No surveillance on SIEVX; Keelty
23 November 2002
Police Commissioner Mick Keelty yesterday insisted the Australian Federal Police had not used tracking devices to monitor the doomed people-smuggling vessel SIEVX, despite claiming "public interest immunity" in trying to refuse to answer official questions about the surveillance of asylum-seeker boats.
Mr Keelty wrote to a Senate estimates committee this week asking to be released from answering questions about the tracking of people-smuggling boats after the previous day repeatedly avoiding being drawn by senators on whether he had known of the use of monitoring devices.
"The questions call for an answer which may disclose lawful methods for detecting, investigating or dealing with matters arising out of breaches of the law." Mr Keelty wrote. "The disclosure of (this) would, or would be reasonably likely to prejudice the effectiveness of those methods."
But yesterday at a press conference he specifically responded to questions about SIEVX which sank en route from Indonesia to Australia, with the loss of 353 lives.
"SIEVX was not tracked by anyone in the AFP, and in fact, we still don't know where SIEVX sank," he said.
In the letter to the committee, Mr Keelty asked that his request to refuse to answer questions be kept secret, a move overruled by the clerk of the Senate, Harry Evans.
It arose out of questions from Labor's Senator John Faulkner, who wanted to know about the practice. In response, Mr Keelty undertook to contact officers, now deployed in Indonesia, to find out.
Then Senator Faulkner asked both Justice and Customs Minister Chris Ellison and Mr Keelty whether they had had personal knowledge of tracking devices being used on people-smuggling vessels. Senator Ellison gave a qualified response, "Offhand, I am not aware of anything in relation to a tracking or listening device - operational details are not conveyed to me," he said.
Mr Keelty avoided the question completely, despite being asked several times, promising only to take it on notice.
Finally, Senator Ellison intervened to defend Mr Keelty's right to defer answering the question by taking it on notice.
Mr Keelty said yesterday that his request for immunity was legitimate because answering the questions could compromise operations.