Senator Jacinta Collins Additional Comments
In concluding its
deliberations the Committee is forced to reflect on an unfortunate lack of
outcome that its processes have been able to produce in some key areas. Whilst
the government has continued to describe the inquiry, and particularly the
consideration of the ill fated SIEV X, as an attack on Australian Defence
Forces, it is quite clear that one real outcome of the inquiry has been to
confirm the integrity of Defence personnel.
Despite obstacles presented by the Government, the inquiry has
established that the Australian men and women who form our defence core are
humanitarians who seek to protect and defend the lives of all people within
What the inquiry
has not been able to establish is an explanation for the inappropriate actions
and behaviour of some key Defence officials.
Further, and perhaps more significantly, the inquiry also failed to
fully explain the efforts of the Australian Prime Minister and Cabinet to
“deter and deny” the Australian people from the truth about those who have
sought asylum in Australia.
As the Majority
Report and Odgers Report both show, even from limited evidence, Minister Reith
deliberately maintained or created false impressions in order to gain political
What is also
significant is that many trails lead directly to the Prime Minister’s
Department, his Office and to the Prime Minister himself. Whilst it has not been claimed, nor proven,
that the Prime Minister knew the truth and lied, many reports question his
claims that “I never received any written contradiction of that (children
thrown overboard), nor did I receive any verbal contradiction of that” and,
regarding his office, “No”.
In the months
prior to the Governments introduction of its new border protection regime, some
senior defence officers were privately raising serious concerns at a new
direction and culture developing within the Department of Prime Minister &
Cabinet. Defence representatives in the Government’s inter-agency consultations
were made to feel like “bleeding hearts” in comparison to a hard-line stance
developing out of the Prime Minister’s Department.
The reality of the
inquiry into the children overboard affair is that at best there are
inconsistencies and contradictions in the evidence given before the Senate
Inquiry by some key Defence and public officials. At worst there are fundamental omissions,
half-truths, untruths and cover-ups. The
Prime Minister has sought to distract from this reality by alleging an attack
on the Defence Forces.
A basic consideration of the raw evidence shows that the men and women
of the Australian Defence Forces sought to protect life at sea in every
demanding instance. The officers and
crew of HMAS Adelaide deserve
recognition for the distinguished way they undertook their operational
responsibilities and particularly for the way they kept safety of life at sea
(SOLAS) at the forefront of their decision making in regard to SIEV 4. However, what the raw evidence also shows is that
the extraordinary direction coming from above was to “deter and deny”,
irrespective of the circumstance. This
matter is perhaps most evident in the following extracts of the SHIPS LOG,
BOARDING LOG & OPS ROOM NARRATIVE of HMAS Adelaide.
Adelaide Sunday 7 October
05.36 Female (young)fainted onboard SIEV
05.46 Max returning female to Adelaide
05.47 “SUNCs not to come on board Adelaide, embarking boarding party B”
Adelaide Sunday 7 October
Christmas IS AO
15.15 Command intention to repair SIEV & send them North
15.29 SUNCs claimed UN Assistance due to political problems in their
15.44 Brig awaiting Prime Minister to make decision on SIEV
15.50 Prime Minister determined ADE will tow SIEV to place to be
15.54 Command intentions prepare to tow SIEV
Adelaide Sunday 7 October
Christmas IS AO
15.27 1 SUNC wants UN to be told of location of SIEV. He has sick women & Children on board
15.30 BPO confirms engine beyond repair and steering is also useless.
15.30 CO intends to tow awaiting approval from NORCOM
15.49 CO advised approval from PMOF (Prime Ministers Office) Aust to
tow vessel to place to be determined.
These extracts demonstrate, that although the personnel of the
Australian Defence Force sought to carry out their fundamental duties, they
were often restricted by the instruction to await the advice of the senior
officials of Defence and PM&C or, more disturbingly, a decision from the
Prime Minister himself. Further, the
extracts below demonstrate that even in the most desperate and distressing of
circumstances, Defence personnel were inhibited in their ability to assist
because they were forced to wait for instruction from Federal Government.
OPS ROOM NARRATIVE
Adelaide 7 October
08.35 z Boarding Party has disembarked SIEV. Awaiting intentions from HQNORCOM
08.50z CO 1MC PIPE: Holden won Bathurst and the PM gave permission to
tow vessel to a place undetermined yet
15.49z SIEV RQST DR, I SUNC vomiting blood
& gone into shock.
Adelaide 8 October
07.38z SUNKS becoming agitated as the current course and swell means we
are taking on water. 1.13M of water and increasing
07.51z C B Request to move children & women off.
09.39zPossible SUNC over the side of SIEV. Request stop tow 5cm water
stbd side of deck causing lg amount of panic
09.41z CO denies request
09.44z water level increasing rapidly 120cm water doubling, believe
serious damage to the bottom of SIEV
09.48z continuing to take on water. CO, Remove personnel aft and 02
09.49z 110cm water at shallowest point. We are not sinking but taking
on lg amounts of water. Believe the boat
is slowly sinking
10.09z C B Recommend we put people in the water (x2)
10.29zAll personnel have departed SIEV 4
10.36 Contacting parliament on crisis
10.42z A total of 4 liferafts in the water
11.00z RHIB’s instructed to bring children onboard Adelaide
Adelaide 8 October
16.41 5cm free surface water on STBD side of SIEV, BPO RQST to stop, CO
stated negative, to not be reactionary to SUNCs requirements
by senior officials of Defence and the public service in the daily operations
of the Australian Defence Force is unprecedented. However, also unprecedented is the way in
which some senior officials of Defence then allowed the Government to disguise
the situation to protect their political position. Perhaps the most obvious examples can be
found with Navy Chief Vice Admiral David Shackleton, Chief of Defence, Admiral
Chris Barrie, Rear Admiral Geoffrey Smith and Department of Defence Secretary,
Dr. Allan Hawke.
Admiral Barrie can
be commended for maintaining the SOLAS imperative when rescuing SIEV 4
passengers from the water in a heated exchange with the Secretary of the Prime
Minister’s Department, Mr Moore Wilton.
However, the similarity between his attitude and that of Mr Moore Wilton
that the original report had never been disproved (i.e. prove that pigs can’t
fly) is alarming. This denial has been
the source of much of the negative attention of Defence which followed.
Admiral Shackleton sought to correct the record on the advice that came from
Navy about the incident but he appears to have succumbed to political pressure
later in the day when he clarified his statement in a way which withheld vital
elements of the whole truth.
Rear Admiral Smith
needed to clarify his original testimony to the Committee when advised that
Rear Admiral Bonser from Coastwatch would testify detail regarding the state of
knowledge about SIEV X inconsistent with Rear Admiral Smith’s blanket assurance
that ‘the first time Navy knew that this vessel had sailed was when we were
advised through the search and rescue organisation in Canberra that this vessel
may have foundered...’
Rear Admiral Smith
also declined to amend his evidence on the conduct of asylum seeker on SIEVs –
known as the Smith Matrix – when the evidence became clear that a purported
‘strangulation’ incident had not, in fact, occurred.
As for the
Secretary of the Department of Defence, Dr Hawke, he has admitted that he ‘could
have or should have taken a more active involvement’ in the provision of
advice. At the time he was happy to sit
behind Admiral Barrie’s ‘considered position’ and the Minister for Defence’s
It is now clear that the most senior of Defence officials were aware
that the claims that asylum seekers had thrown their children overboard were
without unequivocally substance.
However, what must be understood is that the Government ultimately
sought to hide the truth from the Australian people. The likely reality is that on the dawn of a
federal election the Coalition government did not want to know the truth. The Coalition Government clearly manipulated
the circumstances of people seeking asylum in Australia for electoral
gain. The Coalition government has
sought to justify Australia’s involvement in war on the brutal regimes of
Afghanistan and now possibly Iraq, however when the people of these very
nations have sought asylum from such brutality the Coalition Government has
promoted these people as having values inconsistent with Australians and not
the sort of people welcome in Australia.
The Prime Minister has stated:
“It doesn’t speak
volumes for some of the people on the vessel – suggestions that children
Interview, Menai, Sydney, 7 October 2001)
“I can’t comprehend how
genuine refugees would throw their children.”
9 October 2001)
“...I don’t want in this
country people who are prepared, if those reports are true, to throw their
children overboard. And that kind of
emotional blackmail is very distressing ... But we cannot allow ourselves to be
intimidated by this.”
Jones, 2UE, 8 October 2001)
In order to maintain these images, it is clear that Mr Reith
manipulated the flow of information.
What also needs to be addressed is the Prime Minister’s connection to
It is known that on October 7 the Minister for Immigration informed the
Prime Minister that he had made a media statement that children had been thrown
overboard. Further, it is also known
that an ‘options paper’ prepared by the People
Smuggling Taskforce, including the statement ‘passengers throwing their
children into the sea’ was presented to the Prime Minister later that
evening. However, by October 10
Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Max Moore-Wilton, and the Prime
Ministers International adviser had been provided with further information from
the People Smuggling Taskforce that
included a footnote suggesting that there was
“no indication that
children had been thrown o/board. It is
possible that this did occur ...”.
Indeed, talking points forwarded to the Prime
Minister’s International Adviser for the Prime Ministers use that same day did
not include the statement that children were thrown overboard. Simply, the talking points alluded to a
possibility that some asylum seekers could have been thrown, or may have
jumped, overboard. When pressed for
evidence the Prime Minister suggested on radio:
“As to the question of
evidence ... I’ll make some inquiries and see what evidence can be made
available... I have been provided with no information since then that would cause
me to doubt it.”
Photographs were quickly produced but just as
quickly they were recognised within Defence as being of personnel rescuing asylum
seekers off a sinking ship and not of children having been thrown
overboard. It is notable that it was not
until a month later, only days prior to the Federal election, that the Prime
Minister’s international adviser attempted to obtain some genuine
evidence. Significantly he contacted his
own Department whom advised him that there wasn’t any. The Prime Minister himself spoke on two
occasions to Mr Reith’s advisor, Mr Scrafton, on the evening of November 7th
about the video. The supposed video evidence
was known at this stage to be inconclusive but in the absence of any other
corroborating material the Government sought to release the videos in time for
the midday news on November 8. That same
day the Prime Minister appeared at the National Press Club again reiterating
“I don’t regret saying,
I should go back and have a look at exactly what was said, but I don’t regret
ever saying that people who throw their children overboard are not welcome in
Australia ... Well in my mind there is no uncertainty ...”.
He also relied upon the ANO report, which Mr
Jordana knew may have been based solely on press reports of statements by
By November 12, two days after the Federal
Coalition Government was returned to office, it became evident that the only
basis for the claim that children were thrown overboard was ministerial
What is further disturbing is that when the Senate decided to conduct
an inquiry into the affair the Prime Minister, despite initially declaring that
he would cooperate, refused to support the parliamentary process and indeed
inhibited its effective implementation.
This is evident in the fact that the Prime Minister explicitly stated
that only MOPS staff would be banned from the inquiry yet as it transpired key
witness such as Rear Admiral Gates were not allowed to testify.
Another concern is pressure exerted on some witnesses not to be
forthcoming. The Assistant Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Department social
policy branch, Jennifer Bryant, was pressured whilst giving evidence by the
Prime Minister as well as the Prime Ministers International adviser and
Secretary of PM & C. Jennifer Bryant
conceded that in an ‘accidental’ meeting in the Prime Ministers office she was
given an ‘impression’ that she should be (in her own words) “the flatter the
better” in her evidence to the Senate (Transcript
of Evidence, CMI 1271).
Commander Stefan King also reflected on the culture in PM&C. In his submission to the Senate Privileges
Committee investigation into possible improper interference, he comments:
“...it has been my
perception, from a series of actions and inactions by PM&C that the
Department preferred that my evidence not come before the Senate Select
Committee and that perhaps agreements or ‘understandings’ may have been formed
to contribute to that outcome. This
perception is directed more broadly to the Department at large, and not to a
particular individual, including Dr Hammer, as I have accepted his public assurances
The Prime Minister
has also attempted to disguise the Government’s inadequate response to SIEV X
behind claims that there was a concerted campaign to ‘denigrate and besmirch
the reputation of the Royal Australian Navy’ and this tactic is also
However, it has been established that the
operational personnel of the Royal Australian Navy carried out their duty with
absolute integrity. What remains unclear
is exactly where and how the vessel came to sink and how hundreds of innocent
people came to drown in the ocean. Disappointingly
the inquiry was not able to produce any certain answers. SIEV X had been known
to Australian intelligence. It was known
to have left Indonesia bound for Australia with an estimated time of arrival. But even in response to the incident, the
facts have not been established.
However, the inconsistencies in the Prime Minister’s commentary about
SIEV X indicate that there is a greater story regarding SIEV X and the Prime
Minister is refusing to tell the story to either the parliament or the public. Such inconsistencies and evasion are evident
in the following extract from a Prime Ministerial media interview.
Are you now able
to advise where you got the information on or before the 23rd of October that
SIEV-X sank in Indonesian waters?
I haven't got
anything to add to what I’ve said.
But you recall
that I asked you this question last week and you said that you'd have to check.
telling, you I don't have anything to add to what I've said.
So you're not
able to advise -
I'm telling you
I'm not adding anything to what I've said.
Why not Mr
Because I'm not
adding anything to what I've said.
reason for it?
I'm not adding
anything to what I've said.
(Press Conference, Sydney International Airport,
30 June 2002)
This discussion highlights some of the political
context relevant to the ‘Children not Overboard’ affair. In the lead up to a federal election the
Government, without public consultation, at times when the caretaker
conventions were in effect, made fundamental changes to our approach to
handling asylum seekers arriving by boat.
Much of what subsequently transpired related to the Government’s attempt
to manage this agenda, at times drawing in to compromise, sometimes hapless,
defence and public officials. This is
not to say that there weren’t many examples of defence and public officials who
resisted such compromise. In the current
political climate they would probably not appreciate being identified by public
acknowledgement, but they deserve the gratitude of the Australian community for
the distinguished way they have undertaken their responsibilities under
Senator for Victoria