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Thursday, 26 September 2002
Page: 5008

Senator MASON (3:07 PM) —This is another desperate attempt at catch-up politics. The Select Committee on a Certain Maritime Incident has been a disaster for the Labor Party. There has been inquiry upon inquiry and Senate estimates hearings as well, all examining these same issues, and the Labor Party has failed to gain any political purchase or traction at all. I will get to that in a minute. Senator Faulkner's questions rely on the SIEVX incident, but he has had an opportunity, as have all the opposition members, during the inquiry to ask questions about this. These questions could have been asked of the Australian Federal Police, Coastwatch, the Royal Australian Navy and others, but now that the inquiry has finished it seems just too opportune for Senator Faulkner to raise further issues regarding the inquiry. We have been doing this for month upon month. We have heard from Mr Kevin. He gave evidence and believes there is some big conspiracy about SIEVX, and we are still searching for the smoking gun or perhaps the grassy knoll. It is becoming more and more pathetic and more and more desperate.

Senator Brandis —Mr Kevin is now a Labor Party staffer, of course.

Senator MASON —Is that right? Well, perhaps even that.

Senator MASON —We heard evidence at length from the Royal Australian Navy, Coastwatch and the AFP. The AFP evidence is pretty simple with respect to SIEVX. They say:

The AFP did not know the identity of SIEV X, nor its time and place of departure, until after it had sunk, and it had no involvement in its sinking.

That is the evidence from Commissioner Keelty. I note that recently he has also said:

The AFP are doing an outstanding job in working with the Indonesian National Police to combat the very serious crime of people-smuggling. Their joint efforts have prevented well over 3,000 people coming into Australia since February 2000.

I accept there may be an argument from Senator Faulkner and Labor that perhaps the intelligence should have been passed on more quickly or more should have been made from the intelligence among the agencies I mentioned. That is an argument that I accept. But to say there is some conspiracy about this evidence or about the conduct of Mr Enniss is ridiculous, particularly at this stage, when we have had Senate estimates hearings, the select committee inquiry, a Privileges Committee meeting and also a senior council examining the evidence. There have been about four inquiries into this same matter and still Senator Faulkner is not satisfied. I will tell you why. It is because Labor are embarrassed by the whole process. They started this off many months ago, saying that the Prime Minister knew about `children overboard' and that he failed to correct his statements to the public. Now, of course, the Labor Party say the Prime Minister should have been told and he was not. They have moved from saying, `He was told,' to saying, `He should have been told.' The Labor Party has gained virtually nothing in this whole inquiry and it has become an entire embarrassment.

Also, having failed to skewer the Prime Minister's credibility on this entire inquiry, now the Labor Party are focusing on certain middle-level public servants. Again, it is pathetic, because of their failure to muster any political traction. What is behind all this from Senator Faulkner today is the Labor Party's embarrassment about their failure to gain any political advantage from the `children overboard' inquiry. What this inquiry has established is that people smugglers bring people into this country if they pay thousands of US dollars to get here. What we also know is that people smugglers have been engaged in a pattern of conduct which involves bringing people into Australian territorial waters, scuttling boats, sabotaging navigational equipment and, if necessary, threatening Royal Australian Navy staff. That is the pattern of conduct that has been established over the course of this inquiry. This is political catch-up of the most pathetic sort, because the Labor Party thought they were on a winner. And what happened? They went down very badly on this entire issue. Four or five inquiries later they are still playing catch-up, and it is absolutely pathetic. For Senator Faulkner to raise these allegations now after the inquiry has wound down is pathetic and bordering on dishonesty.