New Senate boatpeople inquiry likely
14 November 2003
THE government faces the prospect of a new Senate inquiry over boatpeople after being forced to admit 14 Turkish men who reached Melville Island attempted to claim asylum in Australia.
It was an embarrassing backflip for the government which had previously denied the men had made the statement. The about-face was prompted by the People Smuggling Task Force (PSTF), which yesterday told Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone the men had made comments suggesting they wanted to stay in Australia.
Political opponents compared the turnaround to the children overboard affair, with Australian Greens Senator Bob Brown flagging plans for a Senate inquiry into the matter.
A Senate inquiry into the earlier affair found former defence minister Peter Reith lied to Australians during the 2001 election by telling voters asylum seekers threw children overboard.
Since Sunday, the government has insisted the Turkish Kurds, who landed on Melville Island on November 4, never claimed asylum in Australia.
Senator Vanstone and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer released a statement, drafted by the taskforce, to that effect on November 9.
A spokesman for Senator Vanstone said she asked the taskforce to reconfirm its information two days ago after the Turks told reporters in Indonesia they had made claims to stay in Australia.
Late yesterday, the minister admitted new information had come to light to the taskforce that the men had made remarks to the effect that they wanted to stay in Australia.
But she deemed the issue irrelevant because Melville Island was no longer part of Australia's migration zone.
Labor said the situation was a re-run of the children overboard affair.
Senator Brown will move to set up an inquiry into the incident when the Senate next sits on November 24.
Australian Democrats leader Andrew Bartlett supported the push for an inquiry and said the government's handling of the men was underhanded and deceitful.
Meanwhile, Indonesia yesterday said it would soon adopt its first law against people smugglers who have long been helping migrants from other parts of the world travel to Australia.