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Wednesday, 13 February 2002
Page: 119

Ms GILLARD (3:09 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. Given that the report tabled today finds that Minister Reith knew on 11 October that the photographs did not depict children being thrown overboard, precisely when did you or any member of your staff first know that the claims you made in relation to this matter on 7 October were not correct?

Mr RUDDOCK (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) —I thank the honourable member for Lalor for her first question. In this parliament I may get more questions than I have had in the past. Early in October a suspected illegal entry vessel with 229 people on board was intercepted off Christmas Island. On 7 October at 9.45 a.m. I was explaining the implications of the border protection legislation bills that this House has passed and I had a call from the secretary to my department, Mr Farmer, who was taking part in a meeting of the high level interdepartmental working group considering this issue. Mr Farmer advised me that the working group had received advice from a representative of the Department of Defence that all passengers on the vessel were wearing life jackets, that some were jumping into the water—

Mrs Irwin —Because it was sinking.

The SPEAKER —The minister has the call! I remind those on my left that he is entitled to be heard in silence.

Mr RUDDOCK —and that some were throwing their children overboard. My recollection is that the vessel sank several days later. I did advise the media attending the press conference of the information I had received. I later became aware of some reports from Christmas Island that were carried in newspapers. I know of those reports only what was contained in them. I do not know whether they had any veracity associated with them or not. The fact is that at no time have I been advised that the initial advice that was given to me was—

Mr McMullan —Did you ask?

Mr RUDDOCK —I simply say: at no time was I advised that the information that was given to me was otherwise than correct. The fact is that that was the case. I have not seen the report, which you are all reading, that has been tabled today.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr RUDDOCK —That is the case. The Prime Minister has tabled the report today. I will read it and come to a view as to whether or not I should form a different view as to what may or may not have happened at that time.