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Wednesday, 13 February, 2002, 15:21 GMT
Howard defends Tampa tapping
The Tampa freighter
Australia refused to take the Tampa's human cargo
Australia's intelligence service inadvertently broke the law when it tapped phone calls made to a Norwegian ship during a crisis involving asylum seekers last year, Prime Minister John Howard has said.

But he told parliament the "inadvertent breach" had been in the national interest and that all other intelligence operations had been legal.


The operation of the intelligence services were on my advice, wholly consonant with the law, save and except the inadvertent breach

John Howard
He refused to give further details of the breach.

Australian troops stormed the Norwegian freighter the Tampa last August to prevent more than 400 mainly Afghan asylum seekers from entering Australia.

The Tampa had rescued the migrants from a sinking Indonesian ship.

Accusations

Opposition parties have demanded an inquiry into allegations that the government used the phone-tapping for political advantage in the run-up to last November's general election.

John Howard
Howard: Action was in the national interest
Mr Howard's government won a third term in office in that election - a victory which was put down to its hardline immigration policies following the Tampa incident.

The Defence Signals Directorate, the military's intelligence gathering arm, is barred from passing the conversations of Australians to the government unless a crime or threat to national security is involved.

But Sydney's The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported on Tuesday that the DSD had provided the government with transcripts of calls made by trade unions, politicians and others. The newspaper said that information was used by the government to form a political response.

That response involved the SAS boarding the ship. Australia later sent the asylum seekers to New Zealand and to the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru to have their claims processed.

The captain of the Norwegian freighter on Wednesday said he had suspected his telephone conversations were tapped.

Captain Arne Rinnan, who was awarded a medal by Norway for rescuing the mainly asylum seekers, told ABC radio he had heard clicks on his satellite telephone line and had complained to the SAS troops.

However he said he could not prove anything.

See also:

12 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Australia accused of spying
04 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Oxfam criticises Australia over asylum
30 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Asylum policy emerges unscathed
30 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Australian hunger strike ends
24 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Australia lifts asylum claim freeze
23 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Australian asylum protest spreads
23 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Australia stands by asylum policy
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