Extracted from Reps Hansard 22 October 2002, pp. 8316-7
For extract of official Hansard version in pdf format click here
ADJOURNMENT: Immigration: Border Protection Mrs IRWIN (Fowler) (10.40 p.m.) -
This week marks the sad anniversary of an event which, in spite of the number of people killed, has passed almost without mention.
On 19 October last year, an unnamed 19-metre leaky Indonesian vessel sank on its way to Christmas Island, with the loss of 356 lives, including 71 children.
As Australia mourns the loss of over 100 of our citizens who were killed in Bali, we struggle to comprehend the loss of human life on such a large scale. But our outpouring of grief and our determination to bring those responsible to justice is in stark contrast to our response to the tragedy last October.
In Bali, relief and forensic services swung into action immediately after news of the bombing was received. But for the victims of Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel 8, or X-depending on which version of events you go by-there was no Australian assistance, and there has been a total denial of responsibility since then.
A Defence Force briefing to the Prime Minister's People Smuggling Task Force advised on 18 October that two boats were expected at Christmas Island with what is described as `some risk of vessels in poor condition and rescue at sea.' On 20 October a further report stated that a vessel was grossly overloaded. What concern did we show for the 421 people in peril? What steps did we take to avert a disaster? We did nothing.
On 23 October, a Federal Police intelligence report stated that the vessel was likely to be in international waters south of Java. Despite those reports, when news of the sinking was released, our Prime Minister was insisting, `It sank, I repeat, sunk in Indonesian waters, not in Australian waters. It sunk in Indonesian waters.'
We simply washed our hands of any responsibility. Despite the presence of Australian patrols in the area and the knowledge that the leaky, overloaded vessel was headed for Christmas Island, we are told that nothing was done to locate the stricken vessel or to search for survivors.
Of the 120 people who did not go down with the vessel, only 44 survived the 21 hours in the rough water before help arrived. Their tales of survival are harrowing.
Children died in the arms of their parents. Exhaustion claimed all but the strongest. But in Australia few people seemed to care. Only the families of the victims and their close friends mourned the loss. And what did Australia do to help recover the bodies of those who died? Nothing. We simply denied all responsibility.
I think of the family of Mr Ahmed Al-Zalimi, an Iraqi teacher who fled the regime of Saddam Hussein. Mr Al-Zalimi, who holds a temporary protection visa, lost his three beloved daughters in the tragedy-three beautiful little girls: Eman, aged nine; Zahra, aged seven; and Fatimah, aged five. They drowned while trying to reach their father in Australia. At the time we did not even have the compassion to allow Mr Al-Zalimi to visit his distraught wife in Indonesia.
Who now mourns the victims of SIEVX, besides the immediate families? They were refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Palestine. There will be no national days of mourning for them. They belonged to no nation. When it comes to care and compassion, we reserve that for our own. For the fate of others, we care very little; we are indifferent to their suffering and death.
I do not want to equate the tragedy of SIEVX with the terrorist attack in Bali. One was a deliberate and cold-blooded act of murder; the other was an accident that might have been prevented but was not. Both, however, show a level of indifference to human life and a failure to accept responsibility for the actions that result in death.
The saga of SIEVX and the resulting inquiry into the actions of Australian authorities reveal a series of contradictions and inconsistencies. In the haste to pass the buck rather than accept responsibility, the first thing that is forgotten is that 356 lives were lost.
It is understandable that we mourn for the lost lives in Bali more than the lost lives from SIEVX, but we cannot be indifferent-(Time expired)