Tuesday, 12 December 2017  
How many of the 1500 asylum seeker lives lost at sea since 2001 could have been saved?
Zahra (6), Fatima (7) and Eman (9) - the daughters of Sondos Ismail and Ahmed Alzalimi -  three of the 146 children who lost their lives when the vessel that has become known as SIEVX foundered in international waters en route to Christmas Island on 19 October 2001.
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MEDIA

GOVERNMENT
Sunday On SIEVX

1 October 2002

Sunday, the most respected public affairs program on Australian commercial television, has been conducting a long-running investigation into the activities of the Federal Police and its informant Kevin Enniss. Last weekend, following Senator Faulkner's explosive speeches to the Senate and the AFP response, Sunday went to air with an overview of where their investigations currently stand:

[Listen to the sound file]

ROSS COULTHART: We were here [in Indonesia] only a few days after 353 people had drowned in the sea between Australia and Indonesia on a boat now known as the SIEVX.

This survivor told us how he had lost his wife and cousin on that voyage. He'd kept his daughter alive in the open sea by sitting her on his shoulders. But he claimed he'd try again.

SADIQ RAZA: I don't want to go by the ship again but if the UNHCR does not pay attention and do not reply to my application I'd do it again because even if I sank again I would do it again.

ROSS COULTHART: As the Government was quick to point out this week no more people-smuggling boats have made it to Australia since then.

SENATOR ELLISON: And that has been because of our strategies which have largely involved co-operation with the Indonesian police.

ROSS COULTHART: But was it at a cost? This week the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator John Faulkner dramatically stated the concerns he now clearly holds after many months of questioning Government officials about Australia's covert people-smuggling program inside Indonesia.

SENATOR FAULKNER: How far has it gone? What activities are acceptable; what are not? Who carries them out? Who pays for them? What accountability and control mechanisms are in place? Who authorises these activities? What is the effect of these activities? What, if any, consideration was given to questions to the safety of lives at sea?

ROSS COULTHART: Senator Faulkner, one of the Opposition's most experienced and respected Shadow Ministers raised the politically explosive question - 'Was the SIEVX in any way targetted by the government's disruption activities?'

SENATOR FAULKNER:I intend to keep asking questions until I find out. And, Mr Acting Deputy President, I intend to keep pressing for an independent judicial inquiry into these very serious matters. At no stage do I want to break, nor will I break, the protocols in relation to operational matters involving ASIS or the AFP. But, But, those protocols were not meant as a direct or an indirect licence to kill.

ROSS COULTHART: Details of Australia's covert disruption program in Indonesia only came to light after Sunday's investigation into this Australian man, Kevin John Enniss.

KEVIN ENNISS: I've been working with the Australian Federal Police

ROSS COULTHART: Indonesian locals had told us Enniss was a people-smuggler in Kupang, taking money off refugees promising to get them to Australia. But Enniss revealed he was working as an informant for Australia.

Do you think you could put us on to people in Federal Police in Australia who can confirm your story?

KEVIN ENNISS: Yes, I am sure. Not in Australia, in Jakarta. In the ... to the Federal Police from Australian embassy.

ROSS COULTHART: Do they know that you're actively involved in people smuggling operations?

KEVIN ENNISS: Yes, yes, yes. They know. You can't go on air with it. We can confirm it so that you're satisfied. OK.

ROSS COULTHART: Late last month the Federal Police released a summary of their investigation into our story on Mr Enniss' activities. They dismissed our concerns about his people-smuggling activities, claiming Sunday's evidence was consistent with his role as an informant. But as we reported, the AFP's investigation has serious shortcomings. It fails to deal with the possibly criminal implications of Enniss' involvement in people-smuggling, a view backed by one of Australia's criminal law experts.

FINDLAY: Enniss carried out his activities with the knowledge of the AFP and perhaps some limited authority. He misrepresented himself and took money as a consequence. All of those issues tend to make me believe that offences were committed under Commonwealth law.

ROSS COULTHART: If the Federal Police knew that, for the period of time that he was working for them, and did nothing to stop it, did the Federal Police commit an offence?

FINDLAY: Again, I'd say that depends on the way in which we look at their involvement. But if we were to speculate that they did nothing to restrict Enniss, that they supplied Enniss with money and some support, that they allowed Enniss to generate relationships with the Indonesian Police, then there's an argument to say that they were criminally involved.

ROSS COULTHART: As we reported earlier this month, there was another far more disturbing admission made by Enniss when we confronted him last year. Enniss boasted to myself and two other colleagues that he paid Indonesian locals on four or five occasions to scuttle people-smuggling boats with passengers on them.

SENATOR FAULKNER:I ask these questions:

* Was Enniss involved in the sabotage of vessels? Were others involved in the sabotage of vessels?
* Do Australian ministers, officials or agencies have knowledge of such activities?

ROSS COULTHART: Senator Faulkner raised a number of intriguingly specific questions:

SENATOR FAULKNER:I note that on 13 June 2001 the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Phillip Ruddock, travelled to Jakarta. He had meetings with the Australian ambassador, Ric Smith, and the interagency people-smuggling group. He also met with the Indonesian Minister of Justice and Human Rights and the Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs. Mr Ruddock should now confirm whether he raised certain disruption activities during meetings at the embassy either in June last year or his visit in September...

In October 2001 the high level PM&C People Smuggling Task Force notes indicate that disruption activities were discussed on a number of occasions including a direction that disruption be 'beefed up'... What was the task force asking agencies to do when they referred to it being 'beefed up'?

ROSS COULTHART: What no-one in the government tried to deny this week was the possibility that someone in Indonesia did sink boats in an over-zealous pursuit of Australia's disruption policy.

DOWNER: There has never been any Government policy to sabotage boats and endanger lives, that has never been the policy of this Government, and of course we wouldn't. . .

CATHERINE MCGRATH: That's not the question though, did it happen? It may not have been Government policy, but did, were people asked to do it, were Indonesian police?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: The Australian Government certainly did not sabotage any boats. Did anyone ever sabotage a boat, I've no idea.

ROSS COULTHART: But as we reported earlier this month, recent history records that sabotage has been used before by some Government officers to stop asylum-seeker boats getting to Australia.

In this 1992 documentary, a former Australian Immigration Officer admitted sinking vessels during disruption activities in the 1970s. Vessels carrying Vietnamese boat-people were deliberately just off the Malaysian coast to stop them continuing to Australia.

GREG HUMPHRIES - FORMER IMMIGRATION OFFICER: We bored holes in the bottom of the ships and the boats and they sunk overnight. So they had to be landed. We were successful in stopping a lot of boats - by one way or another.

SENATOR ELLISON: And yesterday we had the outrageous allegation by Senator Faulkner that in some way Australian authorities were involved in endangering life.

ROSS COULTHART: A subsequent Federal Police media release asserted Enniss' denial that he was involved in sabotaging vessels. But the statement did not say if Enniss had admitted telling Sunday about his role in sabotage.

SENATOR FAULKNER: It is not enough to say, as Senator Ellison and Mr Downer have said publicly today, that it has never been the policy of the Australian government to sabotage people-smuggling vessels. It is not enough to say that the Australian government has never sabotaged vessels or directed that they be sabotaged. That's just huff and puff, the usual huff and puff, denounce the opposition, criticise us for daring to ask what they describe as 'outrageous questions'. I say asking these sorts of questions and demanding answers is the responsibility of the opposition.

ROSS COULTHART: Enniss insisted to us last year that no lives were lost on boats he arranged to be scuttled. But the former Minister for Defence and Immigration, Labor Senator, Robert Ray raised this concern:

SENATOR RAY: The big what if is that, if you have sabotaged a boat and it does get 60 or 70 miles out into rough seas, well it may well go to the bottom with major loss of life.

ROSS COULTHART: Senator Ray also made some savage criticisms of the evidence given by Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty in several Parliamentary hearings:

SENATOR RAY: I've read the tirade from the commissioner of police, who cannot understand the subtlety of what Senator Faulkner said in the last three speeches; he just completely misinterpreted it for his own purposes. If ever I have seen an evasive witness, it was him at the estimates and at the certain maritime incident inquiry.

Why doesn't he front up and give straightforward evidence? Why have all these officials got such selective memories or a lack of intellectual rigour that would force them to go and probe certain issues that they should be pursuing if they hold responsible jobs? I cannot understand that... We are not saying that the government is involved in a policy that says go out and sink boats, but if you have been funding some lousy stinking people smuggler to the tune of 25 grand I would want to know what he was doing. And this government should want to know but they don't want to know. They don't want to investigate this.

JIM WALEY: Ross Coulthart reporting there and the Federal Police are still refusing to answer the 37 questions we've put to them on this issue or even to provide us with a copy of their investigation into our original report. Quite remarkable.

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