October 04, 2013
Immigration minister accuses media of ‘misrepresentation over a long period of time’
The government’s “full arsenal” of measures under Operation Sovereign Borders remains available, immigration and border protection minister Scott Morrison said on Friday as he emphasised the bilateral nature of elements of the hardline policy to deter asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat.
The minister said that aspects of the policy had been consistently misrepresented in the media, adding that “constructive” and “collegial” talks between the prime minister, Tony Abbott, and the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, meant the hardline policy was still on course.
“We have always respected Indonesia’s sovereignty in the positions we have taken, and our policies have always been about protecting Australia’s sovereignty. Nothing has changed in that respect,” Morrison said.
Morrison said the Coalition had “never had a policy of towing boats back to Indonesia” and blamed “misrepresentation over a long period of time” in the media for that impression.
In 2011 Abbott, then opposition leader, gave a number of interviewssuggesting he would bring the policy back. In an interview in October 2011 with MTR Radio in Melbourne, Abbott said of towing boats back: “it’s been done in the past, successfully done in the past and what was done in the past can be done again in the future.”
On 16 July, 2013, Abbott told 4BC Radio in Brisbane that “our policy is turn-around, not strictly speaking towbacks. It’s turn-around. But we’ve done it before, we can do it again. These boats are Indonesian-flagged, Indonesian-crewed, Indonesian-home ported. They have a right to proceed to an Indonesian port.”
Morrison added that the Coalition had never claimed they would set up transit points in Indonesia to ensure that asylum seekers attempting to enter Australia by boat never reached Australian territory.
“We have never said that. What I have said in our policy is that we will seek to have transit centres. The location of those we were never specific about and it remains our policy to have those centres.” Morrison did not go into detail on the locations of proposed transit centres.
In the third Operation Sovereign Borders briefing, brought forward to Friday to avoid the bank holiday, Morrison announced that talks are underway in Jakarta between Australian officials and their Indonesian counterparts on strategies to combat asylum seeker boats and people smuggling. These talks were agreed during Abbott’s visit to Indonesia this week.
Acting commander of the operation, Air Marshal Mark Binskin, said that one suspected asylum seeker boat had arrived in the past week, carrying 79 people. He said that since Operation Sovereign Borders began on 18 September, 171 people had been transferred for offshore processing.
There are currently 953 asylum seekers held on Manus Island and 801 on Nauru, with a further 43 in transit.
Binskin said there was “sufficient offshore processing capacity to meet requirements”.
The minister will visit regional processing facilities on Nauru next week and will not be accompanied by journalists.