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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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MEDIA

GOVERNMENT
Senate Renews Its Call For
A Judicial Inquiry Into SIEVX

by Marg Hutton
18 October 2003

Democrats Leader Senator Andrew Bartlett and Leader of the Greens, Senator Bob Brown turned up the heat on the Howard Government with the passage through the Senate of two new motions related to SIEVX on the eve of the second anniversary of the SIEVX tragedy. This makes a total of four Senate motions concerning SIEVX that have now been passed during the last twelve months.

The significance of these resolutions is clear when they are viewed in the light of their history.

It is now almost a year since the Report of the Select Committee on A Certain Maritime Incident (CMI) was tabled in Parliament on 23 October 2002. The first recommendation of that report called for 'a full independent inquiry' into the People Smuggling 'disruption activity' of refugee vessels prior to their departure from Indonesia - by implication this included SIEVX under its umbrella. [1]

In early December 2002, two months after the publication of this Report, the first SIEVX related motion calling for a judicial inquiry was passed by the Senate. This resolution expressed 'serious concern at the apparent inconsistencies in evidence provided to the [CMI] committee and estimates committees by Commonwealth agencies in relation to the People Smuggling Disruption Program and in relation to Suspected Illegal Entry Vessels (SIEVs), including the boat known as SIEV X' and called on the government to 'immediately establish a comprehensive, independent judicial inquiry into all aspects of the People Smuggling Disruption Program operated by the Commonwealth Government and agencies from 2000 to date, including... the circumstances and outcomes of all departures from Indonesia of all boats carrying asylum-seekers, including the circumstances of the sinking of SIEV X.'[2]

The following day, a second SIEVX related motion was passed addressing the issue of the impending release from prison of people smuggler and alleged organiser of the SIEVX voyage Abu Quassey. Quassey had been serving a brief term in Jakarta's Cipinang prison for passport related offences and was due to be released on New Year's Day. This second Senate motion called on the governments of Australia and Indonesia 'to undertake all actions necessary prior to 1 January 2003 to ensure that Abu Quessai [was] immediately brought to justice.' [3]

Two months after the passage of these motions, the Government had made no response. SIEVX was once again in the news when the infamous DFAT cable was finally released to the Senate nearly seven months after the CMI Committee had asked Jane Halton, the former head of the Prime Minister's People Smuggling Taskforce, to provide it on notice.

The appearance of this cable so long after the Committee had finished its work, coupled with the new information it contained, caused the Chair of the CMI Committee Senator Cook to boldly speak out in Parliament in February regarding perceived contradictions in the evidence provided to the Committee.[4] During this speech Cook referred to a letter that had been received by the Deputy President of the Senate, John Hogg from Peter Slipper, Acting Parliamentary Secretary to the PM, responding to the first Senate motion in December calling for a judicial inquiry. In this letter Slipper stated:

'The Prime Minister has asked the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to examine the recommendations made by the Senate Committee and to coordinate for the government's consideration a whole of government response in consultation with all relevant departments and agencies.'[5]

Fast forward to October this year and we find that the Senate is still waiting on the Government to formally respond to the Recommendations made in the CMI Report and the two Senate motions concerning SIEVX. And Abu Quassey has been extradited to Egypt from Indonesia and appears to be out of reach of Australian authorities.

The Senate's displeasure at the government's lack of response to these matters is apparent in the wording of the two new motions passed this week.

The Greens' motion, which was passed on Wednesday, refers to the 'Government's failure to respond to the two Senate orders of 10 December and 11 December 2002 concerning the People Smuggling Disruption Program and the ineffectual pursuit by Australian justice authorities of the alleged people smuggler Abu Quassey' and goes on to demand that the list of the names of the dead who drowned on SIEVX - which the AFP have admitted to having in their possession but which they have repeatedly refused to make public - be released immediately, along with the identity of the source who provided it. This motion also corrected a major inaccuracy in the CMI Report concerning the sinking position of SIEVX. Where the CMI Report was equivocal in regard to where the vessel sank, this new motion - passed by Labor, Democrats, Greens and Independent Senators - makes it clear that the Senate is now firmly of the view that SIEVX sank 'in international waters that were being closely monitored by Australian air and naval forces'.[6]

The Democrats' motion which was passed by the Senate on Thursday criticised the government for not 'responding to the report of the Select Committee on a Certain Maritime Incident, which included an examination of the SIEV X sinking' and renewed the call for a 'comprehensive, independent judicial inquiry into all aspects of the People Smuggling Disruption Program operated by the Commonwealth Government and agencies from 2000 to date, including Suspected Illegal Entry Vessels, and in particular the boat known as SIEV X.'[7]

Bartlett's motion added an important new dimension to the Senate work on SIEVX - it enabled the Senate to show its humanity by expressing 'regret and sympathy' for the huge loss of 'innocent lives' and also called on the Immigration Minister to grant permanent visas on humanitarian grounds to those TPV holders who lost family members on SIEVX.

Thanks to the tenacity and courage of Senators Bartlett, Brown, Collins, Cook and Faulkner, we now have four strong pillars on which to continue to campaign around SIEVX. Continued pressure needs to be put on the Howard government to respond to the first recommendation of the CMI Report and the Senate motions. Nothing less than a full powers independent judicial inquiry can bring justice and accountability in this matter.

NOTES

1. Executive Summary, CMI Report, p.xx
2. Senate Motion - Immigration: People Smuggling, 10 December 2002
3. Senate Motion - Immigration: People Smuggling, 11 December 2002
4. Senator Cook, Senate Hansard, 5 February 2003, pp. 8585-7
5. Peter Slipper to Senator John Hogg, 23 December 2002
6. Senate Motion - Immigration: People Smuggling, 15 October 2003
7. Senate Motion - Immigration: SIEVX, Senate Hansard, 16 October 2003, pp. 16276-7


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