Transcript of Interview
Paul Murray and Senator Chris Ellison
Friday, 7 February 2003
Paul Murray: Good morning Chris
Senator Ellison: Good morning Paul
Paul Murray: So what's your view on these allegations [by Tony Kevin]?
Senator Ellison: These allegations are not only false they are scurrilous and the Australian Federal Police Commissioner has said as much himself. Can I say that the allegations that the Australian government was complicit in the sinking of that vessel is not only outrageous but it is false. Abu Qassey we allege is a people smuggler. If we did not want him to come to Australia why would we issue 4 warrants for his arrest for people smuggling? Now we have done that on the basis of evidence available to the Police and I'm not going to divulge that for operational reason. But Abu Qassey is a person that we allege is a people smuggler. Now to say that we are trying to criminalise people smuggling is laughable. People smuggling does not need to be criminalised, it is a thoroughly callous trade. It's like trying to say we are criminalising the drug trade. We are in no way involved in people smuggling. We are involved in the fight against people smuggling and we have been very serious in our efforts to get Abu Qassey bought to Australia to face justice.
I have raised this personally with the Minister for Foreign Affairs in Indonesia, with the Minister for Justice in Indonesia and Alexander Downer has done the same. We have had officials in Jakarta this week talking to the Indonesians. Now there are legal complexities because people smuggling is not a crime in Indonesia. They do have legislation - proposed legislation - in their Parliament but that has not gone through yet. So we are looking at options that are available to us to bring Abu Qassey to justice. We have made rigorous representations to the Indonesians on this.
Paul Murray: See that's what Tony Kevin's allegation is that he says that Justice Minister Mahendra says that the Australians have not been rigorous in pursuing this matter.
Senator Ellison: Well I have got to say that it surprises me that the Justice Minister in Indonesia would say that and I would like to see where he has said that. Can I say that we sent on the 15th January this year a request for mutual assistance in relation to this and we have an agreement on mutual assistance on criminal matters. We have been pursuing this matter for some time now.
I mean Tony Kevin does not tell your listeners for instance that in relation to the sinking of SIEVX the Navy was cleared of any wrongdoing in terms of any failure to respond to that sinking. There is absoltely no evidence to suggest that in any way Australian authorities were involved in the sinking of SIEVX. The Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police Mick Keelty has said that AFP were not involved in sabotage or the sinking of any vessel.
Now. These allegations are totally rejected. They are outrageous. We are working to bring Abu Qassey back to Australia to face justice and that is our goal.
Paul Murray: But are you aware of Egypt's claims on him?
Senator Ellison: Yes we are. I can say we taking measures in case he is sent back to Indonesia that -
Paul Murray: To Egypt.
Senator Ellison: Sorry - to Egypt. That if on the way he passes any other country we might be able to take action. Now I am not going to signal our shots to Abu Qassey and his lawyers but we have in hand options and measures should he leave Indonesia to go to Egypt. Now the question of where he goes is a matter for the Indonesian authorities. We have put it as strongly as we can and as I say this week we have had officials up in Jakarta talking to Indonesian justice officials on the subject.
Paul Murray: Well Minister Mahendra is quoted in the Jakarta Post this morning saying, we have not decided whether to deport him to Australia or Egypt, however he did have a meeting with the Egyptian Ambassador and the Egyptian Ambassador says that he could be tried in Egypt based on the Egyptian penal code if Australian authorities would present evidence to the Egyptian authorities. Would you be prepared to do that?
Senator Ellison: Well we'd rather he come back to Australia. But certainly if he ends up in Egypt we will do whatever it takes to bring this man to justice. But our first goal is to bring him back to Australia. We are not scared Paul of what this man will say in the witness box. We have nothing to fear from what this man might or might not say. We want this man brought back to Australia to face justice on people smuggling charges. We allege he was involved in SIEVX and we want him to answer those charges in Australia. Any suggestion to the contrary is false and scurrilous.
Paul Murray: Were we trying to disrupt the people trade by using undercover agents in Indonesia?
Senator Ellison: We certainly had a program in Indonesia and other countries for upstream disturbance and naturally - just as we had with the drug trade Paul - police officers working overseas doing a very good job, gaining intelligence, working with other law enforcement authorities to disrupt these syndicates. Now if we didn't do that we would be irresponsible. The people smuggling trade is a criminal trade. It is about the third or fourth biggest criminal activity in the world and Interpol say that.
We have got another people smuggling conference coming up in Indonesia in April and I have got to tell you it's not just us who are saying that people smuggling is a serious criminal problem. There are 130 odd countries at that conference we co- hosted with Indonesia last year. This is a serious problem worldwide and we are working with other law enforcement authorities to crack down on these syndicates.
Paul Murray: Okay thanks for talking with us
Senator Ellison: It's a pleasure
Paul Murray: Chris Ellison, Minister for Justice. If you want to hear Tony Kevin flesh out his full range of allegations on this matter, he is here for the Perth Writers Festival and he will be here at the Art Gallery of WA in Northbridge tomorrow at 1 o'clock to 3.30 talking about the matter of SIEVX.