September 18, 2013
A former Australian Defence Force chief says the Federal Government’s policy of turning back asylum seeker boats is doomed to failure.
Retired Admiral Chris Barrie was required to implement former prime minister John Howard’s policy of turning back boats when safe to do so.
Now that the policy is being revived as one of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s key election promises, Admiral Barrie fears there will be a return to people smugglers sabotaging their boats.
He says previously, people smugglers would destroy their engines to stop the Royal Australian Navy from returning boats to Indonesia.
He says a return to the ‘turn back the boats’ policy will put the Navy at greater risk, because they will have to respond to boats that are intentionally scuttled, and rescue drowning asylum seekers.
“People smugglers will want to frustrate that policy in every way possible, and that will put people’s lives at risk,” Admiral Barrie told ABC Radio’s Richard Margetson in Darwin.
“Our people are going to jump into the sea to save their lives and do extraordinary things because they’re so compassionate about it.
“I hope no one from our navy or the customs service will lose their lives but it puts people at risk and that is why it’s a bad policy, in my view.”
Admiral Barrie says he has information from sailors who have been traumatised by the experience of picking women and children asylum seekers out of the water when people smuggler boats were in trouble
“I’m in possession of articles written by sailors in Armidale class boats and I know what they’ve been going through,” he said.
“When they have done this time and time again it can be a traumatic experience, especially picking kids and women out of the water.
“Boats would approach Australia, all papers and documents would be destroyed and, when the boats were within our migration zone, the engine would be disabled by putting bolts in them, doing everything they could to render them inoperable so they could be in state of emergency and people were rescued.”
He said when the navy has had to delve into the risky business of trying to fix damaged engines on people smuggler boats so they can return to Indonesia, it has taken days.
“The bad side of it is there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight and I don’t think this policy is going to make any difference.
“It will shuffle some deck chairs but I don’t think it’s going to make any difference.
“Anyone who thinks this is real simple stuff is kidding themselves.”
He said the best way to break the people smuggling model would be to provide a safe way for refugees to reach Australia.