Ross Coulthart & Tony Kevin
Late Night Live
2 September 2002
Phillip Adams: Over many months Gladdies, senior Government officials as well as Navy and Federal Police chiefs have been grilled over the sequence of events in the Children Overboard Incident - a Certain Maritime Incident - and the disappearance of SIEVX, the grossly overcrowded boat that fell apart and sank en route to Australia last October with the loss of around 350 asylum seeker lives. Throughout, small details have emerged of the People Smuggling Disruption Program, a joint effort by the Australian Federal Police and the Indonesian Police to stop boats from leaving Indonesia and perhaps if they leave from getting very far on their travels.
Well the Federal Police is now facing very serious questions about the legality of its disruption operations in Indonesia, questions that require a separate Judicial Inquiry according to Labor's Senate Leader, John Faulkner. It's interesting to see Faulkner up and running on the issue again - he's gone strangely quiet lately.
The latest developments centre on the actions of an AFP informant - Kevin John Enniss - who's accused of taking sums of money from asylum seekers before handing them over to Indonesian authorities. Enniss also says he helped sabotage boats bound for Australia. To discuss this we have in the Sydney studio, Ross Coulthart. Ross is an investigative reporter with the admirable SUNDAY program on Channel 9 and Ross is the journalist who tracked down Kevin John Enniss in Indonesia and his reports on the SUNDAY program have done the most to expose the role of the AFP people smuggling disruption activities.
In our Melbourne studio is Tony Kevin who Gladdies will be familiar from previous discussions with in this program. Tony is a former diplomat, currently visiting fellow at the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies at the ANU. For some time now - and you may have heard him first on this program - Tony Kevin has been raising serious questions about the people smuggling program and in particular his suspicions about the circumstances in which the boat known as SIEVX sank en route to Australia last year. I welcome you both.
Ross, I have to ask you this - how come your program enjoys such extraordinary editorial latitude? Don't you ever get the phone call from above?
Ross Coulthart: I think we don't rate Phillip. I think management are supportive, they're terrific in fact I have to say. I can't fault it.
Phillip Adams: If any program in recent times is more likely to create rage in Canberra I would have thought this it.
Ross Coulthart: Look I agree with you. I've been waiting for the phone call but especially when we realised what we'd touched upon was clearly an intelligence operation which we do suspect involved ASIS at some stage - overseas spy service - but indeed all we've ever got is lies.
Phillip Adams: How might the Federal Police have acted illegally in trying to stop people smuggling cartels from sending boats to Australia Ross?
Ross Coulthart: Well this is interesting. This isn't an accusation Phillip, this is what the Federal Police admit. In their own press release in their own media statement last week they admitted that Kevin John Enniss took money from refugees posing as a people smuggler. Now our legal opinion is that is a fraudulent misrepresentation under our criminal law and he should be brought to justice for that. Other than that he was also involved actively in organising people smuggling. He took money from refugees. According to witnesses that we've spoken to he put people onto boats and set sail for Australia. Those are offences under our Migration Act.
Phillip Adams: Ross take us back to where you first met him because its a fascinating story. You were up in Timor, weren't you?
Ross Coulthart: We were in West Timor in a place called Kupang, doing a story on the Militia, who were at that time engaged in warfare with the Australian diggers on the other side of the border and a producer colleague of mine, Nick Farrow and I were in Kupang and we basically made friends with people who subsequently brought to our attention the fact that there was this odd Australian living in Kupang who was according to them involved in people smuggling and known to the police. One of the things that I don't think has come out yet about this bloke is that as soon as we heard that there was an Australian in this little town in West Timor involved in people smuggling the first thing we thought of was was this an intelligence operation, was this guy a front for Australian Federal Police or Intelligence? So what we did was we rang the Federal Police and other Ministers in the Federal Parliament and said 'Is this man working for you?' The Federal Police came back to us and categorically denied it.
Phillip Adams: OK, but mightn't he have just been doing his undercover job posing covertly as a people smuggler in order to be able to disrupt them?
Ross Coulthart: Well we now believe that he was actively involved in people smuggling for a deliberate covert disruption operation. And the Federal Police have not made any public comment on the strong suspicion that we have that it was a deliberate part of that disruption operation to take money off asylum seekers posing as a people smuggler in order to stop them from using that money with other people smugglers who were sailing for Australia.
Phillip Adams: Ross, when you first talked to the AFP about Enniss they said 'Nothing to do with us - the guy's a nutter'. At what time did they come a teeny bit clean?
Ross Coulthart: The only time they came clean about the formal informant relationship that Enniss had had with them was when they were finally asked about it under oath in the Parliament. They finally admitted that Kevin John Enniss was working for them when they were asked the question in the Parliament - 'Had he ever been an informant? Is he an informant?' - and then they had to answer the question honestly. Up until that point they'd lied to us. In an interview prior to the broadcast they admitted that he had worked for them but they categorically denied that they'd ever authorised him to involve himself in people smuggling or to take money.
Phillip Adams: Have you followed the money - do you know where it went?
Ross Coulthart: This is an interesting question. They claim that in the one money incident - because they've only investigated what we put to them in the program. We've stumbled across since other information which suggests that he was extensively involved in disruption. The Federal Police have admitted that he was responsible for stopping 451 people from coming to Australia, so if you add that up that's a lot of money. We know in the original story we talked about - I think there were eight people who complain in a written statement that we had a copy of, that they'd paid money to Enniss. The Federal Police claim the Indonesian Police have accounted for that money because it was spent on looking after those refugees.
Phillip Adams: Tony Kevin, let's bring you in here and I should remind the listener that this is LNL on Radio National, Radio Australia and the World Wide Web. Tony you've haunted the Senate Committee hearings, I think that they are very sorry that they ever let you in. What has actually been revealed in the hearings so far by the AFP?
Tony Kevin: As little as possible Phillip. There was remarkable testimony by Police Commissioner Keelty which has to be heard on the videotape to be fully appreciated but it was a dance of wits and not too much came out. But what it looks like is that we've got a very strong - from the point of view of not letting information out - triangular relationship and if your listeners can picture a triangle with the AFP at one apex, the Indonesian police at another and a group of people including Enniss - Keelty wouldn't tell us how many - at the third apex. You've got a relationship like this - First of all the AFP tasks the Indonesian Police to do people smuggling disruption and they in return but not in return for particular services rendered - Keelty was specific on this - give them things like trips to Bali for training conferences, new patrol boats, equipment and so on. So a strong sense of obligation is created without specific tasking. The AFP admitted they don't know how the Indonesian Government disrupts people smuggling, that's a key point.
Phillip Adams: Tony when you first contacted me on the SIEVX you were very concerned about the strange way that the boat had virtually disintegrated and you were suspicious there might have been sabotage. Do you still hold that suspicion and might it have been a part of the disruption program?
Tony Kevin: I no longer hold the suspicion Phillip, I'm convinced of it now. Unfortunately when you've got an admitted strong relationship with people like Enniss who are not only informants for AFP but also active people smuggling disrupters for Indonesian Police by methods such as sending people out on false voyages, sabotaging engines, sinking boats, one is really ninety per cent of the way to the SIEVX scenario. We also have a man - Abu Quassey - who is now facing charges, he may be sentenced later this week for passport offences, but who has admitted that he had accomplices in the preparation of the SIEVX boat and that the accomplices prepared the boat, that is to say might well have loosened the planks, sugared the engine and so on, organised the overloading of the boat under forced duress, and these are precisely the kinds of activities that Kevin Enniss was engaging in in cooperation with Indonesian Police.
Phillip Adams: Ross, did Enniss admit to you to have sabotaged boats?
Ross Coulthart: Yes he did and the reason we revealed this last weekend was because we expected and hoped that in their public statement the Federal Police would say if they had investigated this allegation and give us the result of the determinations of their investigation - they've just failed to address it. Enniss when we spoke to him last year boasted to us, thinking that he'd managed to persuade us that we weren't going to do the story because he was doing these great things working for Australia - he boasted to us about how he'd sunk boats, he'd hired people to sink boats on four or five occasions. He wasn't ashamed of it, he was proud of it. And the interesting thing about it...
Phillip Adams: Might people have not died on these boats?
Ross Coulthart: Well he when I challenged him on this - we baulked, we said 'You're kidding!' And he said 'Oh, but they were close to shore and the people all got back to land.' But the thing about it that I find ...
Phillip Adams: How very reassuring
Ross Coulthart: There's no response from Federal Police! I mean we can make an allegation like that and there is absolutely no response from the Federal Police that their informant has admitted to us that he sabotaged boats.
Phillip Adams: Ross, in an earlier incarnation in your career you did a story on ASIO...
Ross Coulthart: ASIS - overseas spy service - for Four Corners
Phillip Adams: When you were doing that story did you find that you were lied to in response to specific questions or is this a new experience?
Ross Coulthart: Look I have to stay that in our dealings with government on the ASIS story they were pretty straight with us. What was interesting was that after the ASIS story went to air where we'd talked about various operations on the Four Corners programs that ASIS and the Foreign Minister of the day, Gareth Evans said jeopardised ongoing operations, we were asked by the Government in a formal letter to David Hill the then boss of the ABC to go to Government in the future if there were ever any Intelligence related operational issues...
Phillip Adams: Just in case you were blowing it for somebody...
Ross Coulthart: Exactly and we understand that and we respect that as media. In this case, I rang. As soon as Enniss told us or claimed to us that he was working for Australia we went to Government and rang several Government Ministers in their departments and I think this is the fundamental issue that distinguishes this from every other story I've worked on that relates to Intelligence. I've dealt with the Defence Signals Directorate on their most secret spying system and negotiated with them about what we could and couldn't say. In this case they chose to lie. Why did they lie?
Phillip Adams: Why did they lie Mr Kevin?
Tony Kevin: I've got a theory here that will probably get me into a lot of trouble but I'll say it anyway. In the months leading up to the alleged retirement of Enniss which was September last year, Australian Ministers were constantly warning through public releases and statements - 'People smugglers are dangerous people, they take money from asylum seekers, they risk their lives in leaky boats, they are people not to be trusted'. What Enniss was doing was providing an object lesson of those homilies. He was taking money from people not just to line his own pocket. He was taking money from people and cheating them precisely to discredit and disrupt people smuggling. So I'd put him somewhere like Harry Lime in 1945 Vienna selling diluted penicillin to sick people. Its a very, very ugly picture.
Phillip Adams: I can remember that wonderful scene up there in the great ferris wheel in Vienna looking down at the dots and Harry Lime saying to his erstwhile best friend 'Do you care if those dots disappear if you get 20,000 per dot?' Ross are you as convinced by this argument?
Ross Coulthart: I can say only that I have no evidence. I have no evidence that there is a link between Enniss and the people smuggling disruption program and the sinking of the SIEVX but its important to understand that from the answers that the Federal Police have given to the Parliament they wouldn't know either! Because under the way that the disruption program operated the Federal Police Commissioner has admitted that once they tasked the Indonesians to do the disruption they didn't have much control over how they did it.
Phillip Adams: You're not talking about 'need to know' and denial, you're talking about how the deal was structured.
Ross Coulthart: Well look in my line of work we're always taught to assume a screw up before a conspiracy. I don't know if I quite accept yet that there is evidence of a conspiracy - I don't buy that. I think that there might have been a screw up. I think that somebody on the Indonesian side might have got over zealous to please his Australian master and at different times - perhaps in the SIEVX - I don't know, I have no evidence of that, done the wrong thing.
Phillip Adams: Well stuff ups are just as bad sometimes aren't they? And the key point that you're making without equivocation is that at best the disruption program was out of the AFP's control.
Ross Coulthart: Yes it was and they've admitted that to the Parliament and it's an extraordinary situation. I can't believe you can have a situation where a police force regards itself as not being accountable for possibly criminal activities.
Phillip Adams: Now, Senator Faulkner, Tony has insisted that there be a formal Inquiry into this - is that likely to happen?
Tony Kevin: It depends very much on the reaction of the Australian Parliament generally and I'd have to include Mr Crean in this - his position is very important and he hasn't said very much on it yet - and also on the position of the Australian media, which outside specialised wonderful programs like your own, has been terrifyingly silent on the whole SIEVX issue. There's an action reaction thing here. The media and the politicians have got to encourage each other to take this issue seriously. They need to ratchet up rather than ratchet down. I keep being told the SIEVX story has run out of steam, everybody's bored with it, people have moved on - as you said before I'm becoming a bit of a shadow around media offices and politicians' offices but this is so desperately important. If 353 people were sacrificed as part of a broader deterrent measure and there's enough evidence emerging at the level of interception and detection and surveillance, the ball was dropped very, very comprehensively - this is a terrible blot on our conscience.
Phillip Adams: Now the last question goes to you Ross. You are not going to drop this issue are you? I would imagine there is questions being put to the AFP as we sit here.
Ross Coulthart: Well we have questions before them that they've failed to answer, that they've ignored and they are very serious questions. They raise issues that I can't tell you about today that are extremely serious. They go to serious issues of criminality and we've raised those with them. We've also asked....
Phillip Adams: If you don't get a response can you run with a second bite of the story?
Ross Coulthart: Look we're preparing another story. We have further information, very serious information, and if we can publish it, we will!
Phillip Adams: Gentlemen I thank you...