PM’s Adviser Was Fixer For Viking Stand-Off

PM's adviser was fixer for Viking stand-off

By Paul Maley
The Australian, May 13, 2010

Kevin Rudd's national security adviser, Duncan Lewis, co-ordinated the government's response to the month-long stand-off with the 78 asylum-seekers aboard the Oceanic Viking Customs ship, raising fresh questions about the Prime Minister's involvement in the affair.

And as the Oceanic Viking was again forced to rescue asylum-seekers, this time 48 people aboard a boat taking on water off Western Australia on Tuesday, the opposition accused the government of fudging the immigration budget by failing to account for the rising cost of onshore detention.

The Oceanic Viking rescued the 78 Sri Lankans in October and took them to the Indonesian port of Tanjung Pinang.

But those aboard refused to leave, insisting they be taken to Australia. In order to resolve the impasse, the government guaranteed resettlement in a third country within four to 12 weeks, provided they left the boat.

Mr Rudd denied any advance knowledge of the deal. But in an answer to a Senate committee, Customs and Border Protection said Mr Lewis had led the government's response to the incident.

'The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, led by the national security adviser, co-ordinated a whole-of-government response while the rescued people were aboard ACV Oceanic Viking,' Customs said.

Sources close to the negotiations said at the time the Prime Minister's office was intimately involved in managing the affair, although there was no evidence Mr Rudd was personally aware of the arrangements being made.

Yesterday, a spokeswoman for Mr Rudd said the Prime Minister stood by his earlier denials.

Opposition spokesman for immigration Scott Morrison said news of Mr Lewis's involvement raised fresh questions about the affair.