Did the Australian Navy turn back another boat?

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

The federal government has come under renewed criticism for its secretive policy relating to asylum seeker boat arrivals.


The latest criticism follows reports that on at least one recent occasion, the Australian Navy forced an asylum seeker boat to turn back towards Indonesia where it ran out of fuel and ran aground.

Zara Zaher has the details.

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When it was in Opposition, the Coalition issued a media release every time an asylum seeker boat arrived in Australian waters from Indonesia.

In government, the Coalition’s attitude has quickly changed, and information about boat arrivals is severely limited.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison is refusing to comment on Indonesian reports that on at least one recent occasion, the Australian Navy forced an asylum seeker boat back to Indonesia.

This would be in line with a Coalition election promise to tow boats back when safe to do so – but it’s a policy opposed by the Indonesian government.

The Indonesian reports say in mid-December, the Australian Navy intercepted a boat carrying 47 asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa,

They say those aboard were given life vests and communication equipment before the boat was sent back to Indonesia.

Indonesian authorities are said to have discovered the nine women and 38 men on Rote Island off West Timor, where the boat had run aground after running out of fuel.

An Australian man living on Rote, who has asked not to be identified, says sea conditions in the area were unpredictable in December.

“The problem with December is that you can get a lot of storms. You can get up to six storms a day. So those storms they’ll have pretty strong gusty winds as they approach and they you get a lot of rain. I wouldn’t like to be anywhere in that part of the Indian Ocean without enough fuel. There’s no way I’d jump in one of those local fishing boats which has deteriorated in appalling conditions and head anywhere into the Indian Ocean.”

Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson Young says the government should confirm whether the Indonesian reports are accurate.

She says the government’s silence on the issue is concerning.

“If there’s nothing to hide, then be up front. It begs the question: what is so bad that is happening out there that the government doesn’t want the Australian people to know about?”

The Refugee Action Coalition’s Ian Rintoul describes the Immigration Minister’s secrecy as shameful.

“I think again we can see why Scott Morrison doesn’t want to be forthcoming about what these policies actually mean. The towback policy put the lives of those 45 people at risk and it was probably more by good luck and chance that we didn’t see lives lost explicity because of Australian government policy.”

In November, Indonesia suspended co-operation with Australia on asylum seekers after reports emerged that Australia had spied on the Indonesian president.

Indonesia’s Foreign Minister, Marty Natalegawa, has made it clear Australia hasn’t been forgiven yet – though he’s indicated he expects relations to return to normal.

“The current state of Indonesian and Australian relations is in a difficult phase. At the same time I am of the view that this is an aberration and not the rule, and that in due course the relation will be back to where it has been in the recent past.”




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