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Thursday, 5 December 2002
Page: 7228

Senator MACKAY (Tasmania) (9.40 a.m.)—At the request of Senator Cook, I move:

That the Senate—

(a) congratulates Ms Natalie O'Brien for maintaining the highest standards of Australian journalism in reporting the fact that the `Children Overboard' incident never happened and on receiving the Perth Press Club Award, an honourable mention at this year's George Munster Award for Independent Journalism and a nomination for, and an honourable mention in, this year's Walkley Award for journalist of the year; and

(b) notes that:

(i) in reporting her award the Australian stated that, `the story broke through the wall of official misinformation surrounding the “children overboard” affair. The resulting furore became a major factor in the 2001 federal election campaign. The story forced the Prime Minister to release the video of the episode and sparked a departmental enquiry',

(ii) the Select Committee on A Certain Maritime Incident records, at 6.194 of its report, that Ms O'Brien's article reported comments from Christmas Island residents claiming that HMAS Adelaide crew members had said that children had not been thrown overboard,

(iii) the report notes at 2.53-4 that the strictly centralised control of information through the Minister's office meant that:

(a) Defence was unable to put out even factual material without transgressing the public affairs plan,

(b) the instruction that no information was to be released to the media by Defence personnel was explicitly reinforced on the day after Minister Reith had been told by Air Marshall Houston that no children were thrown overboard from SIEV 4, and

(c) as Mr Humphreys said, `no public correction to information could be made unless the Minister agreed to those misrepresentations being corrected',

(v) consequently, legitimate inquiries by the media were not answered and, by Ministerial directive, were required to be referred to the Minister who did not answer them, and

(vi) the publication by the Australian of Ms O'Brien's article played a key role in bringing to light the truth about the alleged children overboard incident.

Question agreed to.