Transcript of interview:
Tony Kevin with Annie Hastwell
18 October 2002
Annie Hastwell: It will be one year tomorrow since the tragic event, which took the lives of close to 400 refugees on their way to Australia in the hope of a better life. It was a terrible event, and I don't think anyone will ever forget that front-page picture of the three little girls who drowned and the sad, sad story of her parents not being able to be reunited.
We are joined now by Tony Kevin who is a retired diplomat who has chased the story of the SIEVX, as the boat was known. Good morning Tony:
Tony Kevin: Good Morning Annie.
Annie Hastwell: Just run us through again: October the 19th was the day the boat actually went down. We didn't really hear about it in Australia until a few days after that did we?
Tony Kevin: That's right it became public on the 23rd of October, 4 days later. The Prime Minister said that it sank in Indonesian waters, but it turned out very quickly not to be the case. In fact it sank in the Australian Border Protection Surveillance and Interception Zone.
Annie Hastwell: And you were the person who made the public aware of that. It's been quite a long haul. Just briefly take us through the steps of opening up this story has gone through.
Tony Kevin: It began in March when I raised a number of questions about discrepancies in the public record of the sinking in the Senate Select Committee into A Certain Maritime Incident: The Children Overboard Misrepresented Photographs Committee. Those questions gave rise to a process of investigation of official witnesses that gradually over a period of 4 months revealed a great many serious issues and inconsistencies and black holes in the official account of both what the Australian Police were doing in Indonesia under an officially approved "People Smuggling Disruption Programme", and about the failure of the Border Protection Authorities to order a Safety of Life-at-Sea Search, when it's clear they had a great deal of intelligence information that this grossly overloaded and unsafe boat was coming into the search area.
Annie Hastwell: Bringing this all to light must have had quite a toll on you. I guess you were dismissed as a conspiracy theorist for a long time.
Tony Kevin: Yes I was and in fact I was slandered in the Parliament a couple of weeks ago but that has had a satisfactory resolution now. It certainly has taken its toll but I had felt that a matter of our national honour and self respect we could not simply sweep under the carpet, such a large human tragedy as the deaths of 353 people taking place on our watch.
Although these people were asylum seekers coming to Australia, they were not completely foreign to us. Many of them had relatives, fathers, brothers, husbands, and so on waiting for them in Australia. They had been forced to come by this illegal route because there was no legal way, in which they could apply to come here, they were desperate to reunite their families. Most of them were women and children, 300 people of the 353 who drowned were women and children.
Annie Hastwell: Since what's happened in Bali on the weekend, do you compare in your mind the different treatment of that particular incident and what happened last weekend?
Tony Kevin: It's been enormously difficult for us all involved in these rallies and events around Australia to deal with the huge tragedy of Bali. We were acutely aware of the sensitivities involved. The last thing we want to do is exploit the grief of Bali or to make comparisons. But the only thing I can say is this, which might help give it some meaning to people. If a member of your family or a close personal friend had died a year ago tomorrow you would surely still want to commemorate that despite the huge national mourning over Bali which we completely share. Surely our hearts are big enough to accommodate both griefs.
Annie Hastwell: You sound as though there was a little bit of doubt around the commemoration after what happened last weekend. Was there? It's been planned for some time I know...was it seen as perhaps the wrong moment to be trying to commemorate that when Australia's mourning it's own loss?
Tony Kevin: No, I wouldn't say there was ever any doubt about continuing to commemorate it. What we had done though is to think very carefully about the tone of how we commemorated. Obviously this is a time to downplay the politics and just to come together in grief and in honour of two very huge human tragedies effecting our nation.
Annie Hastwell: Tony Kevin, just briefly, back to the politics of it, where do you expect it to go next?
Tony Kevin: Well the politics comes back hopefully on Wednesday, next week, when the Senate Committee into a Certain Maritime Incident, which dealt with both issues, SIEVX and the falsified photographs will be handing down it's report to the full Senate. Already there have been at least four newspaper editorials around Australia saying that there are very disturbing discrepancies in evidence and there needs to be a full judicial inquiry. Senator Faulkner and other Labor Senators and Democrat Senator Andrew Bartlett have made similar calls. We are hoping for a vigorous debate in the senate next Wednesday. If anybody is listening to this, please write to your senator, please say that you take an interest in this and we hope that there will be a push for full accountability.
Annie Hastwell: Tony Kevin thanks for joining us this morning.