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Wednesday, 4 December 2002
Page: 7151

Senator CHRIS EVANS (2:50 PM) — My question is directed to the Minister for Defence, Senator Hill, and refers to the Westralia fire. Can the minister confirm reports that the initial Navy board of inquiry into the Westralia fire was held before the ship's engines had been stripped down and examined? How could that board of inquiry have thoroughly examined the causes of the fire if it did not have the report from the detailed engine inspection? Minister, have you seen the detailed report on the engine inspection of the Westralia? Does it show that a number of faults other than the flexible fuel line could have caused the fire?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I do not recall seeing that report, but I will pursue the issues that have been raised by the honourable senator and bring him a response.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his answer, and I would appreciate that information. Can he also confirm that the Commonwealth representative at the coronial hearing this week into the Westralia fire argued that the hearing should not be held in public? Did you, as minister, authorise that submission and, if so, why? Doesn't the public deserve to know what led to the deaths of those four young sailors in this tragic accident?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I do not recall taking a position that it should be a hearing in camera, but I would like to check the record to see that that is correct.

Senator Faulkner —He said `not in public'.

Senator HILL —Or not in public. I think that there is a reasonable public interest in this issue. I monitored the implementation by Defence of the recommendations of the previous inquiry, and a large number of those recommendations have been implemented in part or in whole. Obviously, Defence is extremely anxious to avoid a recurrence of such an unfortunate event, with its consequential loss of life. If there is more to be learned from this coronial inquiry, we would obviously seek to act upon that as well. But, in relation to the detail of the questions that have been asked, I will check the record and, as I said, respond further to the honourable senator.