Letters leaked to the press, only one day after the captain of the Tampa alleged that he had reason to believe the Defense Signals Directorate were tapping his vessel's satellite phones during the previous incident, stated that photos which were captioned correctly (that they were photographs from a completely separate rescue nearly a year ago), had the text removed and were given to the press, along with scandalous horror over "what kind of people would do this to their children and how could we ever want them in this country", going along with - and probably encouraging - a groundswell anti-immigration sentiment.
The Immigration Minister at the time, Peter Reith, also claimed that a video existed of children being pushed into the water: "I am told ... it is an absolute fact, children were thrown into the water". Two weeks later, his press secretary was forced to admit that the Minister had not seen the video, and no decision had been taken on releasing it. Before the video was released, Brig. Michael Silverstone told the Minister publicly that "the video does not show a child being thrown into the water."
The Liberal Party was returned in the election a month after the event, quite possibly in no small part due to the "hard line" it took against such "inhumane elements". It has now claimed that it was bungling by bureaucrats that caused the "misunderstanding", and denied categorically any knowledge that the pictures were not of refugees in the situation with HMAS Adelaide and that it had acted in good faith, despite the Chief of Defence Forces reporting that it was "wrong to tell reporters the photographs showed children who had been thrown overboard", and that text accompanying photographs was deleted before being given to news organisations.
Given the importance of this issue and the huge media focus in Australia of it leading up to the election, to me at least, the plausible deniability of the government in this situation seems at best very limited.