Failure to act on smuggler blamed for 350 boat deaths
Andrew Clennell
Sydney Morning Herald
25 February 2002

Australian authorities had information in late 2000 on the alleged people smuggler who overloaded a boat that capsized, drowning 350 people last year.

A Melbourne-based refugee advocate, Pamela Curr, says she reported Abu Quassey, two of his mobile phone numbers and details about him to the Immigration Department's people-smuggling telephone line in January 2001.

She said she knew Iraqi refugees at the Woomera detention centre who told immigration officials about Quassey's activities in November 2000, but they had only recently been contacted by Australian Federal Police to talk about him.

"If they'd acted on or done something about it, 300 people wouldn't be dead," Ms Curr said.

Indonesian officials arrested Quassey in November after he put more than 400 people on the boat, which sank off Java in October.

The revelation Australia had information on Quassey much earlier comes with the AFP already under fire over its payments to an informant, Kevin John Enniss, of $25,000 over 12 months until September, even though Mr Enniss is alleged to have operated as a people smuggler.

A spokesman for the AFP, Steve Jiggins, said it had been unable to act on many people-smuggling operations because Indonesian law did not have specific charges that would have allowed extradition of smugglers to Australia.

"These issues are extremely problematic," Mr Jiggins said.

"We might have information or even a full brief on a person but if they're in Indonesia ... in order to extradite a person to another country, that country must have similar offence legislation."

A spokesman for the Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, said Quassey had been known to the Government "for some time".

Meanwhile, an Irving Saulwick telephone poll has found that 48per cent of respondents believe that the Prime Minister lied on the "children overboard" affair, but 63per cent support the Government's policy on asylum seekers. The national poll, of 1000 people, found 31 per cent opposed the asylum-seeker policy, and that 62 per cent supported mandatory detention, while 34 per cent opposed it.

But the Government's "Pacific solution" had only 43 per cent supporting the practice of transferring asylum seekers on the way to Australia to Pacific islands, while 50 per cent opposed it.

As to whether the Prime Minister had intentionally misled the public on "children overboard" before the election, 48 per cent believed John Howard "definitely or probably" misled the public, while 46 per cent said he "definitely or probably did not".

Only 18 per cent of Coalition voters believed Mr Howard intentionally misled the public.

The poll also illustrated the wedge being driven into Labor's and the Democrats' constituencies on the asylum seeker issue.

While support for the Government policy was 89 per cent among Coalition voters, it was 42 per cent for Labor voters and 39 per cent for Democrat voters. Opposition came from 51per cent of Labor and 59 per cent Democrat.

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