Following Christian Kerr’s item Good-bye accountability, hullo Rodentism, Tony Kevin has written Christian an open letter:

Dear Christian,

Reading your challenging piece got me to thinking of the remarkable history of John Faulkner’s historic Senate questions on 25 and 26 September 2002 about the still unexplained deaths of 353 people in the sinking of SIEV X – questions which have never been answered by the Howard government, though Howard was happy enough gloatingly to recall them in Parliament in 2003, during debate on the Keelty (Madrid bombings) affair. On 25 September 2002 (Hansard pages 4918-20) Faulkner said:

I ask these questions. Was [paid AFP undercover agent Kevin] Enniss involved in the sabotage of vessels? Were others involved in the sabotage of vessels? Do Australian ministers, officials or agencies have knowledge of such activities? And what about the vessel now known as SIEV X, part of the people-smuggling operation of the notorious people smuggler Abu Quassey? That vessel set sail on 18 October 2001 and sank on 19 October 2001, drowning 353 people, including 142 women and 146 children. Were disruption activities directed against Abu Quassey? Did these involve SIEV X? I intend to keep asking questions until I find out. And, Mr Acting Deputy President, I intend to keep pressing for an independent judicial inquiry into these very serious matters. At no stage do I want to break, nor will I break, the protocols in relation to operational matters involving ASIS or the AFP. But, those protocols were not meant as a direct or an indirect licence to kill.

And, on 26 September (Senate Hansard pages 4998-5015) Faulkner said:

It is the responsibility of the government to answer those questions. I want to know, and I intend to keep asking until I find out, about a number of things.

How far does disruption go? What are the limits, if any? I want to ask, and I want an answer to, precisely what disruption activities are undertaken at the behest of, with the knowledge of or broadly authorised by the Australian government. I want to know, and I think the parliament and the Australian public are entitled to know, what directions or authorisations ministers have issued in relation to disruption. I want to know how the policy of disruption is funded. We would like to know who funds the policy of disruption. How much does it cost to fund the policy of disruption? Who actually receives those taxpayers’ moneys for the disruption program? Who tasks the Indonesian officials or others to disrupt people smugglers or the clients of people smugglers?

We also want to know whether Australians are involved in disruption activities in Indonesia. And it is perfectly reasonable for us to ask about the accountability mechanisms that are in place in relation to these activities, particularly when the MOU governing these particular matters collapses: the commissioner for the AFP and the minister cannot say why; the commissioner cannot even say he asked why that occurred. We want to know whether Kevin Enniss was actually involved in the sabotage of vessels, as Kevin Enniss has claimed. We want to know if others were involved in the sabotage of vessels and we want to know why the government is avoiding an independent inquiry into these very important issues.

Nothing else will suffice in these circumstances.

I often wonder – if our media had given these Senate challenges the news coverage and editorial/opinion page support they needed and should have had, what might have been the positive impact on our political life? The sad fact is that no one in the mainstream media – no editorial writer, no senior commentator – deigned to notice Faulkner’s four-day Senate campaign for accountability in this serious matter of 353 deaths on Australia’s official watch.

The story finally ran briefly on 26 September in ABC Midday Radio The World Today – reporter Catherine McGrath – and then promptly died. It was barely noted in weekend newspapers or weekend television political commentary – I suppose it was seen as “just another Senate frolic”.

Where were Paul Kelly, Michelle Grattan, Laurie Oakes, Alan Ramsay, Kerry O’Brian, Tony Johns etc.? Heartbreakingly for many of us who care about accountability, the serious media just were not interested in Faulkner’s four-day Senate campaign.

A few months later, David Marr and Marian Wilkinson pronounced in their book Dark Victory (first edition, March 2003): “Australia did not kill those who drowned on SIEV X but their deaths can’t be left out of the reckoning altogether” Interestingly, this exonerating judgement, not backed by any argument, was quietly dropped from their book’s 2004 second edition – again, without any discussion by the authors, or any subsequent analysis by the media of the changed text.

So I don’t think one can properly blame the Australian public for indifference to government accountability in very serious matters – unless indirectly, in the sense that our media agenda-setters have decided on behalf of the public that the public would or should not be interested in 353 unexplained deaths on Australia’s watch, and therefore have declined to discuss Faulkner’s electrifying questions or their subsequent Senate history. These are matters of fact.

If the public had seen that our politicians and serious media pundits thought Faulkner’s questions in 2002 about the unexplained deaths of 353 people on SIEV X mattered, I think many of our public would have responded in kind. But our media pundits never gave the Australian public that degree of credit, or that opportunity.

Why do our media uniformly avoid discussion of SIEV X as a serious public accountability issue even now, after my book A Certain Maritime Incident has laid out the evidence of Australian Government disruption and subsequent cover-up systematically, and has been generally favourably reviewed in the book review pages of many newspapers and journals (the reviews are available now on my website)? I think this question goes to the heart of the theme of your piece.

Why was Senator George Brandis able to get away with telling the following lies to a global radio audience on the BBC World Service The World Today program on 24 August 2004 – just as our election campaign was starting here:

But on the issue of SIEV X, both the Government and the Opposition were of the view that there was no involvement by, either direct involvement by or negligence on the part of, any Australian authority in the sinking of SIEV X.

It’s not merely the Government but the Opposition as well who, having heard all the evidence, having heard Mr Kevin’s conspiracy theories, have concluded unanimously that there is just nothing in the allegations.

Brandis knows that these claims simply are not true. He knows that there have been three years of passed Senate motions calling for a full-powers independent judicial inquiry into the sinking of SIEV X and the Australian Government’s people smuggling disruption program in Indonesia. He knows that there have also been three years of Senate Estimates questioning and written Senate Questions on Notice from the three Opposition Senate parties, that directly give the lie to his claims. Yet he still made these false public claims. Was it because he was confident that no one in Australian mainstream media would ever check the story out?

The rot goes even deeper than you know, Christian. It is not just “the rodent” , odious as his regime is – it is hundreds of key people who work in this town where I live, who have learned how to avert their eyes from truly serious issues of government accountability. Don’t blame the public for not caring – blame our political, administrative and media elites for not alerting them that they should care.