Source of false Siev X brief a mystery
By John Kerin & Patrick Walters
31 July 2002
THE former head of the federal Government's people- smuggling taskforce does not know where John Howard received an incorrect briefing that the asylum-seeker boat Siev X had sunk in Indonesian waters.
In the final day of evidence to the children overboard inquiry, Jane Halton said the information did not come from the people-smuggling taskforce, but could have come from another government agency. In the heat of the election campaign, Mr Howard used the information to political advantage, accusing then Opposition leader Kim Beazley of 'despicable' behaviour after he suggested the Government's inaction could have been responsible for the deaths of 353 people, comments Mr Beazley later withdrew.
The error was never corrected during the campaign.
But minutes of a taskforce meeting held on October 22, released in June, showed it was 'likely' the Siev X had sunk in international waters.
The Government says now it does not know where the boat sank.
Questioned about a separate asylum boat, Ms Halton stood by her recollection that reports children had been thrown overboard were not contradicted by two other key members of the taskforce at a crucial meeting on October 7 last year. Her evidence was at odds with Katrina Edwards, a former first assistant secretary in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and Group Captain Steve Walker, director of joint operations strategic command.
Ms Halton's recollection also differed from that of Air Vice-Marshal Alan Titheridge, who said he had not seen a final document prepared by the taskforce. But Ms Halton suggested the meeting had been attended by Air Vice-Marshal Titheridge and that the entire group had edited it 'line by line'. New defence force chief General Peter Cosgrove said yesterday that the defence establishment had moved to overhaul its internal communications in the wake of the children overboard affair. 'But it seems to me that nobody appears to have flagrantly lied,' General Cosgrove told the National Press Club.