Death toll from asylum boat sinking rises as Australia accuses people smugglers of lying about PNG policy
Indonesia correspondent George Roberts, staff
26 July 2013
The number of people confirmed dead in the latest boat tragedy off Indonesia rose to 13 overnight as Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare accused people smugglers of lying to asylum seekers about Australia's 'PNG solution'.
Mr Clare said he had heard reports that people smugglers were telling would-be asylum seekers they should get on a boat now, before the first plane left for Manus Island.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has announced that all asylum seekers arriving to Australia by boat will be sent to PNG for processing, and that people found to be genuine refugees would be resettled there.
More than 500 asylum seekers have arrived in Australian waters since Mr Rudd announced the PNG policy, and yesterday the PM warned that thousands of people a year could drown at sea if action was not taken to deter them from embarking on the perilous journey to Australia.
Mr Clare said people smugglers were encouraging people not to cancel their voyage, saying there was a prospect of a High Court challenge to the policy, and impediments in Federal Parliament.
"Every lie you can think of is now being told to encourage people to get onto boats," he said.
Mr Clare also joined former Defence Force chief Chris Barrie in criticising the Coalition's border protection policy, saying it was a distraction from saving lives at sea.
The Opposition has announced a plan to give a military commander oversight of border protection and people smuggling operations, suggesting it would give a clearer chain of command and ensure better coordination between agencies.
Mr Barrie said a two-star admiral already coordinated border protection and the change would do little to deter people smugglers.
And Mr Clare told Channel Nine that the plan for a military commander to report directly to the government was nothing new.
Death toll rises after Java sinking, traumatised survivors back in Indonesia
The death toll from the sinking of an asylum seeker boat off Java rose to 13 after two more bodies were found late yesterday. 'I didn't know they were going'
The boat, thought to be carrying about 200 people, sank in rough seas off the south-west coast of Java on Tuesday afternoon.
It had left the fishing village of Cidaun earlier in the day, but only got a few kilometres out to sea before hitting strong easterly winds.
Several children were among those who drowned.
Local TV footage showed survivors, including small children, being brought ashore by rescuers.
Among those who died was Baremithan Balamanaran, 3, who was travelling with his mother on the boat.
The boy's father, Sri Lankan man Naradasa Balamanaran, told the ABC that he first knew that his wife and only child were on the boat when she called him to say it had sunk.
Balamanaran, who has been working as a labourer in a factory since he came to Australia in 2009, said that his son's body was among those retrieved, but that he did not know where it had been taken.
Indonesian politicians allege lack of consultation on PNG deal
Separately, Indonesian politicians vented their anger about Australia's lack of consultation over the PNG policy.
A leading Indonesian opposition politician said fellow MPs had complained that Mr Rudd did not consult with Jakarta before announcing the deal to resettle asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea, despite there being serious implications for Indonesia.
Tantowi Yahya, a member of Indonesia's Foreign Affairs Commission, said most of the group's 35 members had complained about Indonesia not being consulted on Australia's policy shift.
A spokeswoman for Mr Rudd said the PM spoke with Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono about the PNG deal this week.
According to a spokesman for Mr Yudhoyono, the president told Mr Rudd that people smuggling was not just one country’s problem and stressed the importance of regional co-operation.
Mr Rudd's spokeswoman confirmed that the conversation took place and the president's version of it was "not incorrect".
However, Mr Tantowi maintains that Mr Rudd only called the president after "we made some noise".
"Several government officials and politicians like myself protested and then your government responded by calling the president," he said.
This morning a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr said Senator Carr provided a broad outline of policies to his Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa when he was in Sydney in the week before the PNG deal was announced.
He said Senator Carr also called Dr Natalegawa on the day of the announcement to provide more details.
Dr Natalegawa declined to comment on the PNG arrangement, however in the past he has said that Indonesia would not support policies that put the asylum seeker burden on Indonesia.
Mr Tantowi said the PNG deal did precisely that.
"Now the terms of burden sharing … it’s a burden of humanity that everyone should share and we really have to work together on it," Mr Tantowi said. Defence community sceptical on Operation Sovereign Borders plan
Australia's Former Defence Force chief Chris Barrie has criticised the Coalition's plan to put a three-star military commander in charge of the drive to combat people smuggling and deter asylum seekers.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott yesterday released the Operation Sovereign Borders plan - the Opposition's position's policy response to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's Papua New Guinea deal.
Under the plan, the three-star commander would have the powers to bypass normal Defence command structures and would report directly to the immigration minister.
But Admiral Barrie says a two-star admiral already coordinates border protection, and the Coalition's policy amounts to little more than a pay rise.
"We're going to pay someone a little bit more to do a similar job. It doesn't sound to me like a way of solving this problem," he told PM.
"How will a three-star appointment of this nature improve things when we've got a two-star admiral already assigned in border protection command, and a different agency and slightly different responsibilities?"
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