Ron Chapman
Friday, 8 November 2002
Canberra Times Online Your Say

How we stopped the refugee flow

Peter Mackay (Tampa gave me joy, Your Say 6 November 2002) says "I've been hugging myself with glee ever since I heard of the Tampa. The people smugglers had finally been fool enough to sink their boat in international waters... since then the illegal immigrants have looked elsewhere".

SIEV 4 wasn't the last refugee boat to attempt to make it to Australia. A number of boats were intercepted by Operation Relex after the Tampa incident. The reason that refugee boats stopped coming was far more sinsiter. A later boat, SIEV X (so named because Operation Relex deleted its real name, SIEV 8, from its records in an attempt to conceal the fact that it was aware of its existence), was overloaded at gunpoint in Indonesia. Reports indicate that SIEV X was loaded with over 400 refugees (mostly women and children) and that subsequently a few were allowed to disembark at sea into a small boat that returned to Java.

The rest were threatened and prevented from getting off SIEV X.The drowning of 354 people (counting the baby born in the sea)was a monstrous crime, a crime against humanity, and those responsible should be brought to justice in the same way that attempts are being made to bring the Bali bombers to justice. The issue is one of justice not politics - unless of course our government or any of its agents was in some way involved in the crime. Even then (and especially then) the matter is a major humanitarian and justice issue. Mackay's constant personal attacks on Marilyn Sheppard appear to be attempts at trivalising this crime. Why? Alleging that an investigation of the murder of 354 people should not be undertaken because the matter has political connotations is either absurd or criminal.

The refugee deaths in the SIEV X atrocity exceeded three times the number of Australians killed in the Bali bombing. Whatever their motives, those who attempt to shield the perpetrators of the SIEV X mass murder become, at least, moral accomplices of those who committed the crime. It is no joke that SIEV X sank with massive loss of life. It is strange (and disturbing) and not funny that Operation Relex didn't even notice the boat, its sinking or the survivors. Operation Relex was supposed to intercept all SIEVs. To have completely missed one boat bodes ill for our defence preparedness.

Attempting to ridicule people who seek justice for those TERRORISED (for many, many hours) and murdered in the SIEV X incident is at best amoral. Or put it another way, how would Mackay feel if people were joking and ridiculing attempts being made to identify the killers of Australians in Bali? These are not matters for the expression of glee.

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