Judicial inquiry into SIEV X still needed

Issue 

Kathy Newnam, Darwin

At a Refugee Action Network-sponsored public discussion on February 24 of his book, A Certain Maritime Incident — the sinking of the SIEV X, Tony Kevin rebuked those who have sought to discredit his work.

The book, published August 2004, has sold nearly 3500 copies and is a culmination of almost three years work in piecing together the evidence about the sinking of the refugee boat SIEV X, on October 19, 2001. In the book, Kevin put together the case for a judicial inquiry into the boat's sinking, in which 353 refugees drowned.

Kevin told the Darwin forum, "the government has absolutely refused to respond to my book — they have treated it with lofty disdain as if it didn't exist". He said that the critiques of his book from those such as Tom Frame, the Anglican bishop to the Australian Defence Force, and Jennifer Clark, an Aboriginal rights lawyer who works out of the Australian National University, were "probably pretty close to a government position".

Kevin's ultimate rebuke to the argument that he hadn't proved his case was quite simply that "it was not my job to prove my case... I'm saying there are a series of inconsistencies and unanswered questions which need to be addressed".

Kevin pointed out that the Senate has passed five motions relating to SIEV X, all which back up the position put in his book, three of them have called for a full-powers independent judicial inquiry into the people smuggling disruption program conducted by Australian authorities in Indonesia and its possible connection to the sinking of SIEV X.

Kevin rebuked as "nonsense" the argument that his book has distressed the survivors of the SIEV X disaster. "On that argument you should never have had a inquiry into the government's response to Cyclone Tracy because people were upset over Cyclone Tracy."

He pointed out the true cruelty to the survivors has been committed by the Australian government, for example, its withholding of names of those who died aboard the SIEV X. Kevin pointed out that justice minister Chris Ellison has admitted that the list of names is available, but the government claims that because it has been obtained from a "confidential source", it may never be released.

"Now isn't that thoroughly disgusting? I mean, can you imagine the survivors of the Bali bombing being told that the list of the dead will never be release? Can you imagine the survivors of the World Trade Center being told that the list of the dead will never be released? Yet, we think it's good enough to tell the survivors of this equally appalling tragedy 'Oh, no, we're never going to release the list of names, you're just going to have to guess or assume that your family has died on that boat. There will never be an official list even though we have it.'"

The government has also refused to grant permanent protection visas to the seven SIEV X survivors living in Australia, who continue to live precariously on temporary protection visas. Every other country that took in survivors from the SIEV X gave them immediate permanent residence as refugees.

"It would have been better if we'd taken none because they could have gone to somewhere like Norway or Finland or Sweden or Canada or New Zealand and started their new lives properly. We are actually prolonging their pain", said Kevin.

From Green Left Weekly, March 2, 2005.
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