Judicial inquiry sought into sinking of SIEV X

Canberra Times
20 Oct, 2011 04:00 AM

Refugee advocates yesterday used the 10-year anniversary of the SIEV X sinking to call for a judicial inquiry into the disaster.

The stricken refugee boat, which sank in international waters en route to Australia, took the lives of 353 people, mostly women and children.

The event, which came three weeks before the 2001 federal election, sparked furious debate about the relative strengths of Labor and the Coalition's border protection policies.

Yesterday, Greens leader Bob Brown said important questions about the tragedy remained unanswered.

''What did Australian, and or Indonesian, officials know about the preparations to send so many people in such an over-crowded fashion, and so many of them women and children, into the ocean?

''Why did Australian surveillance not pick up the SIEV X? And if it did, why was it not tracked?''

Tasmanian Steve Biddulph, who led the establishment of the memorial to the disaster in Weston Park, said Australians now had ‘‘far more humane and compassionate views of asylum-seekers’’.

‘‘But our politicians still exploit the fear, and don’t realise that moral leadership is part of their true role,’’ he said.

Mr Biddulph said only a formal inquiry would deliver justice to the victims of a ‘‘crime against humanity’’.

Labor senator John Faulkner’s forensic interrogations of witnesses at the subsequent Senate select committee into a Certain Maritime Incident in 2002 became the stuff of Canberra legend.

In 2002 and 2003, Mr Faulkner repeatedly called for a judicial inquiry into the SIEV X sinking, into the Howard Government’s boat ‘‘disruption program’’ and into allegations a former police informer in Indonesia had admitted to paying Indonesians to scuttle people-smuggling boats carrying passengers.

Senator Faulkner declined to comment on the anniversary yesterday, saying his thoughts were a matter of public record.

Last week Greens senator Christine Milne’s call for a judicial inquiry into the SIEV X sinking was opposed by Labor and the Opposition.

Former diplomat and Canberra resident Tony Kevin, whose dogged pursuit of the case led him to be named ‘‘International Whistleblower of the Year’’ by the British-based Index on Censorship in 2003, yesterday called for better intelligence sharing within, and between, government agencies to avert a repeat of the disaster.

‘‘The public service is a series of silos ... the left hand very often doesn’t know what the right hand is doing,’’ Mr Kevin said.

He said information gathered by people smuggling intelligence analysts should be shared with other departments, and the public.

But, he said, border protection authorities had ensured the safe arrival of 517 boats over 13 years, with only four boats known to have sunk or gone missing.

‘‘People might be surprised to hear me say this, but what that means is border protection command is doing a pretty terrific job of detecting and intercepting boats,’’ he said.


Back to sievx.com