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Wednesday, 16 August 1989
Page: 138

Senator COATES —Can the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade provide the Senate with details of the circumstances of the death of Miss Jacqueline Hamill, the Australian hostage killed in the seige incident in the Philippines yesterday? Would it have been possible for the Australian Government to have intervened or taken any other action to assist the Philippines authorities in handling the tragic events in Davao city which might have led to the safe release of Miss Hamill?

Senator GARETH EVANS —Earlier today I received an interim report from the Australian Embassy in Manila giving the fullest details available at this time concerning the tragic death of Miss Jacqueline Hamill. As I announced last night when expressing the Government's shock and sadness at the circumstances of her death, I have instructed the Ambassador to make clear representations to the Philippines Government of the Australian Government's concern that fullest possible investigations be carried out. I have instructed my Department to stay in close touch with Miss Hamill's parents and family, as it did throughout the day yesterday and as I have done this morning, to extend all possible consular assistance in the aftermath of this tragedy. On the instructions of the family, the Embassy is making arrangements to have her body returned as soon as possible to Queenstown in Tasmania.

There is still some confusion and conflicting accounts about the events that took place inside the prison during the almost 48 hours of the seige. According to the doctor who examined Miss Hamill's body when it was brought to the Davao doctor's hospital, the cause of death was a gunshot wound from the back of the left chest region, exiting near the collar bone. There was no other visible evidence of injury. Reports that her throat was cut are quite incorrect. In the doctor's opinion, death was instantaneous and had occurred some hours previously, which would indicate that she was shot during the attempted escape incident in the morning.

The following is, on the latest reliable information available, an outline of what happened. Negotiating with the prisoners had been going on since early yesterday morning, 15 August. At approximately 10.30, while negotiations were still going on, the prisoners decided to break out using the hostages as shields to cross the compound and then take any available transport. During that escape attempt, gunfire was exchanged between prisoners and soldiers during which one of the prisoners and the hostage that prisoner was using as a shield-not Miss Hamill-were killed. The prisoners then decided to retreat to the prison with the hostages. Miss Hamill was seen to slump as the group retreated through a gateway to the inner compound immediately in front of the prison block. It is not clear where the fatal shot came from. That is, of course, one of the matters that we are particularly asking the Philippines authorities now to investigate. Miss Hamill remained there until after the soldiers stormed the prison at 3 o'clock-some 4 1/2 hours later. She was then taken to an ambulance by two soldiers and from there to the hospital where the examination to which I have referred took place.

In answer to the honourable senator's question about Australian Government intervention, it is important to remember that the police and security authorities of any state, any country, have the primary responsibility to deal with law enforcement incidents in their own country and within their own jurisdiction. That is an attribute of every state's sovereignty in international responsibility. The Philippines authorities did not seek assistance from the Australian Government during the course of this incident. That is, I suppose, not surprising, given that, of the 15 prisoners and 15 hostages we believe were involved in the whole matter, only one person was an Australian. Moreover, our own assessment was that in the circumstances prevailing yesterday and in the time available there was no practical scope for any direct Australian involvement which would at that stage have provided any basis for resolution-or a more satisfactory resolution-of the Davao crisis. The situation was urgent, local and specific and one in which foreign governments would have had neither standing nor local knowledge.

So, tragic as the outcome undoubtedly was, I am confident that, unfortunately, in all the circumstances and in the time available, there was no way in which Australia could have intervened or involved itself in any practical way which would have changed the course of events. We did, of course, have a consular official on the scene who went there immediately on the Monday afternoon when the news of the incident came through to Manila, and he was in touch with the authorities throughout. Beyond that, it was not possible for us to play any more substantial role. I do fully appreciate, as does the Prime Minister, the understandable grief and shock of the family, and I really do want to assure them publicly, as I have privately, that the Government and embassy did everything within their power to assist. I do want to take this opportunity again to express our very deepest sympathy to Ms Hamill's family over their most tragic loss.