March 27, 2013
The Australian Greens and refugee advocates are calling for a coronial inquest into the boat capsize near Christmas Island which left two asylum seekers dead.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard says the deaths are “incredibly distressing” and has called on the opposition and Greens to back recommendations made by the Houston expert panel, which includes her people-swap plan negotiated with Malaysia.
“The thing that is stopping me from bringing it into operation is that unfortunately the leader of the opposition and his team has decided it is in their political interest to see more boats,” Ms Gillard told reporters in Perth.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott rejected the call, telling reporters in Sydney that when Ms Gillard referred to the Malaysia people swap deal, she was looking for an excuse to do nothing.
“Because the Malaysia people swap involves just 800 people and just at the moment we’re getting 800 people a week,” he said.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young says the tragedy shows the government’s no-advantage rule and offshore processing policies are not stopping people from getting on boats.
She called for the coronial inquest and a review of Australia’s boat interception protocols.
“We need to make sure we are doing absolutely everything we can to avoid these tragedies from happening,” she told reporters in Adelaide on Tuesday.
Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition also called for a full inquiry into the incident.
“It would seem that despite the extensive experience with asylum boats, that Australian navy and Customs ships are still not properly prepared to deal with potential accidents in such a situation,” he said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the three people who were injured when the boat capsized are being treated in hospital in Perth.
A boy, believed to be six to eight years, who nearly drowned, is in Princess Margaret Hospital for Children.
Royal Perth Hospital is treating a pregnant woman who nearly drowned and a 36-year-old man who has serious scalp wounds.
They were injured when the fishing boat carrying 95 people capsized after stopping for the approaching Australian Customs vessel Ocean Protector.
Customs was responding to a call for help from a passenger on Sunday night.
After two officers boarded their fishing boat on Monday morning two large waves struck the vessel and it rolled.
Customs officers plucked all 95 people from the water, but two, a woman and a boy, were dead, believed drowned.
The latest calls come after yet another suspected asylum seeker boat was intercepted by Australian authorities near Christmas Island on Monday. The 105 people on board will be transferred to Christmas Island for health and security checks.