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. 
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.'
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.'
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
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. 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
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'.
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.'
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.
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