16 October 2006

Siev X conspiracy theorists have no new cause to complain about their planned Canberra memorial being blocked

THE fifth anniversary of the Siev X disaster merits remembrance and our fervent hope that we will not see its like again. But a brawl over an informal memorial on Canberra's lakeside does no honour to the memories of the disaster's victims. Siev X -- the ugly acronym stands for suspected illegal entry vessel -- was an overcrowded fishing boat under orders from criminals to bring people to Australia, which went down in the open ocean on October 19, 2001, drowning 353 people in the process. It was an appalling disaster, and the fate of the victims should be above politics.

But rather than allow the few who survived the Siev sinking, and the many who lost loved ones, to grieve in private, obsessives and opportunists look to Siev X for evidence in support of their own arguments about asylum-seekers. There are those who see Siev X as demonstrating the immorality of the Howard government policy of stopping the boats before they reached Australian shores. And conspiracy theories, that the Government, even the navy, somehow left Siev X to its fate, still fester. Now people are applying the same mindset to the refusal of planning authorities in Canberra to allow an exhibition of 353 stakes, one for every life lost, on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin.

Instead of bureaucratic buckpassing or more likely a simple application of the rules that require 10 years to pass before an event may be memorialised, we now hear the Howard Government stopped the exhibition. Why the Government would do this is not coherently explained, putting the accusation on a par with claims that the Australian Defence Force was somehow to blame for the Siev X drownings. Nor do the conspiracy theorists ever seem to consider that the Government's tough border protection policy most likely saved lives by stopping people-smugglers sending more leaky boats on to the ocean. But none of this matters to the people who see a plot in Canberra to eradicate the memory of Siev X. For conspiracy mongers, the dots always join up.

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