As the injured were still being ferried to hospital, WA Premier Colin Barnett was already disclosing details of what the explosion that had occurred on aboard a boat intercepted off Ashmore Reef. As details were still coming to hand, Shadow Immigration Spokesperson Sharman Stone was talking to Sky, highlighting the “softening” of border protection measures under the Rudd Government.

Meanwhile the government were treading softly, mindful of the way such incidents had been “treated by governments in the past.” The Federal Minister for Home Affairs Bob Debus was cagey on details, and the Prime Minister did not speak about the incident until 24 hours after the event.

But as we hit the publish button, Prime Minister Rudd has just slammed people smugglers, labeling them the “scum of the earth”, and pledging to “come down hard” on the smugglers and “act decisively” on the issue. Crikey presents a time line of events:

Wed afternoon 15 April: Boat intercepted by coastal patrol boat HMAS Albany — SMH

Very early am: Federal Minister for Home Affairs Bob Debus tells radio that a boat has been intercepted.

6.30am Thurs 16 April, local time: Boat explodes off Ashmore Reef. — SBS News

9.30am local time: A military plane carrying 16 injured people arrives at Perth airport.

Approx 11:10am: A press conference was held by WA Premier Colin Barnett on an unrelated issue. After about 20 minutes of comment on other topics the questions turned to the boat people. “It is understood that persons on the boat spread petrol and that ignited causing an explosion,” said Barnett. (click here to listen)

11:45am: Shadow Immigration Spokesperson Sharman Stone appears on Sky Televison, stating “You can’t announce a softer policy and then not expect people to lose their lives through people smuggling.”

12pm: Sky and World Today start reporting that there’s been an incident and Debus has said the government are finding out the exact details. The news outlets report that there’s “been an explosion or serious fire on board the vessel. The incident has resulted in fatalities.”

2:15pm: Malcolm Turnbull holds a doorstop media conference. “There is no doubt that the impression has been created that we are now more accommodating or taking a less hard line towards people smuggling than we had in the past,” says Mr Turnbull.

2.30pm: 20 minute Canberra press conference with Bob Debus and Rear-Admiral du Toit confirming that three people have died — the conference ends with a chorus of the same question: “What happened?” “As I made the point before, the commanding officer who’s the on-scene commander has his hands full at the moment just dealing with life and death issues and really what we don’t want to do is to try and encumber him with all sorts of questions,” says Rear-Admiral du Toit.

7.30pm: Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus discusses boat explosion on The 7.30 Report. Says it is “not at all clear” how information relating to the use of fuel in the explosion made its way to WA premier Colin Barnett before him.

Midnight, local time: A RFDS plane carrying one victim arrives at the Broome Airport.

4am: Four injured men arrived at Royal Perth Hospital, with another two described as severely injured arriving just after 7am this morning. A third man on the flight had to be taken off the plane in Broome due to the severity of his injuries. He is being treated by a specialist burns team from RPH in Broome. His condition has now stabilised and he will be flown to Perth later today. More people are expected to arrive in Darwin later this morning on Navy boats. — The West

7.30am: Managing Director of Darwin Hospital Dr Notaras tells AM‘s Sarah Hawke he could not comment on whether or not there were children among the injured. “I believe there were a couple of young people on board the plane [that landed in Darwin], but suffice to say that I can’t really make a comment,” he said. Dr Notaras says the hospital is expecting 13 to 20 patients, with the less seriously injured likely to arrive on Navy patrol boats this afternoon.

Early this morning: “Now the hard work of our medical and emergency teams begins in earnest,” Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said this morning in his first comments on the blast, more than 24 hours after it happened.

12.58 today: Rudd slams people smugglers at a doorstop, labels them “scum of the earth.” Says that the government have tough measures in place to deal with these people. Highlights the deployment of effective monitoring. Pledges to deepen “co-operation with friends and partners and neighbours.” Refers to a “fight on many fronts.” Reiterates that people smugglers “…are the vilest form of human life.. they should rot in jail and in my own view, rot in hell. That is why this government is dedicated… to fight the fight against people smugglers.. to maintain a hardline approach…”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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