Keelty seeks immunity from boat questions ~ Kirsten Lawson
Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty is attempting to claim "public-interest immunity" to avoid revealing whether police used tracking devices to trace asylum-seeker boats heading from Indonesia.
Mr Keelty also revealed at Senate estimates hearings that police would not be prosecuting people smuggler Abu Qussey on homicide charges, as hoped, after 353 asylum-seekers drowned on one of his boats last year.
The Labor Party claims to have information about tracking and possibly listening devices, installed on boats either preparing to leave Indonesia or after they had been intercepted by the naval blockade to Australia's north.
The question has implications for the ill-fated SIEV X boat that sunk en route to Christmas Island in October last year.
Australian authorities have admitted knowing at the time about the boat's probable departure but have denied any definitive knowledge about where it sank and failed to spot the boat during twice-daily reconnaissance flights.
They have also admitted involvement in "disruption" activities to upset the activities of people smugglers in Indonesia and attempts to stop people leaving, but have not given detail.
Senator John Faulkner tackled Mr Keelty on the use of tracking devices at Senate estimates hearings on Wednesday night - but got no answers.
Mr Keelty said police would not have used listening devices, because that would have been illegal, but he would need to check with officers now in Indonesia on the Bali investigation on whether tracking devices had been used.
Justice Minister Chris Ellison cut off further questions - not even allowing Mr Keelty to say whether he was personally aware of such devices having been used.
Senator Ellison deflected repeated questions from Senator Faulkner, saying it was a matter of "some detail and sensitivity" and Mr Keelty was entitled to take the question on notice.
Yesterday, Mr Keelty wrote to the Senate committee saying the answer "may disclose lawful methods for detecting, investigating or dealing with matters arising out of breaches of the law" and disclosure could "prejudice the effectiveness of those methods". I propose recommending to the Minister [Senator Ellison] that he make a claim of public-interest immunity in relation to information sought by these questions," he wrote.
In July, Mr Keelty told a Senate inquiry the police had "no way of surveilling SIEV X" nor receiving a distress call, and relied basically on word of mouth for information.
Senator Ellison refused to comment yesterday. On Wednesday night, he told the committee he was not aware "off-hand" of being told about tracking or listening devices but would need to check.
"Many things come across your desk, some of which you take notice of and some of which you do not," he said.
Mr Keelty also told the committee that homicide charges would not be brought against Abu Qussey over the SIEV X deaths after legal advice indicated police would be unable to prove the jurisdiction in which the sinking took place. But they were preparing a brief of evidence on people-smuggling charges. That was on top of three arrest warrants issued against him for allegedly trying to smuggle 440 asylum-seekers on three other boats.