FOREIGN Affairs Minister Bob Carr has defended the handling of the Israeli spy affair, insisting the government sought assurances from Israel about Melbourne man Ben Zygier's welfare when it learned of his jailing.
Senator Carr yesterday told a parliamentary committee that neither the dual Australian-Israeli citizen nor his family sought consular assistance after his jailing in Tel Aviv in early 2010.
But Foreign Affairs Department officials could not say whether the then foreign affairs minister, Stephen Smith, was briefed about the case, triggering questions from the Greens and Coalition about whether proper support was provided.
At the time, Zygier, 34, who died in his cell later that year in a claimed suicide, was known as "Prisoner X", his identity an Israeli state secret and the censorship believed to related to a treason charge.
Senator Carr yesterday said his department was advised that Zygier had been detained "in relation to serious offences under Israeli national security legislation" and he would be treated in line with his rights as an Israeli citizen.
"The Australian government specifically sought assurances from Israel that, one, the individual's legal rights would be respected; two, he had legal representation of his own choosing; and three, the individual's family members had been notified of his arrest and detention; and four, he was not being mistreated," Senator Carr said.
His comments came as Israel confirmed that it had held a foreigner with dual citizenship under a false name for security reasons while its media reported the reason was for treason.
After earlier attempts to censor this week's developments, the story was yesterday splashed across the front page of Israeli papers.
Liberal Senator Helen Kroger said it was extraordinary no one knew who was across the matter in 2010, or even if there had been a record.
"It is a disgrace that no one from the Prime Minister down can shed any light on the tragic death of an Australian citizen abroad," she said.
Greens Leader Christine Milne said it appeared the Australian Embassy in Tel Aviv had been sidelined to provide consular support while intelligence agencies ran the government's response.
"Why did the Australian Government hand over the welfare of one of our citizens to the spooks?" she said.
The department has provided an interim report to Senator Carr but he has requested a full review.