On Lateline last Friday night (22/06/12), Emma Alberici interviewed Minister for Home Affairs Jason Clare on the latest asylum seeker boat tragedy. In the middle of the interview Alberici produced a number of ‘smoking gun’ faxes that allegedly proved the Minister was covering up his incompetence in mounting a speedy rescue effort. The most damning implication made by Alberici was that he could have potentially saved more lives.
Alberici thought she had the story of her life (or the week) up her sleeve and went hard at the visibly bewildered Minister.
EMMA ALBERICI: Now, Mr Clare, I have here some faxes that were sent by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority that seem to contradict your version of events. You say Australian officials first learned of the stricken vessel at 10pm on Tuesday. The time on this fax is 4pm.
Can you explain the discrepancy?
JASON CLARE: I haven’t seen that document. I’m keen to look at it to see whether there was earlier information. If there is, that’s something I want to get to the bottom of it.
EMMA ALBERICI: And can I point you to the fact that obviously that’s six hours earlier than you say you were alerted. I’ve paraphrased it here. It also says that Australia at the very beginning of that fax to Indonesia, it says, “Australia has had further contact with the vessel”, which indicates this wasn’t the first time at four o’clock, that Australia was aware that there was a vessel with 204 people in distress on Tuesday?
JASON CLARE: Yes. I guess the only advice that I can give you, Emma, is that I’ve been in constant communication with Border Protection Command about this. Yesterday when I was alerted about this, I went to Border Protection Command’s operation centre and was briefed on the spot by the team there. I’ve been on the phone to them constantly throughout the day, getting written and verbal briefings. The consistent advice that I’ve received yesterday and today was at 10pm on Tuesday.
EMMA ALBERICI: Can I just get you to look at that fax, you can see quite clear there, 1600 on the Tuesday?
JASON CLARE: I absolutely don’t doubt it.
EMMA ALBERICI: What’s your reaction to that?
JASON CLARE: Well, I want to get more information to find out about that because my intention today and it’s been since 7 o’clock this morning where I brought all of this information to the people of Australia was to make sure that all of the information that we have was brought to the attention of the people of Australia this is new information, I want to get to the bottom of it.
EMMA ALBERICI: Actually, we’ve got other fax messages here that we’ve also been given from the Indonesian authorities. There are four of them all up. There is another one. The first two, I think you’re aware of, that are talking about a vessel back on Sunday.
EMMA ALBERICI: Now are you concerned that this fax or indeed another one as well, might indicate that six hours were lost that you didn’t know about, that potentially time was wasted where other lives could have been saved?
JASON CLARE: Well, wherever the information is inconsistent I’m concerned. And that’s why I’m going to investigate that, what you’ve said is this happened six hours before that first 10 o’clock phone call now that’s an important point. What is also …
EMMA ALBERICI: And it also says that it wasn’t the first communication?
JASON CLARE: Yes, I have to get to the bottom that have. The most important phone call here is the one at 1:30 where we, where the advice to me is we found out where the boat was.
The boat was 38 nautical miles south of Indonesia. The advice I’ve got is that AMSA gave the advice to the people on the boat to turn back. I wish they had. If that boat had turned back and travelled 38 nautical miles north rather than 70 nautical miles south, there would potentially more people alive today than seems to be the case now.
After the pre-recorded interview was played Alberici made the statement below.
EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: And a clarification relating to our interview, the Minister for Home Affairs Jason Clare has contacted the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, AMSA and has been advised that the date stamp on the relevant fax sent to Indonesia shows that it was sent at 2am on June 20, not 4pm on June 19.
You will note there was no apology to the Minister or for Lateline’s sloppy work, just a “clarification”.
For a copy of the AMSA press release confirming Lateline’s error and the veracity of the Minister’s timeline, click here.
Now whether Minister Clare makes a formal complaint is immaterial, he is undeniably entitled to a proper on air apology from Alberici for the false implication of incompetence and assertion that he was potentially responsible for more lives being lost than otherwise would have been. Secondly Lateline needs to take responsibility for their sloppy journalism.
It was only on June, 12th that Opposition spokesperson for immigration Scott Morrison got an on air apology because he didn’t like that an ABC journalist thought he cynically manipulated racism out in the community for political ends. Despite the readily available evidence that supports such a claim (and was referenced on this blog), Morrison wrote a formal complaint to the ABC and got his undeserved apology on The Drum where the comments were made.
What is the more egregious crime: An ABC journalist using imaginary facts to tarnish and bloody an innocent Minister’s reputation or an ABC journalist using verified facts (based on widely reported past actions and words) to inform a political analysis?
The answer to this will be on Lateline’s program tonight.
For the full interview, click here.