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Stirling Naval Base, Perth: transcript of doorstop interview: [ADF personnel; Defence video; Defence photos; boat people]



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MINISTER FOR DEFENCE TRANSCRIPT OF THE HON PETER REITH

DOORSTOP INTERVIEW - STIRLING NAVAL BASE, PERTH

REITH:

Two matters have arisen which I thought I should respond to. The first is a claim, I gather on Channel Seven, that ADF personnel had assaulted people on the boat and that the video shows that. I have never had any advice that the ADF personnel were involved in such assaults and I have had preliminary advice today in response to these allegations to the effect that those allegations are not true. So I believe that to be the case and so those allegations are denied.

The second question arose as to captions on the photos and whether or not they were removed. There were captions on the two photos that were released. One of the captions was the name of the ADF person but in particular their nickname and the words ‘and his family’ and given that that identified the ADF person and also his nickname left a bit to be desired, it didn’t seem to add anything to the photo. And there was a similar caption for the female member of the ADF and referred to her as the hero and so those were the only words on those two captions. And they were removed because they didn’t add anything to the photos that might have been offensive and they referred to the identities of the people involved.

The only other thing to be said is that what I have always said publicly is what I have been advised and that was not based on me personally looking at the video. The video was not available when we were first advised of the circumstances. There has always been a demand for the information, we tried to give people the information that I’ve been given as the Minister for Defence.

JOURNALIST:

Will you now be looking, will it be as a matter of urgency for you to have a look at this video now?

REITH:

Well I will obviously have a look at it in due course but the advice that I have got is that it’s not entirely conclusive. There are apparently shots of a bloke holding his five or six year old, sort of, over the railing on the top of the boat and I gather our people saw that as a threat to the well-being of the child but also look, it was the situation where the video was taken from one side of the vessel and some distance away and people jumping off were on that side but quite a few were on the other side as well.

JOURNALIST:

But the Government certainly made a lot of mileage out of the interpretation of people throwing babies overboard.

REITH:

The fact is, and it can’t be denied, that this group were particularly difficult and we have had intelligence that some of these people had set out as a deliberate policy to be as difficult as possible to force us to pick them up.

JOURNALIST:

Based on what you now know, would you say that what you initially said was incorrect?

REITH:

Well, my view of what has happened in terms of the attitude of these people to be difficult has not changed at all.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

REITH:

No. The fact is that these people, they sabotaged their motor, they have put their own lives at risk by…

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]…

REITH:

If you say they always do you are only confirming my point which is that it has been a difficult operation. In terms of the advice that we have provided we have attempted to get people the information that I have had. You know, in respect of the photos, for example, there was a lot of demand about the photos, we rang up and said well is there any reason why they can’t be supplied and we checked that out carefully and on that occasion we were able to do so except with those captions because they didn’t add anything to the photos. But [inaudible]..on the basis that the advice that I have been given is reasonable advice based on the happenings at the time. You have got to understand that the advice comes up through the chain of command and it comes into my office so that’s how we deal with it.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

REITH:

Well, all I can tell you is that I have faithfully said publicly what I have been told at the time and…

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

REITH:

I am not in a position any more than anybody else is to do other than provide that information. The fact

of the matter is, I wasn’t there and I didn’t see the video. And in fairness to the Navy too, I mean, apparently the video does have some shots of a bloke holding his child and a second person on the upper deck and they were obviously concerned about what the person was going to do with that child. Now, you know, that was the advice that I had.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

REITH:

Look, I am sorry I am just not an expert in [inaudible]. I really have to go.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

REITH:

Well, I was advised that it was some special camera, yes that is true and I did use that word but if you are asking me I have never seen the camera, I don’t know.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]…taking advice from people any more [inaudible]..making your own opinion…

REITH:

Look, we get advice all the time and with these boat people there are incidents, things happen. We have tried to give people a reasonable account of what has happened, for example, with MANOORA when we had people on board for quite a while that there was trouble on MANOORA and there was a lot of damage. We have attempted to sort of balance between providing people with reasonable information but at the same time not overstating the circumstances.

8 November 2001

[ends]