Labor wants answers over asylum lifeboat plans

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says the government will take “all necessary steps” to stop asylum seeker vessels, but has refused to confirm reports it will buy 16 hard-hulled lifeboats.


Labor’s acting immigration spokesman Mark Dreyfus said Australians were being left to guess at what the government was doing in their name.

“The minister and the prime minister are not wanting to explain to Australians what’s going on because that would make clear just how disastrous the impact this is having on our relationship with Indonesia,” he told ABC radio.

“[Australians] shouldn’t have to read about it in the Jakarta Post or to be told by Indonesian authorities what our government and what our navy is being asked to do.”

Fairfax Media reports that the coalition will buy the large, engine-powered lifeboats on which asylum seekers can be returned to Indonesia if their own vessels are deemed unseaworthy.

The purchase of the lifeboats is said to be an attempt to combat the practice of asylum seekers sabotaging old fishing boats at sea, leaving Australian authorities with no option but to rescue them.

But Mr Morrison said the government would not comment on or confirm the reports, saying people smugglers had used official commentary to “make dangerous assumptions about our maritime operations, which puts people at risk”.

“The government will continue to take all steps necessary to stop the boats consistent with our commitments to the Australian people and to protect safety of life at sea,” he said in a statement.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said reports the government was buying the lifeboats were proof its asylum-seeker policy has failed.

“I think this just shows what tatters Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott’s policy is in,” Senator Hanson-Young told ABC radio on Wednesday.

“First we heard they were going to stop the boats, then they said we’ll buy back the boats, now they’re going to start giving away boats.

“The fact is this government is obsessed with doing everything they can to push refugees out of sight, out of mind, rather then helping them.”

News of the lifeboats comes a day after Mr Morrison refused to comment on reports the Australian navy had recently turned back two asylum seeker boats.

Senator Hanson-Young later told reporters in Adelaide that the lifeboat plan was a ludicrous and dangerous idea.

“[It has] complete disregard to the lives of our brave men and women who have to conduct these operations on the high seas and absolute disregard to the wishes of the Indonesian government,” she said.

She accused Mr Abbott of “thumbing his nose” at the Indonesian government, and called for him and Mr Morrison to stop hiding and tell Australians what is really going on.

“Their only policy is a media blackout,” she said.

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