joins us now.  Connie, good morning!

 

Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells:

Good morning Stephen, how are you?

 

Stephen Cenatiempo:

Very well.  Now you’ve been looking into this for quite some time and are seeking answers from various different parties.  Where are you at with it?

 

Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells:

Well, we know as you’ve correctly said, that the Cardinal is back in Rome, he’s launched his first volume of his prison journal, and it certainly appears from the news coming out of Rome that a number of the concerns that the Cardinal has had about the financial matters in the Vatican are now being recognised and are becoming public.  Two aspects here Stephen I want to mention this morning.  We’ve seen the media reports in Australia about the payments coming from the Vatican to Australian bank accounts, and I’ve asked a series of questions of AUSTRAC, of the AFP and from DFAT about different aspects of this whole issue.  Now in relation to AUSTRAC, I've got some very interesting information back.  AUSTRAC has now confirmed that about $2.2 billion dollars, billion dollars, has come from the Vatican entities and individuals, since 2014.  The interesting thing about these figures is that the vast majority of this money- more than 90%- was transferred during the time that Cardinal Pell was being investigated by Victoria Police, charged, put on trial and wrongly convicted.  Now it does seem very strange, and why would the Vatican or individuals within the Vatican be sending this much money to Australia?  And it does raise the legitimate question about who did it go to.  And while AUSTRAC of course has confirmed the amounts, it hasn't released the recipients or information that I asked about the recipients, which of course is really important.

 

Stephen Cenatiempo:

Can I interrupt you there for a moment, because I mean a lot of people listening would think ‘Oh, well it’s normal that the Vatican would send money to Australia because it goes into various Catholic parishes here’.  But that’s not how the Catholic Church structure works.  So, it is extraordinarily unusual that certainly that over two billion dollars has been sent here?

 

Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells:

It is, and certainly the questions that I asked go specifically to what AUSTRAC, tracing the money.  Effectively I think here what is important Stephen, is that we follow the money trail and unfortunately AUSTRAC, whilst it has provided information to the AFP, to Victoria Police and to Victoria’s IBAC anti-corruption commission, it is not an investigative agency.  Now of course the AFP have also advised me that they are undertaking a review of the information and are telling me that at this stage it is premature to provide an indication of further activities and associated leads.  We do know that the AFP works internationally and following what was told to me at Estimates, I'm sure that given the nexus to Australia they will be undertaking the appropriate exchange of information and intelligence with the Vatican authorities.  But interestingly I still haven't had back the questions - haven't had answered the questions that I asked of DFAT, which also go to the role of our Embassy, in general questions that I've also asked there.  So Stephen, there are a lot of questions.  I have given a series of speeches in the Senate which actually go to the story, and the story does connect across Australian jurisdictions, but it begins and ends in the Vatican.  And as one Vatican insider put it, the cannons may have been fired in Australia, but the bullets were forged in the Vatican.  And I mean if this story were a novel or a thriller, I think it would make for gripping reading and it’s important to tell this story in the hope that these events won't ever be repeated.

 

Stephen Cenatiempo:

Well, I’ve said to you in the past that it’s not far off the story that was told in The Godfather Part III, which kind of gives you an idea of the kind of individuals we’re dealing with here.  But going back to Chris Mitchell's point, I’m loath to call for Royal Commissions cause they’re expensive and they’re time consuming, and Chris Mitchell’s effectively said the same thing.  But, do you think it warrants a Royal Commission into what went on with this, but more importantly, Victoria Police's role given that charges were laid, or an investigation was opened I should say, before any complainant had ever come forward?

 

Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells:

Well, I’ve seen those reports and Chris Mitchell certainly makes a strong case and a very valid case for a Royal Commission.  Now we have to make clear here that this, any Royal Commission would go beyond what happened to Cardinal Pell, troubling as that was.  We’ve recently had the Lawyer X inquiry, the inquiry into hotel quarantine which were aimed at looking into the Victorian Police and government, and in the case of Lawyer X in particular, how this affects judicial processes.  Now, the police, the government and the courts are supposed to provide checks and balances on each other, but I think that there are legitimate questions being raised that are unanswered about the transparency and accountability of these institutions and I think that the Pell case would put all of these under the spotlight.  Now the people in Victoria have a right to feel that they can trust those in authority and I think a Royal Commission would put that to the test.

 

Stephen Cenatiempo:

Well said.  Connie, great to speak to you.  Thank you for making yourself available.

 

Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells:

Have a good Christmas!  

 

Stephen Cenatiempo:

Yeh, you too!

 

Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells:

Have a good Christmas!  I’m hunkered down here on the Northern Beaches.

 

Stephen Cenatiempo:

Yes, hopefully you’ll be allowed out from home arrest soon.  Good to talk to you again.

 

[ends]