Minister Denies Asylum Boat Sabotage ~ Cameron Stewart (Aus)
AUSTRALIA did not sanction the sabotage of asylum-seeker boats in Indonesia, Justice Minister Chris Ellison said yesterday. But he refused to say if any boats had actually been sabotaged.
The minister was responding to what he called an "outrageous slur on Australian law enforcement" by senator John Faulkner after the Labor Senate leader raised explosive questions about Australia's attempts to disrupt people-smugglers.
Senator Faulkner had asked whether the Government's efforts to disrupt asylum-seeker boats included the direct sabotage of vessels, including Siev X which sank with the loss of 353 lives.
"It is not the policy of the Australian Government to put people's lives in danger," Senator Ellison said.
Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty said in a statement that the AFP had never been involved in the sabotaging of vessels either directly or indirectly.
The Government runs its people-smuggling disruption program out of the Australian embassy in Jakarta but has repeatedly refused to reveal the extent of its disruption activities.
An AFP informant, Kevin Enniss, recently told the Nine Network's Sunday program that he had paid Indonesians to scuttle asylum-seeker boats with passengers aboard.
The Opposition pursued the issue in Senate question time yesterday, asking what disruption activities Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock sanctioned during a visit to Indonesia in June last year.
Disruption activities are carried out by Australian agencies, including the AFP, in conjunction with Indonesian police and Immigration authorities.
Commissioner Keelty has told the children overboard inquiry that the APF would never ask the Indonesian police to break the law in disrupting people-smugglers. But he admitted that the AFP had little control over the actions of the Indonesian authorities in relation to disruption.
"The difficulty is that once we ask them to do it, we have to largely leave it in their hands as to how they best do it," he said.
Although Senator Ellison denied Australian involvement in sabotaging boats, he did not state categorically that no asylum-seeker boats had been sabotaged.
Senator Faulkner has called on the Government to disclose the extent of its disruption program and what role federal ministers have played in authorising those activities.
He asked whether those activities included the sabotage of Siev X which sank after its engine cut out less than 24 hours en route to Christmas Island last October.
Senator Ellison described Senator Faulkner's question as a "grubby attempt to point-score over tragedies we have seen result from ruthless people-smuggling".