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Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Page: 11236

Mr TURNBULL (2:00 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer him to his answer in the House yesterday regarding the Oceanic Viking. He said:

… I cannot recall each step in that sequence of events.

Now that the Prime Minister has had an opportunity to check the sequence of events, will he now inform the House when he was first notified that the people aboard the Oceanic Viking would not be permitted to land at the port of Merak and instead would be transferred to the Tanjung Pinang detention centre? What was his own involvement in these decisions?

Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) —I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his question. My advice is that this was initially a search and rescue operation under the control of the Indonesian search and rescue authority. When a vessel with 78 passengers on board became distressed in the Indonesian search and rescue area, the Indonesian search and rescue authority sought assistance from Australia—that is, the authority sought assistance from Australia. Australia takes its search and rescue obligations seriously. We provided that assistance in accordance with international law and, in our own terms, our own safety of life at sea obligations. We take those obligations seriously. Are those opposite seriously suggesting that we should not?

HMAS Armidale responded to that request for assistance. The passengers on board the distressed vessel were later transferred to the Oceanic Viking. Indonesia stated that the Oceanic Viking would proceed to shore in Indonesia to disembark the passengers at the port of Merak. I am advised that subsequently Indonesian officials advised that the Oceanic Viking should not come to the port of Merak due to shipping activity at the port and a shortage of available accommodation. Further, I am advised that the Indonesian authorities have now requested the Oceanic Viking to anchor on the eastern side of the island of Bintan, off the port of Kijang. Australian authorities have agreed with that request. The Australian government is working closely with Indonesian authorities to facilitate the safe transfer of passengers to land. That is my broad understanding of the sequence of events.

Furthermore, in response to the honourable member’s question, could I say this. In my discussions with the President of Indonesia in Jakarta at the time of his inauguration he and I discussed the humanitarian circumstances which arose from this particular vessel, a vessel in distress at sea that was in the Indonesian search and rescue area. They, as I recall, did not have a vessel close by and made a request of Australia to assist. In the discussions with the Indonesian President arising from the humanitarian circumstances concerning this vessel, and the particular concerns about a child who at that stage was reported to be ill on that vessel, the Indonesians agreed to provide for that vessel to go ashore in Indonesia. That is the background to what occurred there. Subsequent discussions about precise embarkation points have been discussed between relevant officials of the two governments. As I said, they are of a diplomatic nature.