|Extracted from Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence & Trade Legislation Committee Hansard,
5 November 2003, pp.92-5
ACTING CHAIR-Senator Evans, I understand Senator Collins has a few questions she wants to ask, and we will have to stop right at 6.30 because some people have meetings then. Do you want to conclude this bit and let Senator Collins ask her questions?
Senator CHRIS EVANS-I think we will be at it for a while.
ACTING CHAIR-Can Senator Collins ask her questions? She has come back for the third time, I think.
Senator CHRIS EVANS-Yes. To be continued.
Air Marshal Houston-I could conclude fairly quickly if you wish.
Senator CHRIS EVANS-I want to give you the opportunity to tell the whole story.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-I indicated that I wanted to ask Admiral Gates some questions in relation to SIEVX.
Gen. Cosgrove-Mr Chairman, Admiral Gates is not here.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-I understand that. Is there some explanation for why he was not able to respond to my request?
ACTING CHAIR-Let us wait for the minister to take a seat. You might need to repeat that.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-I went back to my first point, which was this: in this round of estimates, I requested that Admiral Gates appear so that I could ask him some questions with respect to SIEVX. I was just advised that Admiral Gates is not present. I have sought an explanation for why that is the case.
Senator Hill-I thought that his seniors, such as Admiral Ritchie and Admiral Shalders, could better answer the question.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Unfortunately, nobody brought that to my attention. I could have clarified that these are specific questions for Admiral Gates with respect to the Gates review.
Senator Hill-I think you should ask the questions. We will provide the correct military officer to answer.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Okay. We will get to Admiral Gates fairly quickly, I suspect. Let me start by going back to my question on notice 1638, my question No. 3. Do you have that before you?
Vice Adm. Shalders-I do not have it in front of me, but I am familiar with it.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-My question No. 3 asked, because of some previous confusion between the AFP and some answers we received, whether the Royal Australian Navy, when attempting to calculate where the SIEVX had foundered, also took into account the north Jakarta harbourmaster's report of the SIEVX survivor rescue coordinates dated 24 October 2001, and, if not, why not. The answer to that question was: No. The Harbourmaster's report of 24 October 2001 did not exist on 22 October 2001.
My question subsequent to that, if it was not clear in the original question, which was directed fully at Defence, was whether Defence took into account those coordinates-in particular, in relation to the Gates review of intelligence with respect to SIEVX.
Vice Adm. Shalders-No, they did not.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-They did not take it into account at all?
Vice Adm. Shalders-That report of those coordinates? No.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Why not?
Vice Adm. Shalders-At that stage the Federal Police were conducting that investigation. We were not invited or required to contribute to that analysis.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Let me take you to some of the wording in Admiral Gates's report. He says: Some public comment has inaccurately suggested - I stress the word `inaccurately' - that it is possible to say with some precision where SIEV X foundered (eg media `expert' analysis of figures reportedly provided by the Harbour Master at Sunda Kelapa port in north Jakarta) This is to ignore what is known ... In the absence of positional data from either SIEV `X' itself or the fishing boats that rescued the survivors, Defence can only speculate as to where the vessel foundered.
Where is it demonstrated that there is an absence of positional data or anything other than the AFP report back to me that they can neither corroborate nor discount the harbourmaster's report of the coordinates?
Vice Adm. Shalders-That is the Defence position as well. We can neither corroborate nor discount those coordinates.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-That is not what Admiral Gates says in this report, and this is what I wanted to question Admiral Gates about. Admiral Gates refers to inaccurate suggestions and an absence of positional data. We know that there is a report of positional data. What we do not have is an assessment of the veracity of that report.
Vice Adm. Shalders-I agree with that. We do not have a sense of the veracity of those coordinates.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-That is not what this report of Admiral Gates says.
Senator Hill-You read us out the relevant part.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-I did, a moment ago. I will do it again if you like.
Senator Hill-Yes. I want to put it in context.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-It says: Some public comment has inaccurately suggested that it is possible to say with some precision where SIEV X foundered (eg media `expert' analysis of figures reportedly provided by the Harbour Master at Sunda Kelapa port in north Jakarta).
This is to ignore what is known, namely that both the timing and location of its last landfall is unknown (the vessel is reported to have had a number of stops and delays); that its planned and actual course is unknown; that the impact of tides, currents and weather is unknown, and the impact of its seaworthiness on its speed is unknown.
I stress the next sentence:
My point here is that we do have positional data reported by the harbourmaster. What I have not seen from Defence or from the AFP is any assessment of the veracity of that data. It is obvious from this report that Admiral Gates sought to discount that data, but he has not sustained that case in any way.
Vice Adm. Shalders-I would put to you that that is one set of data. The veracity of that data really cannot be tested.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Why is that?
Vice Adm. Shalders-The best analysis of where we believe the vessel may have foundered is somewhere north of eight degrees north. The position that you have cited here is some 20 miles from that position.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Yes.
Vice Adm. Shalders-I honestly do not believe that anybody knows where that vessel foundered. At this stage I go back to Admiral Gates's statement that we can only really speculate.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-I am not going back to the point of whether we can argue within 20 miles of exactly where the vessel went down. That is not my issue. My issue is that we had reported coordinates from a vessel that rescued survivors and it appears-whether it is the responsibility of the Indonesians, our responsibility or someone else's-that some two years later nobody has sought to deal with that report. In fact, this Gates report seems to discount its existence.
Senator Hill-Where did the harbourmaster's evidence come from?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-It is an Indonesian document containing coordinates reported to the harbourmaster that, on my advice, was actually provided by the reporter to Defence.
Senator Hill-Provided by?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-By the reporter, who also-
Senator Hill-What reporter?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Geoff Parish, I think.
Senator Hill-Do you have the harbourmaster's document?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Yes, he did. He had a copy of it.
Senator Hill-Do we have the harbourmaster's documents?
Vice Adm. Shalders-No. The only information we have which talks of those positions is an article by Tony Kevin in the Canberra Times of 17 July.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-I have a copy of the document.
Senator Hill-Can you table that?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-I do not have it with me right now, but I will so that we can deal with this on notice. I have been advised that Geoff Parish forwarded a copy of that document to Defence, and I think it was in the few months prior to the Gates review, but I have had no assessment from Defence about the veracity of that document. As I have said, from what I now know from answers to questions on notice to the AFP-and, as you have just said now, the Defence position is the same-there is nothing to corroborate or discount those coordinates but I still have nothing to sustain the discounting of those coordinates that is referred to in the Gates review.
Senator Hill-What is the document that the harbourmaster produced?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-A document or a report. Again, I am not myself in a position to be able to assess its veracity because I have limited maritime experience and it requires translation as well.
Senator Hill-We do not think we have it. You have it. If you provide it to us and provide it to the committee, we will have a look at it and see whether we believe it adds anything that has not already been expressed.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-At this point in time Defence is indicating that it never received a copy of it. Is that correct?
Vice Adm. Shalders-I am not aware of that document.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-You might want to deal with that on notice too then.
Vice Adm. Shalders-I will take it on notice.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-My advice is that a reporter - I think it was Geoff Parish but I will confirm the name of the reporter - forwarded a copy of that document from the harbourmaster to Defence prior to the Gates review, but it appears as if the Gates review discounts its existence, let alone its veracity.
Vice Adm. Shalders-I would make two points, if I may. The first point is that the Gates review preceded the Senate investigation into the `certain maritime incident'. That document was not produced during the proceedings of the certain maritime incident investigation, which, if it exists, surprises me-that it did not come out there. The second point I would make is the point that was made, I think, in the AFP response to the question on notice. Of course, the AFP were conducting the investigation. The AFP have stated that they are not privy to any information which either corroborates or discounts those coordinates. The Defence position remains that any position that we might derive is speculative in the absence of precise information.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-As I said, I will provide you with a copy of the report and we might get some view on the veracity of that report, particularly given that it seems as if the Indonesian authorities cannot find this harbourmaster, on the basis of their responses.
Senator Hill-Can't find him?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-The AFP answer to my questions on notice to them in relation to that information provided by the harbourmaster is that they have spoken to another maritime official-
Senator Hill-Where did the report come from?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-The copy of the report that we are aware of came from the reporter.
Senator Hill-Where did the reporter get the report?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-He claims it was from the harbourmaster.
Senator Hill-And no-one can find the harbourmaster?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-The INP claims not to be able to find the harbourmaster, yes.
Senator Hill-When do you say that a copy of this document was provided to Defence?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-My recollection is that it was in the couple of months prior to Gates-in the month or so prior to when the Gates review occurred. By way of recollection, it was during the early stages of the CMI inquiry. The AFP Jakarta post had made contact with the harbour administrator, which is, according to the answer to the question on notice to them, a separate entity to the harbourmaster. The INP is still attempting to locate the harbourmaster but has not yet located him. The harbourmaster who, it is reported, received the coordinates from the vessel that collected the survivors, has not been able to be located, according to this report. I have a document; I will pass it on to you and you can trace it back.
Senator Hill-If you give us the document, we will do our best to provide further information.
ACTING CHAIR-It is now 6.30, Senator Collins.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Yes. The rest of what I have I will put on notice.
Proceedings suspended from 6.32 p.m. to 7.36 p.m.