September 23, 2013
Christmas Island’s administrator Jon Stanhope says he will have to reconsider his position if told not to speak publicly about boat arrivals.
His comments come a day after the first asylum seeker vessel since the Federal Government implemented its new border protection policy arrived on Christmas Island, carrying about 30 people.
The Government is not providing any details of the boat, but the ABC has been told by people on Christmas Island that the passengers include men, women and children from the Middle East.
Under the previous Labor government, media outlets were notified each time a boat was intercepted.
However, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison imposed new restrictions on the flow of information about asylum seeker boats, saying he will only provide weekly briefings – the first of which will be today.
He argues that the changes will help undermine the people smuggling trade by providing less information to exploit.
“Briefings on Operation Sovereign Borders will be initially held weekly with any changes based on operational considerations to be advised,” Mr Morrison said in a statement.
I would find it absolutely remarkable that there could be a policy that would seek to prevent 2,000 Australians on Christmas Island talking about what happens hereChristmas Island’s Administrator Jon Stanhope
The statement continued: “People smugglers use information as a tactic to ply their trade. Taking control of how that information is released denies people smugglers the opportunity to exploit such information and is just another one of the many measures we are utilising to stop the boats as the Government has promised it would do.”
Mr Stanhope says he has not yet received directions from the Abbott government not to provide information but that if he were to, the policy would be unworkable.
“I would find it absolutely remarkable that there could be a policy that would seek to prevent 2,000 Australians on Christmas Island talking about what happens here,” Mr Stanhope said.
A former Christmas Island administrator, Brian Lacy, meantime has labelled the decision to only provide weekly updates on asylum seeker arrivals as “puerile.”
Mr Lacy says withholding information does not make any impact on the actions of those seeking asylum.
“There’s simply no measure of deterrents that we could introduce that will stop these people fleeing the persecution and the brutality of their homeland and braving the elements for a better life in Australia or anywhere else for that matter,” he said.
Labor has attacked the Coalition’s changes, warning of a “culture of secrecy”, with Labor frontbencher and leadership contender Bill Shorten ridiculing the move.
“They said they would stop the boats, then they said they would buy the boats, and now they’re saying they’re going to hide the boats,” he said.
Tony Kerin from the Australian Lawyers Alliance has questioned the policy, saying it appears to be politically motivated.
“If it’s limiting information on this issue then that’s an inappropriate thing for the government to do,” he said.
“It was a burning issue prior to election and our community has a right to know what’s happening on our borders on this issue when it happens, not just when the government feels like releasing the information.”