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Department says sorry for Malu Sara -

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Department says sorry for Malu Sara

Samantha Hawley reported this story on Tuesday, October 20, 2009 12:10:00

ELEANOR HALL: It's taken four years but the Immigration Department today formally apologised to the
families of five people who drowned when their immigration boat, the Malu Sara, sank in the Torres

Earlier this year, the Queensland coroner found that the 2005 disaster was "totally avoidable".

In Canberra this morning, the head of the Immigration Department said "sorry" to the family,
friends and colleagues of those who died.

Samantha Hawley has our report.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: A week ago, the head of the Immigration Department, Andrew Metcalfe attended a
memorial service to mark the fourth anniversary of the sinking of the immigration boat, the Malu
Sara in the Torres Strait.

Today at a Senate Estimates hearing in Canberra he issued this apology.

ANDREW METCALFE: I would like to again acknowledge the department's deep sadness at the loss of
life and to record the department's condolences to the families, to the friends and to the
colleagues of those who were lost and also to the wider Torres Strait communities.

The department is deeply sorry that the tragic sequence of events as described by the coroner
occurred and for the losses suffered by all those affected by this avoidable tragedy.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: It's the first time the word "sorry" has been used by the department.

Mark Bousen is the editor of the Torres News - the local Torres Strait newspaper.

MARK BOUSEN: Indeed I suggested to Mr Metcalfe last week that that term had never been used while
the department had apologised many times but the term sorry had never been used. 'Cause I pointed
out to him how important it was to the families and the community that the word sorry be used.

Having realised that they had not done so, he immediately apologised unreservedly.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: And why is the word sorry so important to the families of the victims?

MARK BOUSEN: I think it is a recognition, a formal recognition. You can say, you can apologise many
times but without taking any of the blame for it.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Earlier this year the Queensland coroner Michael Barnes issued a damning report
into the Malu Sara tragedy.

He found the sinking of the immigration boat was avoidable and that the five victims including one
child and two immigration officials were involved in a terrible chain of events, from the purchase
of an unseaworthy boat to a flawed search and rescue effort.

Mark Bousen says this morning's apology is only a fraction of what the families of those who died
are fighting for.

MARK BOUSEN: The first is that there needs to be some legal charges laid. There needs to be some
people charged over it. There has never been any charges made and the people with whom the coroner
apportioned blame still remain free and going about their lives.

The second thing is they wanted sorry to be said. Well, that has now been done and the third is the
compensation issue.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Jan McLucas is a Senator for northern Queensland. She was present at this
morning's hearing.

JAN MCLUCAS: I am very impressed with the words that you have just said about the tragedy that we
know as the Malu Sara. I am sure that the people of Torres Strait will take great comfort from the
words that you have just spoken.

There is still more to do as you have indicated in your opening statement and I look forward to
being able to work with the department to find some resolution for the families.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Comcare, the government department that deals with workplace injury issues, is
also investigating the tragedy and is expected to release its findings soon.

Andrew Metcalfe says the Immigration Department is working to ensure the victims of the boating
tragedy are never forgotten.

ANDREW METCALFE: We will, in consultation with our staff and the families, continue to explore ways
to honour and remember those who died. Ted Harry, Wilfred Baira, Valerie Saub, Flora Enosa and
Ethena Enosa. Thank you.

ELEANOR HALL: That is the secretary of the Immigration Department, Andrew Metcalfe ending that
report from Samantha Hawley in Canberra.