Coroner slams dept over asylum inquest response

May 31, 2013

The boat carrying asylum seekers just hours before it capsized on Wednesday, June 27, last year. Picture: AP.

The boat carrying asylum seekers just hours before it capsized on Wednesday, June 27, last year. Picture: AP.

The WA coroner has criticised the Department of Immigration and Citizenship after a Perth court heard the department planned not to translate and forward letters to the survivors and relatives of asylum seekers who died after a boat capsized north of Christmas Island last year.

Coroner Alastair Hope said this morning that although an investigation into the tragedy which saw 17 bodies recovered and 85 of the 212 passengers presumed dead had not unearthed any concerns about Australia’s response to the incident, an inquest should still occur next month to provide a public record of what happened.

The survivors of the June 21, 2012 incident included two people who faced people smuggling charges. The tragedy happened about midway between the Indonesian island of Java and Australia’s Christmas Island, with Australian organisations involved in the rescue effort.

Mr Hope said he hoped DIAC would assist the Coroner’s Court by translating and forwarding a letter to those families of the deceased and any survivors to notify them of the inquest and provide an opportunity to raise any issues.

Today, a lawyer, who was not representing the department, told the court he understood that DIAC had done much work to collate the details of those people but needed a subpoena to be issued by the court so that it could hand over the information without breaching privacy laws.

However, the department did not see its role as extending to issuing court correspondence and planned to resist a direction from the Coroner regarding the translation and provision of letters of the court.

Mr Hope said he expected only two or three languages would be involved in the translation and suggested the fact he could not even be certain about this showed why DIAC was in a “perfect position” to take over the job.

“Frankly, I find that a most unhappy and unfortunate response,” he said.

“I am very disappointed.”

Mr Hope suggested it seemed that WA authorities were being expected to “drop everything” and assist while the Commonwealth did not co-operate.

The matter will be further discussed at a directions hearing on June 7, with an inquest into the fatalities scheduled for June 25-26.

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Filed under Boat Tragedy, Courts and Legal Challenges

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