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Wednesday, 13 February 2002
Page: 106

Mr DUTTON (2:06 PM) —My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Has the Prime Minister received the report he commissioned last year on matters relating to the interception and boarding of a suspected illegal entry vessel by HMAS Adelaide in the period in and around 6 to 8 October 2001? What information can the Prime Minister provide to the House?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the honourable member for Dickson for his maiden question. I think he will have many more opportunities to ask questions in this House. With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, can I congratulate the honourable member for Dickson and other honourable members on both sides of the House for the very good maiden speeches that they have made.

May I remind the House that on 9 November, which was the day before the election, I indicated that I would commission a report on the sequence of events involving the advice given to ministers on or about 7 October that some children had been thrown overboard the vessel known in the defence report as SIEV4. After the election, on 13 November, I formally requested the preparation of that report, which I am going to table, from the secretary of my department.

It is clear from the report, which I will table during question time, that the original statements made by ministers regarding children being thrown overboard were based on reports and advice received. They were provided in good faith to ministers by serving officers of the defence forces and were used in good faith by ministers. It is also clear from the report that subsequently doubts about the veracity of the original advice to ministers arose within the defence establishment, but the report contains differing recollections regarding the communication of those doubts to the former defence minister.

The report clearly states that neither me nor the minister for immigration were informed by our departments or other officials that the original advice may have been inaccurate. I table the report prepared by Jennifer Bryant, Assistant Secretary, Education and Immigration Branch of the Social Policy Division, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, dated 21 January 2001. There was a companion report prepared by Defence under the inquiry procedures of the Defence Act. It contains a number of coloured pages which are not as easy to reproduce as this document and it may be an hour or two before that document is available because of the need to reproduce the coloured pages. As soon as it is, it will be tabled and also made available.