|[Extracted from Senate Hansard, 16 October 2003]
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON NOTICE
Senator FERRIS (South Australia) (3.21 p.m.)On behalf of the Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Ellison, I seek leave to table the response to the question raised by Senator Collins. I apologise that a previous appointment has meant that Minister Ellison is not able to be here.
The PRESIDENT-Is leave granted?
Senator Robert Ray-No. I understand that Senator Ellison has a good excuse. It should have been given by Senator Vanstone, as duty minister; it is not a job for the whip in this case. That is no criticism of Senator Ferris; it is a frontbencher's duty to act on behalf of another minister.
The PRESIDENT-I understand that answers to questions should be incorporated rather than tabled; so perhaps the minister at the table could incorporate the answer, which would solve both problems.
Senator VANSTONE (South Australia-Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) (3.22 p.m.)-I seek leave to incorporate an answer from the Minister for Justice and Customs to a question asked by Senator Collins on notice on 17 July.
The answer read as follows-
Senator JACINTA COLLINS (Victoria) (3.22 p.m.)-I move to take note of the answer. I think it is fairly obvious to all present that I am not aware of the adequacy of the response from the Minister for Justice and Customs at this stage.
The PRESIDENT-Senator, I think you need leave to do that. I understand from the Clerk of the Senate that previous conventions have been that, if an answer is provided, that is the end of it. Previous rulings-not mine-have ruled that way: if an answer is provided, that is the end of it. In any event, you will need leave.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-I seek leave to take note of the answer. When the minister indicated that he was going to table his response, which I have still not seen, I indicated that I was desirous of making a couple of points on this issue. For Senator Vanstone's benefit, he was not unhappy with that matter.
The PRESIDENT-Leave is not granted at this point in time. If you are not satisfied once you have read the answer, you may come back and seek leave again to make a statement...
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON NOTICE
In relation to the answers to these questions on the Senate Notice Paper that are some 30 days outstanding, I would like to note that these answers and the answers provided previously by Senator Hill in relation to questions to the Department of Defence, do not go to an adequate response to the critical issue about the SIEVX that remains a matter of public concern. The issue is the failure to demonstrate an adequate response to the vessel's foundering and the concern that, from government agencies, this is more about protecting the Prime Minister's claim that the ship sank in Indonesian territory and was, as a consequence, not a responsibility for the Australian government, when several other indicators seem to indicate that it was actually in international waters and it should have been more to our concern.
There were two elements of this answer that I wish
to highlight in relation to the AFP. The first is that it
asserts in point (5):
But it seems to contradict itself earlier in point (5),
where it says:
And even earlier in point (5), it says:
This is simply not good enough. More than 350 lives were lost when this vessel foundered, and for there to be detailed coordinates in relation to the vessel that saved the remaining people from this vessel and for them to never have been attempted to have been corroborated-and for us to be told now so far from the time of the sinking that nobody has sought to contact the harbour master to corroborate or discount those coordinates-is outrageous.
What makes it more outrageous with respect to the Australian agencies is that we were told by Defence, during hearings of the inquiry into a certain maritime incident, that these coordinates could be discounted.
Now we discover, from further information from Defence and from the AFP that they have, to quote the answer today, no basis to either corroborate or discount those coordinates. But then it indicates neglect. No-one has sought that corroboration other than to say, `IMP might be looking into it, but they have never found him and that's none of our business.' It is simply not good enough.
I note the Greens motion yesterday and the Democrats motion today, again in relation to the SIEVX. This issue will not go away. With respect to the answers that have been provided by the AFP and the Department of Defence, we will keep raising questions through Senate estimates about why we never sought to understand what had happened to these souls. It is outrageous that in this climate we do know the full details of all of the poor souls who suffered in Bali but in relation to this tragedy we still cannot get a list of those who drowned.
There are some reasonable explanations for some issues there, but that is another example of neglect and lack of respect for people in relation to how this was managed. I will seek to make further comments on these issues at another time.
Question agreed to.