As Jack Waterford observed in the Canberra Times on the weekend, Sarah Ferguson's Four Corners expose of an alleged kingpin people smuggler ‘overshadowed’ a far more important story that ran in the Fairfax press the previous weekend.
Four Corners told the story of 'Captain Emad' who it is claimed slipped through our immigration net as a refugee and continued his people smuggling business in Australia. However, there was a much more concerning story published the day before the Four Corners program aired of how our Federal Police have placed the lives of asylum seekers in extreme peril by delaying rescues of vessels in distress in order to protect the identity of their informants.
The Four Corners story and the media frenzy aftermath effectively took the air from Natalie O'Brien and smothered her story of a cover-up by Australian agencies concerning an asylum seeker vessel in distress that apparently sank in October 2009 with 108 people on board all presumed drowned. O'Brien revealed that it took almost four hours for the AFP and Customs to pass information about this vessel to the Australian Search and Rescue agency AMSA in order to protect the identity of the spy who had informed the AFP that the boat was in trouble.
O'Brien also revealed that this was not the first time that this had happened. In 2001 there was a similar delay by Customs in passing information to AMSA about an overdue vessel with 400 people on board because the AFP needed to clear the words used to convey this message to the rescue authority to protect a confidential source. This vessel was the doomed SIEVX; the boat had sunk days earlier, but this was not known by the AFP when it delayed contacting AMSA.
Two years ago Debbie Guest revealed that Waleed Sultani, an AFP informant working in Indonesia inside people smuggling syndicates in 2000-2001 was brought to Australia on a criminal justice visa, granted immunity from prosecution, given Australian citizenship and paid a one off fee of $250,000 by the AFP after testifying at the trials of convicted people smugglers, Hasan Ayoub and Ali Al Jenabi. Robin de Crespigny, in her recently published book on the smuggler Ali Al Jenabi refers to a man she does not name but who shares an identical background with Sultani whom she calls ‘the Weasel’ and claims that he was ‘working with Abu Quassey on the SIEVX’ in 2001.
On Sunday, Natalie O’Brien continued her dramatic disclosures about the lost boat that sank in October 2009. She claims that the alleged organiser of this vessel was a man named Haji Mohammed and that two of his sons were among the 108 who lost their lives when the vessel foundered. O’Brien claims that Mohammed ‘is believed to have cut a deal’ with Australian authorities in exchange for ‘easier treatment’.
Deeper questions need to be asked about the AFP and people smugglers than how did Captain Emad slip their net.
Robin de Crespigny, The People Smuggler: The True Story of Ali Al Jenabi, Penguin, Viking, Camberwell, 2012 (pp.305-6,347)
Sarah Ferguson, ‘Smugglers Paradise – Australia’, Four Corners, 4 June 2012
Debbie Guest, 'Revenge drove Iraqi informer on people-smuggler', Australian, 3 June 2010
Marg Hutton, ‘Did Australia have a man on the inside in the organisation that embarked SIEVX?’ , sievx.com, 19 November 2011
Marg Hutton, ‘250,000 Questions’, sievx.com, 5 December 2011
Natalie O'Brien, ‘Australia’s blunders and cover-ups exposed’, SMH, 3 June 2012
Natalie O'Brien, ‘As 108 drowned, they cried: 'Pray for us', Brisbane Times, 3 June 2012
Natalie O'Brien, ‘They called and called, but got no answers', Age, 3 June 2012
Natalie O'Brien, 'Blunder revives SIEV X memories', Brisbane Times, 4 June 2012
Natalie O'Brien, 'People-smuggling charges miss mark', SMH, 10 June 2012
Jack Waterford, ‘Emad leaves a sinking feeling’, Canberra Times, 9 June 2012
‘People smuggler informant wanted revenge’, AAP/West Australian, 2 June 2010