Senate seeks answers on boat's return

Herald Sun
Mark Phillips

IMMIGRATION Minister Amanda Vanstone and her people-smuggling taskforce will be grilled tonight over the arrival at Melville Island of a boatload of Kurdish asylum seekers.

The Senate's Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee will hold a special inquiry after government admissions that the public was misled about whether the 14 men claimed asylum while in Australian waters this month. Labor yesterday attacked the Government in both houses of Parliament for not detaining the Minasa Bone's four crewmen for prosecution for people-smuggling.

The crew were allowed to return to their families after the boat was towed back to Indonesia; the Kurds were taken to Jakarta, where they are in an immigration detention centre.

Senator Vanstone said investigations in Indonesia were continuing, and it would be wrong to conclude the crew had got away "scot free."

But she said returning the boat had achieved the purpose of deterrence.

Labor said the Government was more interested in political posturing on border protection than it was in prosecuting people smugglers.

"This Government will do anything to avoid processing claims -- even going to the ludicrous lengths of letting a crew of people-smugglers go free," Labor immigration spokeswoman Nicola Roxon said.

Labor, backed by the Australian Democrats, will today formally move to hold tonight's special inquiry over questions about what happened during the Minasa Bone's five days in Australian custody.

The Senate last night voted to disallow a regulation that had removed some 3000 northern islands from Australia's migration zone.

The Government gazetted the regulation on Melbourne Cup day, after the boat arrived at Melville Island. The regulation was disallowed soon after it was tabled in the Senate yesterday.


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