This boat is not SIEVX.
SIEVX was smaller & carried nearly 200 more passengers.
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The DFAT Cable - Senator Cook Speaks Out!
by Marg Hutton
6 February 2003
As reported by us on Tuesday, crucial new evidence appeared this
week regarding SIEVX - the DFAT cable of 23 October 2001 from the Australian Embassy in
Jakarta to an extensive high level distribution list including
the Prime Minister, detailing the sinking of the vessel we have
come to know as 'SIEVX'.
Yesterday Senator Peter Cook took the opportunity to speak out
about the significance of this document (click here for the
complete text of his speech).
Can anyone seriously believe that the late emergence of this
cable - more than three months after the CMI Committee tabled
its report and almost seven months after it was initially
requested by the Committee - is due to an oversight?
Let's look at the history.
On the last day of hearing, 30 July last year, Jane Halton, the
former head of the Prime Minister's People Smuggling Taskforce,
appeared for the second time to give evidence before the CMI
Committee and was questioned intensively about SIEVX.
During the course of her testimony Senator Faulkner asked Ms
Halton about how she first became aware of the sinking of SIEVX.
'I received a phone call from Shane Castles at 2 a.m. It woke me
up. I missed the call, went out and looked to see who it was and
returned his call. He told me the barest bones-that he understood
there was a report but that a cable would be coming later in the
day that a vessel had sunk. That was it.' (CMI 2125
This was the first time that the Committee had heard of the
existence of this cable. The Labor Senators then spent much
time vigorously questioning Ms Halton on its contents as she informed them that it was the primary source for the People Smuggling Taskforce minute of 23 October which stated that SIEVX was 'likely to have been in international waters south of Java' when it foundered and sank. (CMI
Senator Collins asked Halton 'on notice' to ensure that a
declassified copy of this cable be made available to the
Committee (CMI 2131).
Two weeks later Halton wrote to the Committee saying that 'PM &
C is considering this request in conjunction with DFAT'.
In the same document she also included the following remarkable
'Question: Which agencies provided the information that SIEV X
sank in Indonesian waters?
Answer: As I indicated in providing evidence on 30 July 2002,
this information can only be provided by the author of the brief
who is currently overseas on long term leave. PM&C has attempted
unsuccessfully to contact the officer who prepared the brief and
therefore I am unable to provide any further information.'
(Answers to Questions on Notice 15 August 2002)
When the CMI Report was tabled ten weeks later on 23 October the
cable had still not appeared. Apparently the government was
hoping that the Report would be published and the cable
However, this missing item of key evidence had not escaped
the eye of Senator Faulkner. In Senate Finance and Public
Administration Estimates Committee on 20 November last year,
Faulkner asked Andrew Metcalfe from PM&C about the DFAT cable:
'There is one issue I would like taken on notice, if you would
not mind, Mr Metcalfe. I will not go into detail. There was one
outstanding issue from the Select Committee on a Certain Maritime
Incident to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. It
relates to a DFAT cable on SIEVX. I wonder whether - without
going into any detail, given that that committee no longer exists
- that could be taken on notice at this committee and provided
when you are able to?' (F&PA 187-188)
Six weeks later, on 4 February, long after the CMI Committee had
completed its work, this document was finally
provided to the Senate [p1, p2, p3, p4].
There can be little doubt that the reason it has taken so long
for this very important document to be produced is
because it contains information that the government did not want
known - that SIEVX sank in international waters inside
Australia's Operation Relex surveillance zone and not in
'Indonesian waters' as repeatedly claimed by the PM during the
2001 Federal election campaign.
If the DFAT cable had been tabled at the CMI Committee when
requested, the Report's finding regarding the sinking position
would undoubtedly have been much stronger. Instead of
equivocating over where SIEVX sank (para 8.5) the Committee would more than
likely have decided on balance that the boat sank in international
waters inside the Operation Relex zone.
Yesterday, the Chair of the CMI Committee, Senator Cook, in a
strong statement to the Senate regarding the importance of this
new evidence indicated that he was now convinced that SIEVX had
sunk in 'international waters':
'The declassified DFAT cable has now been provided to us. The
date on this DFAT cable, which is quite significant, is 23
October 2001. I refer to that date because the certain maritime
incident inquiry occurred over the major part of last year. In
other words, this DFAT cable had been circulated in October of
the year before, and some six or so months before the certain
maritime incident inquiry convened to probe the issues that this
cable has as its subject matter.
The next significant thing about this cable that I wish to draw
the Senate's attention to is the distribution list of this cable.
This is a DFAT cable, but the distribution list is quite
extensive. For action, it went to Dr Calvert at DFAT, to Dr
Hawke, the secretary of Defence, to Admiral Barrie, the commander
of the defence forces, to Mr Farmer at DIMIA, and to Mr Max
Moore-Wilton in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
It also went to the Prime Minister and all the relevant
ministers, including the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the
minister for immigration. It also went to the Commissioner of the
Australian Federal Police, Mr Mick Keelty. There is quite an
extensive distribution list for this cable.
What I think is more important than all of that is what this
cable says, because we may now be in a situation in which this
cable, which was before all of those officers who appeared before
our inquiry before they fronted to give evidence-and they gave
evidence to our inquiry after swearing an oath before the inquiry
to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing else but the
truth-reveals information which is not entirely consistent with
the evidence that was given by some public servants and with the
evidence that was adduced by the inquiry. Specifically, the point
of concern was: where was SIEVX when it sank? The Prime Minister
said that SIEVX was in Indonesian territorial waters. The
evidence by some, and I suspect by all-but until I can
exhaustively pursue it I cannot make that statement
categorically-is that SIEVX is believed to have been sunk in
Indonesian territorial waters. [emphasis added]
This declassified cable, dated October the year before that
evidence was adduced by us, says, in the start of the summary:
THE SIEV referring to SIEVX IS BELIEVED TO HAVE FOUNDERED IN
ROUGH SEAS TO THE SOUTH OF SUNDA ST WITHIN THE INDONESIAN
MARITIME SEARCH AND RESCUE AREA OF RESPONSIBILITY.
That is not Indonesian territorial waters. Indonesian territorial
waters are close to the borders of Indonesia. The Indonesian
maritime search and rescue area of responsibility extends deep
into the Timor Sea and abuts Australia. It covers what would, in
layman's terms, be called international waters. A key issue in
our inquiry was to try and establish what Australia knew about
where SIEVX went down. The consistent refrain to that question
was, `In Indonesian territorial waters'. We now know that it went
down in international waters.
This is a significant piece [of] information because it goes to
whether Australian search and rescue capability could have
intruded into the area concerned to rescue people who were on
that ill-fated ship. I remind the Senate that some 353 men, women
and children drowned as result of this vessel sinking. Obviously,
we are not competent to intrude into Indonesian territorial
waters, but, obviously, given the deployment of vessels for
border protection purposes, we are competent to rescue people
from the ocean and are bound to rescue people from the ocean in
international waters under the protocols of the International
Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea.' [emphasis added]