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Wednesday, 4 December 2002
Page: 7161


Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (3:37 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Justice and Customs (Senator Ellison) to a question without notice asked by Senator Bartlett today relating to the sinking of a boat now identified as `Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel X'.

The question related to what is being done by the Australian Federal Police in relation to the people responsible for people-smuggling activities in the lead-up to the SIEVX vessel and the sinking of that vessel with the loss of 353 lives. It is important to the Democrats to ensure that better scrutiny is undertaken of those involved in forcing such a huge number of people onto that vessel. It was confirmed by the minister, as was indicated to the Senate committee earlier this year, that the Australian Federal Police were investigating potential charges against people involved in organising that. In the evidence given by those people who were on the boat and survived, which is a small number of people, there is a very common story not only of being misled about the vessel but of being forced onto the vessel at gunpoint and being prevented from getting off. There is also all of the talk about Indonesian officials being in the vicinity or onshore at the time of the boat being loaded up with the many hundreds of people who were soon to meet their fate.

It does seem particularly important to the Democrats, given some of the other allegations that have been made about the SIEVX, that we ensure those who were responsible are brought to justice. Given the large number of people who died and Australia's link with the vessel, and particularly given the expected location of where the vessel sank— which was in international waters—then it is appropriate that Australian authorities be involved in investigating the matter. The Australian Federal Police have admitted a number of times that they are involved in, or are aware of, so-called `disruption activities' in Indonesia in relation to people who are contemplating getting on a vessel with the intent of coming to Australia. Given Australia's long-standing involvement in those activities, I think it is particularly important that as much as possible is done to ensure that all information is made available about who was involved, and in what way, in the SIEVX in particular.

The person who has been identified as being significantly involved, indeed as the organiser of the boat that sank, Mr Abu Qussey, who was identified on Australian television some time back as a key organiser of that vessel, has been in jail in Indonesia for a short period on various offences but will be out of jail by the end of this year. Given the minister's statement that Mr Qussey is a person of interest, it is particularly important from the Democrats point of view that whatever interest there is from the Federal Police be exercised fully before Abu Qussey gets out of jail at the end of the year and is able to disappear back into the community—or indeed to leave Indonesia altogether, given that, as I understand it, he is not a national of Indonesia and possibly not even an authorised resident. He would obviously be a crucial person to be able to question further and for more information to be made public about all that was involved—how many people were involved, in what way and how—in the lead-up to the SIEVX tragedy.

Three hundred and fifty three people is a lot of people. From the Democrats point of view, this is a major tragedy that has not been adequately recognised. As is completely appropriate, in relation to the hundreds of people who died in the Bali bombings Australian authorities, including the Federal Police, have been working very hard and diligently in trying to ensure that those involved and those responsible are being brought to justice. From all reports, the cooperation between Australian authorities and the Indonesian authorities has been progressing relatively well in a short period. The SIEVX tragedy is now well over a year old, and there certainly does not appear to have been the same degree of urgency or the same degree of intensive investigation in a cooperative way between Australian and Indonesian officials. There is a real risk that a key person involved in that tragedy, which resulted in the deaths of so many people, may be able to walk free in a short period and that the information he holds may not be able to be confirmed or examined. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.