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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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Onus of Responsibility Laid On Senators

23 October 2002 (updated 4pm) ~ Select Committee Report now online ~ Odgers Report

Following the very successful weekend commemorative events around Australia, Tony Kevin has this week been intensively lobbying all Senators in the run-up to the tabling in the Senate of the Select Committee Report ( expected around 3.30 p.m. today, 23 October - the anniversary of the day the sinking of SIEVX became public news).

On Monday 21 October, Tony emailed a two-page personal message to every Senator by name, the text of which we now publish on the website. Tony believes that the Senate carries very important responsibilities as an Upper House for review and scrutiny of government administration, and that these responsibilities devolve on every Senator regardless of party affiliation. Senators, more so than anyone else in Australia apart from the judiciary, should be able to make recommendations to the Executive arm of government on a basis of their conscience and the free exercise of their individual judgement under Australia's laws.

Tony's purpose in this message was to offer each Senator a concise and neutrally worded resume of the main reasons why we are calling for the SIEVX issue to be referred to a full powers judicial enquiry, so that each Senator would have a better informed basis for a personal decision, should the matter come to a vote in the Senate. Tony urged Senators of all parties and independents to support reference of the SIEVX matter to a judicial inquiry.

On 22 and 23 October, Tony sent follow-up messages to the four Senate Party Leaders ( Senators Hill, Faulkner, Bartlett and Brown) and to leading independent Senators Harradine and Lees, recalling the events of a year ago on each day, and asking them to consider cooperating in supporting an appropriate resolution after the Report is tabled.

We won't know until at least later today whether these lobbying efforts bear any fruit; but at least it will be known that each Senate party leader and each individual Senator was reminded of their personal responsibilities to press for proper accountability in accordance with Australia's laws in the grave matter of 353 deaths of innocent people on Australia's watch.

Many concerned people have made individual or collective representations to Senators and Members of the House of Representatives in the lead-up to today's tabling of the report. We are sure that every such representation has helped register the importance of the issue for the bereaved, for the survivors, and for our country.

Tony's letter of 21 October began:

Dear Senator....

I am sending this urgent personal message today, Monday 21 October, to all Senators of all parties.

It concerns the Senate's forthcoming consideration (anticipated for Wednesday 23 October) of the report of the Select Committee into a Certain Maritime Incident, which will report to the full Senate its findings on the SIEVX issue.

It is already clear from the exchanges in the Senate Chamber on 23-26 September, even without following in detail (as I have) the proceedings of the Select Committee, that there are serious questions about possible Australian government agency "arms-length" culpability in the events leading to the deaths of 353 asylum-seekers on board the boat that later became known as SIEVX. This grossly overloaded boat sank on 19 October 2001, in the Australian border protection surveillance zone, and in international waters, 60 nautical miles south of the Sunda Strait (Source: Australian intelligence reporting, 23 October 2001).

The questions of possible "arms-length" culpability go to both phases of the Australian Government's whole-of-government operations at that time, aimed at denying entry by boat of asylum-seekers:

1. The admitted working associations of the Australian Government's people smuggling disruption program in Indonesia, aimed at stopping boats leaving Indonesia. This clandestine program was being conducted in Indonesia by the Australian Federal Police, DIMIA, DFAT and possibly other agencies under Ministerial direction. It involved working associations with criminal elements, and with uncontrollable units of the Indonesian police, both of which had a record of active entrapment of asylum-seekers in phoney voyages and active sabotage of asylum-seeker boats. (Sources: Committee testimony by AFP Commissioner Keelty, and DIMIA and DFAT witnesses; AFP media releases of 24 August 2002; four Channel Nine "Sunday" programs by Ross Coulthart on Australian people smuggler and AFP informant in Indonesia, Kevin Enniss).

2.The admitted failure of the Australian Defence Force border protection authority, Operation Relex's Northern Command, to order an effective safety of life at sea aerial search for SIEVX, despite known intelligence of an overloaded boat, that presented risks to life, entering or expected to enter the Australian border protection air surveillance zone. (Sources: Committee testimony by Bonser, Davidson, Gallagher, Byrne, Smith, Ritchie, Halton, and others, and written documents submitted by Department of Defence).

Additionally, there is a disturbing record since April 2002 of repeated obfuscation by Ministers and senior civil and ADF officials, misleading testimony, and refusals to provide essential information to the Committee, on a whole range of relevant matters including:

  • where this boat sank;
  • where the boat embarked from, and when it embarked;
  • what reports were available in Canberra about the boat;
  • when these were received, and what was in them;
  • what action was taken.

Getting at the full truth on these matters has been impossible for Senators on the Select Committee. There remain very important gaps of essential information. As such, no conclusion - neither of vindication nor of culpability in the above matters - could properly be drawn at this time on the very grave questions raised above.

I now make this serious appeal to all Senators ....[For full text, click here]

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