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Broadcast: 26/9/2002

Faulkner questions Govt over boat sabotage

Labor Senator John Faulkner wants to know whether the Government was involved in sabotage causing the sinking of a boat, known as Siev X, filled with asylum seekers. The Government is also under pressure over talk of a war with Iraq after former leaders have urged the Government not to go to war with Iraq without explicit UN backing.

Compere: Tony Jones
Reporter: Dana Robertson

TONY JONES: Labor Senator John Faulkner asked some disturbing questions today, during the children overboard inquiry.

He wants to know whether sabotage caused the sinking of a boat filled with asylum seekers last year.

And Senator Faulker also asked if the Howard Government was somehow involved.

This was only one issue that had the Government on the defensive today, Dana Robertson has more.

DANA ROBERTSON: Labor's John Faulkner has waged a relentless campaign to find out what happened to the boat dubbed Siev X.

JOHN FAULKNER, LABOR SENATOR: I've been asking questions now for months.

DANA ROBERTSON: More than 350 people died last year when the boat sank off the coast of Christmas Island—Australian authorities claiming no knowledge of its fate until after the event.

Now, Senator Faulkner wants to know whether Government efforts to stem the tide of people smuggling have extended to sabotage.

JOHN FAULKNER: How far does disruption go?

What are the limits, if any?

I want to ask, and I want an answer to, precisely what disruption activities are undertaken at the behest of, or with the knowledge of, or broadly authorised by, the Australian Government.

DANA ROBERTSON: The Government angrily rejecting suggestions it played any role in the vessel's fate.

ALEXANDER DOWNER, FOREIGN MINISTER: There has never been any Government policy to sabotage boats and endanger lives.

That has never been the policy of this Government.

CHRIS ELLISON, JUSTICE MINISTER: Disruption and deterrence does not equate to sabotage and the AFP has not been involved in sabotaging vessels.

DANA ROBERTSON: Senator Faulkner's demanding a judicial inquiry.

JOHN FAULKNER: It is not enough to say, as Senator Ellison and Mr Downer have said publicly today, that it's never been the policy of the Australian Government to sabotage people smuggling vessels.

DANA ROBERTSON: The Government's also under pressure over talk of a war with Iraq.

Three former prime ministers, a past governor-general and opposition leader, not to mention retired Defence chiefs and returned soldiers, all urging the Government not to go to war with Iraq without explicit UN backing.

BOB HAWKE, FORMER PM: Imagine the feeling towards this country if we were one of two or three involved in that situation, and it had been done without the endorsement of the United Nations.

It would be an increased incentive for terrorist attacks on this country.

JOHN HOWARD, PM: Australia is supporting the attempts of the United States and Britain to obtain Security Council support for a resolution on this issue.

It is clearly not in Australia's interests for me to speculate as to what this country might do if those attempts fail.

DANA ROBERTSON: But the Defence Minister is.

SENATOR ROBERT HILL, DEFENCE MINISTER: If an action was necessary, I don't think it would necessarily be a long campaign—not to the action to end the threat of weapons of mass destruction.

DANA ROBERTSON: The political brawl over Australia's ability to fight a war in Iraq derailed question time in Parliament today.

Labor claims Minister Joe Hockey accused former SAS commander Jim Wallace of treason for suggesting troops could be asked to take unreasonable risk.

Mr Hockey maintains his reference was to Labor for asking questions about operational planning at such a sensitive time.

Dana Robertson, Lateline.


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