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Incident of 15 December 2010

BROWN, Air Commodore James Michael, Commander, Surveillance and Response Group, Australian Defence Force

COLVIN, Mr Andrew, Deputy Commissioner Operations, Australian Federal Police

GRANT, Mrs Marion, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Australian Customs and Border Protection Service

HURLEY, Lieutenant General David, Vice Chief, Australian Defence Force

[14:30]

CHAIR: I welcome representatives of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Defence Force. I thank them for joining us here today. I note that the Senate has resolved that an officer of the department of the Commonwealth or a state shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy and shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of an officer to a superior officer or to a minister. This resolution prohibits only questions asking for opinions on matters of policy and does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policies or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted.

We have received your submissions and I invite each one of you to make an opening statement to be followed by questions from the committee.

Mrs Grant : The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service thanks the committee for providing us with the opportunity to appear and given evidence at today's hearing. Customs and Border Protection officers have been saddened by the tragic loss of life suffered at Christmas Island on 15 December 2010 and the bereavement of relatives and friends. Customs and Border Protection express our sincere condolences and sympathies to the loved ones of those who died in the shipwreck of the vessel now known as suspected irregular entry vessel SIEV221. Customs and Border Protection acknowledges all those who risked their own lives to save 41 people from the sea from the total of 42 survivors.

All on board ACV Triton and HMAS Pirie—and particularly the Customs and Border Protection and defence personnel who navigated their small vessels in such treacherous seas amongst the debris of the shipwreck and close to the very rocks that had destroyed SIEV221—put the lives of those on board that SIEV before their own. This was nothing short of heroic. All these officers should be recognised for their professionalism and bravery in such treacherous conditions. Likewise, we recognise the significant efforts of personnel on Christmas Island and in our operational headquarters—both within Customs and Border Protection, and Defence—who worked tirelessly on the day of the tragedy and in the days to follow to support the operational activity at Christmas Island and the subsequent inquiries.

The weather in the Christmas Island area from 10 to 19 December 2010 comprised active monsoonal conditions with periods of rain, showers and thunderstorms, which is not unusual for this time of the year in the tropics. On the morning of 15 December 2010, the ACV Triton and the HMAS Pirie experienced winds gusting 50 knots, which is approximately 90 kilometres per hour and swells of up to four and five metres, which was close to the ACV Triton's maximum operating conditions. The weather and sea conditions placed SIEV221 in extreme danger, but this did not stop the venture from setting out. It appears that SIEV221 was ill-prepared for the conditions it faced, as evidenced by its overcrowding, a critical lack of safety equipment and one member of its crew disembarking to a smaller boat to return to Indonesia. The weather conditions also meant that the vessels assigned to Border Protection Command, the ACV Triton and HMAS Pirie, were in the lee of Christmas Island on 15 December sheltering from the atrocious conditions.

The ACV Triton already had 108 potential irregular immigrants on board. Fortuitously in the circumstances, she had not been able to offload her passengers and depart from Christmas Island and was on hand to make a significant contribution to the rescue activities on the morning of 15 December. HMAS Pirie, while sheltering in the lee of Christmas Island, was monitoring the hulk of a previous SIEV, SIEV220, which had been intercepted the day before and had had four defence personnel on board looking after that hulk. She continued to conduct surveillance to the east and north-east of the island to the best of her ability in the prevailing conditions.

The weather and sea conditions also severely restricted the effectiveness of HMAS Pirie's radar and visual lookout during the night of 14-15 December. Consequently, and without any intelligence of its arrival, SIEV221 approached Christmas Island undetected, in atrocious conditions and without appropriate safety equipment. After being sighted underway in the light of early morning, it then closed to the shoreline and subsequently its engine failed and it crashed into the cliffs at Rocky Point.

The events of that day are well-recorded and demonstrate the bravery of those aboard ACV Triton and HMAS Pirie, as well as the people on Christmas Island, who supported the rescue and had to deal with those of the deceased who were recovered. In response to this tragedy, Customs and Border Protection, including Border Protection Command, undertook an internal review to identify the effectiveness of the internal policy, processes or procedures used to respond to the incident. This review, which forms part of our submission, provides details of events that occurred on the morning of 15 December. The review noted that Customs and Border Protection followed and acted in accordance with its policies, processes and procedures. The internal review also looked at the lessons learned from this event and made eight recommendations. At the time we lodged our submission, five of the recommendations were fully implemented, with the remaining three underway. I am pleased to update the committee that seven of the eight recommendations are now fully implemented.

Recommendation 4 was completed by conducting a multi-agency desk top exercise on Christmas Island on 19 May 2011 to test instructions and guidelines, and recommendation 7 was completed with finalisation of a gap analysis of communications equipment available to our officers on Christmas Island. Work on recommendation 2, which relates to the on-land radar trial, remains underway. As noted in evidence to the Western Australia state coroner's inquest in Perth earlier this week, we are planning to extend the radar trial beyond 30 June 2011. This will provide the opportunity to test some different hardware and further develop the software by gathering data from the monsoonal season.

Our submission also provides information about our role in coordinating and controlling operations to protect Australia's national interest against eight maritime threats on a risk-based and intelligence-led basis. Finally, Customs and Border Protection also wishes to acknowledge the many professionals who have been involved in providing counselling and support to our officers and the many others who were exposed to such harrowing experiences. Thank you.

Mr Colvin : Like my colleagues, the AFP welcomes the opportunity to appear hear before you today in response to the tragic events of SIEV221. I want to take this opportunity to expand briefly on the AFP submission and respond to some issues that have been raised in other submissions to the committee.

Firstly, to update the committee on the progress with our investigation into the organisers and the crew of SIEV221. On 12 May this year, Mr Karam Haydar Khani was arrested upon his arrival in Australia by the Australian Federal Police for an outstanding arrest warrant issued by a Perth magistrate. The warrant pertains to his alleged organisation of the people-smuggling venture that ended in tragedy at Christmas Island on 15 December 2010 and offences relating to three other ventures. Mr Haydar Khani is an Iranian-born national who applied for and was granted refugee status in Australia in 2000. He was subsequently approved for Australian citizenship in 2003.

In addition to SIEV221 the suspect has been charged with people-smuggling offences relating to SIEV169, which arrived in Australia on 12 July 2010; SIEV206, which had an arrival date of 3 November 2010; and SIEV226, which had an arrival date of 4 January this year. He has been charged with 89 offences in total, a significant portion of which relate to SIEV221. Of the 89 charges, four charges are for aggravated people smuggling involving a group of five or more people, contrary to section 233C of the Migration Act. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years' imprisonment. The remaining 85 charges relate to counts of people smuggling involving individuals, contrary to section 233A of the Migration Act. Thirty-five of these charges relate to passengers on board SIEV221. Each of these charges carries a maximum penalty of 10 years' imprisonment.

In our submission to you, we inform you that the three alleged crew of SIEV221—Mr Hardi Han, Mr Abdul Rasjid and Mr Supriyadi—were arrested and charged with facilitating and bringing to Australia of a group of five or more persons who had no lawful right to come to Australia, the offence of aggravated people smuggling, contrary as well to section 233C of the Migration Act. I can advise the committee that on 12 May 2011 three alleged crew of SIEV221 appeared before a Perth magistrates' court. The matter was adjourned until 23 June and that is when the matter will next be listed, and those gentlemen have been remanded in custody. Chair, it is important that I remind the committee that all these men are now subject to domestic criminal processes and it would be inappropriate for me to put too much more information on the record about those processes.

Secondly, I wanted to respond to the very legitimate concerns of the Council of Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Detainees that has been outlined in their submission to you about the way the AFP interviewed survivors transferred from Christmas Island to Perth for medical treatment. Following the publication of CARAD's statement, the AFP have taken the opportunity to look at the processes undertaken to interview the SIEV221 survivors referred to in this submission. The AFP acknowledge the difficulty faced by these survivors in being interviewed following the sinking of this vessel. The AFP understood this process would be distressing for the witnesses and took steps, as outlined in our submission, to minimise this. Sometimes I must say that the role of police in situations like this is certainly a thankless task unfortunately.

With SIEV221, the AFP approach to witnesses was to try and get the full detailed statement from the witness as close to time to the event as possible and to also get DVI, disaster victim identification, antimortem forms filled out at the same time. For some witnesses this process occurred over two or three days but was subject to a number of considerations, including the psychical and mental state of the witnesses, availability of interpreters, the availability of such evidence like photo boards and other material that was not immediately available to witnesses when perhaps they were first spoken to. I must say that all statements, as always with police, are voluntary.

Thirdly, the AFP response to SIEV221, like that of other Commonwealth agencies involved, went through a large number of phases. For the AFP, the response moved from an initial recovery of SIEV221 as it approached Rocky Point the subsequent search, rescue and recovery operation; the disaster victim identification process, supporting the West Australian coroner, who has undertaken an investigation into the organisers and crew of SIEV221; and, finally, the repatriation and burial of the deceased.

Against this background, one issue has been given some prominence through media reporting of the inquiry and the current coronial process and this is the capability of the AFP boat on Christmas Island, the MV Colin Winchester. During the course of the response to the SIEV221, on 15 December 2010, the AFP officer in charge of Christmas Island considered the use of the MV Colin Winchester due to the emergency situation that existed and assessed the sea conditions at the time on Christmas Island. The officer in charge concluded that any attempt to launch the vessel would be unsuccessful and seriously risk the lives of any crew on that vessel. On this basis the vessel was not deployed. It should be noted that even if there were no issues with the vessel's buoyancy and there were no restrictions on the use of the vessel, the sea conditions were such that the vessel could not and would not have been utilised. The AFP is currently determining whether it is possible to remedy the deficiencies in the fleet or whether it is necessary to commence a replacement program of that vessel. The AFP has deployed a rigid hulled inflatable boat, similar to what you have just seen, from the operations' response group as an interim replacement of the existing maritime capability that we have on Christmas Island. We are working very closely with the Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government, as well as AMSA, to discuss these issues on Christmas Island, including if necessary replacing that capability.

Finally, I and other witnesses here today from the AFP and the witnesses who will be available to you, of course, when you go to Christmas Island will provide you with as much information as we can. However, we will potentially be restricted and constrained by the ongoing coronial inquiry, which at this stage we have not appeared before, the trial of Mr Haydar Khani and the crew, as well as the ongoing investigations surrounding this vessel and other SIEV arrivals. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you, Assisting Commissioner. Lieutenant General?

Lt Gen. Hurley : Thank you. The department thanks the committee for the opportunity to appear and to assist in this matter. The suspected irregular entry vessel, SIEV221, was an undetected arrival and grounding on Christmas Island on the morning of 15 December 2010.

Defence regrets the tragic loss of life resulting from the grounding SIEV221 and recognises the efforts of all those involved at sea, in the air and on the island to assist the stricken vessel. The entire search and rescue effort was undertaken in difficult and dangerous circumstances. The crews of HMAS Pirie and ACV Triton deserve our highest praise. They put their own lives at risk in extremely dangerous circumstances to rescue 41 people from the sea.

Defence is one of several supporting agencies that assist Border Protection Command to fulfil its role to detect, deter and to interrupt illegal activity in the maritime domain. Defence's major contribution to Border Protection Command is the provision of ADF personal and assets, which include the Commander Border Protection Command, the ADF members of his headquarters in Canberra, his tactical headquarters located in Darwin, intelligence support and patrol boats, major surface vessels and surveillance aircraft. Defence's contribution to Border Protection Command is provided under what we term Operation Resolute and is overseen by Commander Joint Operations Command, located at Bungendore.

There is constant, close liaison between Commander Joint Operations Command and the Commander Border Protection Command. Throughout SIEV221 incident, defence maintained its awareness of events through communications between headquarters Joint Operations Command and Border Protection Command as well as through interagency coordination. As the SIEV221 incident transitioned from a response task to a safety of life at sea task and then to a search and rescue task, defence responded by providing additional resources as requested. In relation to the specific events of 14-15 December, defence has provided a submission to this committee. The submission complements the more detailed Customs submissions as Customs is the lead Commonwealth agency. There are no significant inconsistencies in timing and/or key events between defence and Customs and defence agrees in broad with the detailed narrative and chronology of major events within the Customs internal review.

Defence welcome the release of the internal review by the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and defence is working with the Border Protection Command to help implement relevant recommendations of the review. Defence, through headquarters Joint Operations Command and headquarters joint taskforce 639 in Darwin is assisting in the conduct of a review of Operation Resolute, defence's contribution to this effort. While such a review is a routine event, this will be a first principles assessment of the posture of assets and interagency relationships and the review will be completed by midyear. In support of Border Protection Command, the Defence Science and Technology Organisation is field testing a ground based radar on Christmas Island, as has been mentioned by Mrs Grant. And Navy and Border Protection Command have commenced addressing issues raised in HMAS Pirie's post-activity report. This is a normal function of the Border Protection Command working group and Navy staff.

Defence continue to cooperate fully with the Australian Federal Police, the Western Australia coroner's office and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service with all ongoing enquires. Above all else, the performance of the men and women who continuously put their own lives at risk in the most difficult of conditions to save the lives of those in great peril must be recognised. Regardless of all other aspects of this SIEV221 incident, one thing is clear: if not for their efforts on the morning of 15 December, few of the 42 souls whose lives were eventually saved would be alive today. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you very much.

Mr KEENAN: One of the tasks the parliament has asked us to look into is the internal review that you referred to in your opening statements. I note that we have not actually got a full copy of that review and I am wondering why that is the case?

Mrs Grant : We included the publically released version of the internal review in our submission to the committee, knowing that would allow you to put it onto your website and make it publically available. The documents that are not included in the internal review are classified documents that we could take on notice the provision of those ones or particular ones that you might request from us. Some of those documents would need to be redacted in line with redactions we have made for the coronial enquiry. So if we could perhaps take on notice which documents you would like to see?

Mr KEENAN: I do not know what they are, so that is impossible for me to say. It is just annexes that do not exist within the information that has been provided to the committee. I could say that we would like to see the full copy of the report.

Mrs Grant : Well, we will certainly take that on notice. Annex 2, for example, is the complete chronology of events which has been created from logs—everything from the ship's logs, the operational logs in our respective watch floors in Border Protection Command headquarters, joint taskforce 639 headquarters in Darwin.

That sort of material has been consolidated into one continuous overarching log that we have called the chronology. There is some classified material in that and we have presented a redacted version of that. That certainly could be made available to the committee for consideration.

Annex 4 is a highly classified document that goes to intelligence that was available around the period of 15 December that has not been made available as—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Why is that?

Mrs Grant : It goes to the national security aspects.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I accept that, but in your opening statement you actually said that there was no intelligence of the arrival of boat SIEV221.

Mrs Grant : Yes, I understand. There was no intelligence about specifically 221, but we did have a collection of intelligence material for the period pertaining to 15 December. We have a product that I think you have probably had some briefing on previously that exists each day. It is that sort of material. It is more about intelligence collection than just this particular vessel.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I accept that, but if it is important for your internal review to make a determination as to what type of intelligence was available for you to say to us in your public statement that there was no intelligence in relation to 221 and how on earth it got so close to where it did, I think we do need to see that.

Mrs Grant : We can take that on notice and provide those documents on notice, but we will need to work back with the collection agencies as to which material needs to be redacted or make arrangements for viewing of that material in a secure fashion.

CHAIR: Yes. If you are taking that on notice what you might be able to provide to the committee, it may be appropriate for the committee in a private meeting, maybe even next week, to potentially get a briefing on that and you may then be in a position to maximise what you are able to make available to the committee. If I put that proposition to you for you to consider on notice and we will be in contact with you shortly to find out whether that might be an appropriate course of action.

Mrs Grant : Thank you, Chair, that would be helpful.

CHAIR: Mr Keenan.

Mr KEENAN: Who is the decision maker in that instance about what information is provided to the committee and what information is not? I do think it is very, very important. We have been asked to get a full disclosure of all the information that we possibly can and if we cannot get information then we need to have a very good reason why we could not get that information.

Mrs Grant : We are certainly not saying you cannot have that information; we are just saying that we could not make some of that information available in a public submission.

Mr KEENAN: I appreciate that but, of course, that is the first we have heard of that. All we had was a submission and these parts of it missing. Clearly that was of concern to the committee. Chair, I have a lot of questions and I understand that Senator Hanson-Young has to go, so I am happy to defer to her.

CHAIR: Thank you. Senator Hanson-Young.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Thank you. My questions are specifically in relation to the information that was known or could have been known around the vessel 221 prior to the morning of 15 December. We have all seen the footage, we have read the submissions, we have been able to hear directly from many of the people involved and we will hear more of that over the coming week. I am not prepared to suggest that anything different could have necessarily been done in those rough waters. I am concerned about the statement that there was no intelligence surrounding boat 221 prior to 15 December.

We have such extensive capabilities, I struggle to understand how there was no ability to detect that boat prior to 15 December. And if that is the case, then we know that the framework and the multilayered intelligence network that we have clearly is not protecting our borders at all. I understand you have certain pieces of your internal report that you have not shown us today, and I appreciate that you have taken that issue on notice. One of the things I would like you to give on notice to this committee is an outline of what that the multilayered intelligence tree looks like—from border protection and customs to the defence force, in terms of tracking, the People Smuggling Intelligence Analysis Team, the data collected by the RAAF and the data collection conducted by JORN. Would you be able to outline what JORN is?

CHAIR: There were several questions prior to those statements and I want the witnesses to be able to respond to all of those before we then go on to the next question. So if you could do that, Ms Grant.

Mrs Grant : Chair, any discussion about intelligence we would need to take in camera. It would reveal national security and law enforcement methodologies to talk about those issues in an open hearing and—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I have just asked you to take things on notice, that is what I have asked for.

Mrs Grant : My apologies Senator, I misunderstood.

CHAIR: Well, I did too. Because I thought there was a lot of propositions you were putting, which if they are able to be answered, they should be answered.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: If they are able to be answered, that is fine.

CHAIR: I will accept your advice on any security issue in the first instance, and then it may be a matter for the committee to further consider, but do not provide any information that you believe is inappropriate in a public forum. If you wish to respond to some of the things that Senator Hanson-Young has put to you, you can or you can take them on notice.

Mrs Grant : Chair, I would take all of those issues on notice, but I would defer the final comment about JORN to my colleague, Lieutenant General Hurley.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Lt Gen. Hurley : There are a lot of myths about JORN and we can address some of those fairly quickly. The detection of wooden vessels of the nature of SIEV221 and other similar SIEVs by JORN is highly improbable.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Can you repeat that? What is highly improbable?

Lt Gen. Hurley : The detection by JORN of wooden vessels of the nature of SIEV221 is highly improbable.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Can you explain the purpose of the Jindalee Operational Radar Network, otherwise known as JORN?

Lt Gen. Hurley : I will hand over to Air Commodore Brown, who is actually responsible for that.

Air Cdre Brown : My position is the Commander, Surveillance and Response Group, located at RAAF Base Williamtown, New South Wales.

Senator, your question is quite broad. The primary purpose of JORN is to provide a surveillance to the northern and north western approaches of Australia. Its primary objects of interest are military targets. It has a threshold of detection with respect to surface vessels, for example, of Armidale class patrol boats, similar to one that was involved in the rescue, and also fighter type aircraft similar to a Hawk—in other words, fast-moving aircraft. Without getting too much into the theory of JORN, it is a Doppler radar. It requires either larger targets or targets that are moving either away or towards the radar sites—in other words, slow moving vessels or vessels that are moving tangential to the radar are far more difficult to see.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: You are saying that a wooden vessel fits into that?

Air Cdre Brown : I am not sure I understand.

Mr Perrett interjecting

Air Cdre Brown : Yes. The size of the vessel that JORN is designed to detect is an Armidale class patrol boat, so quite a large—

Mr PERRETT: Can you give that in metres?

Interjector: 56.8 metres.

Air Cdre Brown : A vessel that is primarily made of metal. The SIEV221 like vessels are primarily wood and extremely difficult to detect.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Does JORN collect data daily?

Air Cdre Brown : JORN operates according to a peacetime schedule. Yes, we collect data on a daily basis.

Lt Gen. Hurley : People might have a misconception about JORN over-the-horizon radar. It is not a sweeping radar that you might see on a TV screen that does persistent and frequent coverage of an area. It might sit and dwell and look at an area. You must know where you want to look. It is not a search radar. It needs other vectors to tell you, 'Look in this area' and you dwell on that area. It does not scan; it reflects off the ionosphere, bounces down and gives you a constant picture of what is happening in that spot.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Can you trace? Obviously, if you hone down onto that spot, can you move that focus as whatever you are watching moves?

Lt Gen. Hurley : You can move the beam, but it is rather a large beam.

Air Cdre Brown : As the General said, rather than a sweeping radar, it works very much on a tile. If you imagine there are various tiles laid out to our north-west, and the way the radar works is that it focuses on a particular tile for a period of time, then the operator can move to a different tile.

Lt Gen. Hurley : The clarity of what you see is very much dependent upon ionospheric conditions. That will give you the range, the clarity of picture and so forth that you are able to see at any particular time. For a particular spot in the ocean or land, you must know that you want to look for something in that particular location. It will not just search for you and tell you something is happening, in that sense.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: If we need to go into camera, you will need to give us that direction. What data is fed through this multilayered system? All the different agencies collecting it make up the direction and the advice that is given to the Customs and Border Protection Service. I have just nominated one part. What are the other facets?

Lt Gen. Hurley : The other intelligence agencies feeding into—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: The layers. Obviously, Border Protection and Customs act on the intelligence that they are given. They are not in the intelligence agency.

Mrs Grant : That is correct. If you could just clarify this precise question.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Where does the intelligence, the data and the information that is given to you in your daily report as to what to be looking for out there in the sea from the sky come from? I just asked the question about JORN. There obviously are other areas such as what I have nominated—the People Smuggling Intelligence Analysis Team, PSIAT, there must be others. What makes up your daily record of what you are looking for?

Mrs Grant : Yes. The People Smuggling Intelligence Analysis Team is a team that is in Customs and Border Protection intelligence and targeting division that brings together all of the reported information each day, and then the analysts make sense of all of the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. The PSIAT is receiving information from the Australian intelligence community. I clearly would not discuss here how they go about their business, not that I am an expert on that because we receive their products. We also receive reports from other law enforcement agencies that we work with, in Australia and overseas and our own offices. We put together from open source material to highly classified material to build up what we know each day about potential ventures.

And I should say it is not a science by any means. We have pieces of information that could indicate perhaps a venture is being formed that never eventuates into anything that we see as an arrival. We have to make assessments as to whether it is disinformation in a sense for the intelligence-collecting communities, whether it is marketing material by the people smugglers. So even though we get a piece of information it does not actually indicate that that is a fact, and intelligence analysts try and put as many different pieces of information as they can together to form a view of what may occur.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Every day you get a list of possible targets to be watching out for, is that right?

Mrs Grant : I would not describe it that way, Senator.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: You would not describe it like that. How would you describe it?

Mrs Grant : I would describe it in camera if you did not mind, Chair, if we could hold that for perhaps an in camera session? Once we start describing that we are getting into our methodologies.

CHAIR: Yes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Sure. The reason I am trying to get this information is because we know that the conditions on the day were terrible. What we are being told is that the first time anyone knew of this boat's existence was from an eyewitness account by people on top of the hill. That is what we are being told.

Mrs Grant : That is correct.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: At that stage, when you look at that footage, and you hear the eyewitness accounts, it is amazing that we were actually able to save the lives that we did, I believe, thanks to the bravery and the hard work of the officials and the volunteers. But if we go back, what was it that we missed before December 15 when we know that there were boats that came and were intercepted both before that boat left, and after that boat left—other boats. And we know that because it is in the various submissions in here, there have been various news reports of statements from Border Protection and Customs when they have intercepted those boats. So what is it that we did not see prior to December 15?

Mr PERRETT: Chair, could I ask a question that would inform Senator Hanson-Young's question in a way?

Mr CHAMPION: All we are getting is a series of assertions.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: No, I am asking.

Mr PERRETT: This is a technical question, but if we knew the boat was in that tile, and it is seen to be definitely less than 57 metres, could you see it with the Jindalee over-the-horizon radar? Even if you knew it was in that tile, the wooden vessel was only 10 or 20 metres long. Even if I said, 'I have got the intelligence, I saw it leave the port, off it goes, I think it is going to be here', could you see it with that radar?

Air Cdre Brown : That is a hypothetical, but as I said before, detection of any SIEV221 like vessel or a vessel as you saw in the video is highly improbable. As a result of the characteristics of the over-the-horizon radar and the way that it operates, both in a physical sense and also in the environmental characteristics, you cannot rule it totally out, but it is highly improbable, even if you knew where it was.

Mr PERRETT: And squally typhoon type weather would not help I imagine.

Air Cdre Brown : The conditions on the day, even in ideal conditions, it remains highly improbable. The conditions on the day, as you saw on the video, just make the likelihood even worse.

CHAIR: At some point we will go into camera and we can address—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I would just like to put on the record, Chair, I am not making any assertions, I am asking the questions, and I would just like that noted. Mr Champion should not intervene.

CHAIR: We need questions. There is a fair bit of commentary that goes along with your question.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I do not think I have put anything—

CHAIR: Anyway, the question is simply: was the intelligence not there, or was there a failure along the way? And I suppose it is a question that will be answered.

Mr KEENAN: I would like to follow along that theme about the intelligence. We have had submissions to the committee that allege various things. I note that when the internal review deals with this issue of prior knowledge of SIEV221—and I do not say this in any way rudely or pejoratively—the language is not definitive by any means about the intelligence about that particular vessel. It is more like, 'That intelligence was not provided to me.' Is it possible to get a definitive statement that none of the agencies of the Australian government were aware of the existence of this vessel?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: At any stage.

Mrs Grant : That is the sort of thing we could discuss in camera.

Mr KEENAN: I accept that. We will obviously have to reconvene maybe today or at another date to—

CHAIR: Unless we want to do that now. Do we want to resolve this issue now?

Mr PERRETT: Yes.

Senator FIELDING: On page 2 of the submission it says that neither Customs or BPC were seen to have any actionable intelligence. It is the word 'actionable' that needs explanation. It does not say, 'No intelligence' it says 'actionable intelligence'.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Which is different from the statement that was given.

CHAIR: Back to questions. We will now go into camera.

Evidence was then taken in camera but later resumed in public—