Five days. The government has had five days (barely) to ascertain the facts of the asylum seeker boat explosion that occurred in Australian waters last Thursday. Five days to interview a disparate range of people such as Australian military personnel, the people smugglers, and the asylum seekers themselves. Gathering information would be made much more difficult given the language barrier between investigators and protagonists and the medical status of those protagonists. There are doubtless many different versions of the same story that investigators will be forced to sort, parse and analyse.

Five days to determine the definitive and final version of the sequence of events that lead to the tragic death and injury of so many.

Yet, so many commentators are furiously accusing the Rudd Government of a cover-up, despite the fact that we have seen what happens when incomplete information is relayed to the public by a government keen to score points from a tragedy. Imagine the outrage if Kevin Rudd held a press conference on Saturday to communicate the bits of the story he knew, only to be forced to admit the next Wednesday that it turns out some of those bits were wrong, or that there were new bits that changed the context of the original bits.

It’s unfortunate that some commentators seem to be desperate for the worst possible version of events to be true because it would allow them to score points in their wars against the Rudd Government. It’s also unfortunate that other commentators, such as Gerard Henderson, seem to have made up their minds despite the lack of evidence to confirm their theories (my emphasis):

The explanation for what happened seems clear. It is known that, at times, desperate people take desperate and sometimes ill-considered actions. It is likely that petrol was ignited on the boat by a person or persons who believed that this was the most effective way to ensure that those on the boat were taken by the navy to Australian territory. It is unlikely that anyone intended that there should be an explosion followed by a sinking.

It’s possible that Gerard’s right, but it’s possible that he’s wrong. It’s possible that the petrol was not ignited by a person, and it’s also possible that somebody fully intended to destroy the boat and those upon it. There are also dozens of other possibilities.

Speculation is inevitable but it’s unfortunate when newspaper columnists cross the line from speculation to conclusion. The Rudd Government should release the official version of events as soon as possible, but everyone should understand that five days elapsed does not necessarily indicate a cover-up.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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