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SIEV case launched

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Families of asylum seekers killed and injured when their boat, known as SIEV221, capsized against the rocks, are suing the Commonwealth government alleging it failed its duty of care.

Fifty Iranian and Iraqi asylum seekers died when huge seas drove their boat into Christmas Island’s cliffs in December 2010, according to ABC.

Lawyer George Newhouse will today launch legal action in the New South Wales Supreme Court on behalf of eight families, arguing Australia was responsible and the Commonwealth breached its duty of care.

Mr Newhouse represented survivors at the 2012 inquest, saying at the time the government policies were putting lives at risk.

Mr Newhouse will argue the Commonwealth knew or should have known that there were vulnerable men and women on the high seas that night.

There were 89 Iranian and Iraqi asylum seekers and three-crew abroad the boat known as SIEV 221 (Suspected Irregular Entry Vessel 221) on December 15, 2010.

“What we’re saying is those brave people would not have had to put their lives at risk had the government had an operating rescue system on the island,” he said.

“They didn’t have proper systems in place or operating lifesaving vessels to actually rescue them.”

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has condemned the lawsuit saying the claim “beggars belief”, according to report in Fairfax.

Speaking on Monday in Canberra Mr Morrison said, “this is like someone who was saved from a fire suing the firemen”.

“It’s like someone who has been saved by an ambulance officer at the scene of an accident being sued for saving the person’s life,” he told reporters on the way into Parliament House.

”This is really, I think, a shameful and offensive claim to be bringing and again, I just want to give my total support to the men and women of the Australian Customs and Border protection service and the Australian Navy whose reputation, whose character and whose conduct on that day is unimpeachable,” he said.

After the initial eight-month hearing into the disaster, coroner Alastair Hope laid the blame firmly on the people smugglers.

But he criticised Commonwealth authorities for the lack of adequate rescue vessels on the island. He also urged that measures be taken to increase surveillance of waters around Christmas Island for incoming asylum seeker vessels.

A convicted people smuggler, who organised asylum seeker boats, including the SIEV 221, is currently serving 14 years in jail after pleading guilty to organising four boats to travel from Indonesia in 2010 and 2011, according to reports in Fairfax media.

Mr Morrison told parliament last night that he had only just been alerted of the planned legal action.

He said Australia was a free country and people had the right to bring legal action when they see fit.

Mr Newhouse, a Labor candidate at the 2007 election and head of the social justice practice at Shine Lawyers, has conducted a succession of asylum seeker cases.

He is participating in the current constitutional challenge to the legality of Australia’s asylum seeker processing centre on Nauru in the Nauru Supreme Court.