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Wednesday, 17 March 2010
Page: 2091

Senator FORSHAW (2:42 PM) —Mr President, my question is to the Minister for Defence, Senator Faulkner. I ask: what is the defence minister’s response to the handing down today by the Northern Territory Coroner his findings into the explosion and fire aboard SIEV36, which resulted in the deaths of five Afghan men?

Senator FAULKNER (Minister for Defence) —As Senator Evans indicated, the government is examining the coroner’s finding from his inquiry into the tragic events of 16 April last year, but I can certainly make some preliminary comments in answer to Senator Forshaw’s question. The coroner concluded that at least three passengers were involved in a plan to set fire to the vessel and that crimes may have been committed in connection with the explosion. He is referring his findings to the Northern Territory Police and the Northern Territory Director of Public Prosecutions.

The coroner praised the conduct of the ADF after the explosion. He said in his findings that the timely and proactive response by the ADF to these deaths is commendable, as is the cooperation shown with the coronial process. The coroner noted the great efforts, professionalism and bravery of the ADF members collectively in rescuing survivors from the SIEV36. He specifically commended the bravery of ADF members Faunt, Keogh and Jager.

I do acknowledge that the coroner also noted that the boarding and management of the SIEV36 was deficient in a number of respects, covering the boarding, search, securing and management of the vessel, as well as communications with the passengers. The Coroner noted that the ADF had taken appropriate action to address practices and procedures which had been identified in the inquiry officer’s report. He said that he was satisfied that the recommendations were being acted upon and that an incident such as occurred on SIEV36 is unlikely to occur again. The coroner noted he had been assisted by the ‘frank and honest evidence of the ADF witnesses’, but made adverse comments about the evidence given— (Time expired)

Senator FORSHAW —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. What further action, if any—

Senator Bernardi interjecting—


Senator FORSHAW —It is a serious issue, Senator Bernardi.

Opposition senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! Please continue, Senator Forshaw.

Senator FORSHAW —I will start again. What further action, if any, is the minister taking with respect to the coroner’s report and findings?

Senator FAULKNER (Minister for Defence) —I have certainly asked my department to examine the coroner’s report thoroughly to ensure that the appropriate remedial action is being taken to address these deficiencies and to report to me if any further action is needed. I also inform the Senate that this month I will be visiting Border Protection Command in Darwin for the specific purpose of seeing at first hand the practices and procedures they follow in boarding SIEVs and the training and preparation they provide to the personnel involved in Australia’s maritime border operations. I will take that opportunity to personally thank the men and women who work hard and sacrifice much to ensure the effectiveness of this important task.

There is no doubt that this was a terrible tragedy. It claimed the lives of five people and had an impact on many others, including the men and women of the Australian Defence Force who were involved. As we all recognise, the ADF personnel assigned to— (Time expired)

Senator FORSHAW —Mr President, I thank the minister and ask a further supplementary question. I note that in your answer just a moment ago you referred to the actions of defence personnel. There has been media criticism of aspects of the SIEV36 tragedy, so I ask: are you satisfied as minister with the way that the Australian Defence Force responded to this incident?

Senator FAULKNER (Minister for Defence) —The ADF personnel assigned to vital border protection responsibilities together with their civilian colleagues in other government agencies do an extraordinary job under sometimes very difficult circumstances indeed. The SIEV36 tragedy is among the most extreme of the situations they have confronted. I am very satisfied with and proud of the way the ADF personnel involved in the incident dealt with the rescue in extremely difficult circumstances where they themselves were at great risk and suffered injuries. I am confident that the ADF has taken a thorough and appropriate approach to ensuring that we learn lessons from this incident. Within two months the ADF had completed an internal inquiry, which I tabled in the Senate. The report was completed in June last year and made 59 recommendations going to the policy, procedures and training for boarding operations for SIEVs. (Time expired)