Defence Force surveillance to increase border security
The World Today
Monday, 3 September 2001
Reporter: Catherine McGrath

ELEANOR HALL: Well also getting underway today is the newly implemented Defence Force surveillance of Australia's Northern seas. The Prime Minister says he's ordered five naval ships and four P3 Orion aircraft into the special operation but there's a cloud of confidentiality surrounding things.

The government says it can't reveal how the Navy will turn back boats carrying asylum seekers because that would just give signals to the people smugglers. But analysts say the increased surveillance is an enormous change in border protection practices that will see up to a third of Australia's Navy operating in this stretch of international waters.

In Canberra here's our chief political correspondent again, Catherine McGrath.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Senior Defence officials travelled to Jakarta on Friday to inform the Indonesians of the increased surveillance. Today on Radio 2UE Mr Howard was promoting the idea of the new operation but he wouldn't give many details.

JOHN HOWARD: Well we're going to have five naval vessels and four aircraft that will conduct . increase surveillance patrols in international waters between the Indonesian Archipelago and Australia. We told the Indonesians in advance of this. They said they would provide refuelling and home porting facilities so to that extent there'll be co-operation between the defence forces of the two countries.

We hope that this will act as a further deterrent. I can't guarantee that and people have to understand that nothing we have done to date can guarantee there won't be more boats that come to Australia in circumstances where we may not, from a humane point of view, be able to stop them landing.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: And the Minister responsible, Peter Reith, won't go much further. He says its aim is to deter people smugglers.

PETER REITH: The fact that we have an increased military presence in itself is a very significant signal of the Australian Government's determination to maintain its territorial integrity. I suppose there are some - I see some from the Labor Party who basically think it's a waste of effort. Well, we don't. We think putting the Royal Australian Navy into international waters to make the signal is the sort of job they ought to be doing.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Under the new plan the frigate's HMAS Newcastle, Warramunga and Arunta and the supply ship, the HMAS Westralia, will patrol in international waters between Australia and Indonesia. They'll be supported by the Darwin-based patrol boats and P3 Orion aircraft.

When the HMAS Maroona has finished delivering its human cargo in Port Moresby, it too will join in. At the moment the surveillance will continue for three weeks and the government will review the plan after that.

The Defence Analyst, Alan Dupont, from the Australian National University says any effective block for the people smugglers will need to be in place for a much longer period.

ALAN DUPONT: Well it's a very significant capability. It represents probably about a quarter of the Australian Navy, perhaps even more if you add up the major ships there, and it's going to cost obviously a lot of money and I think it's going to be very difficult to sustain.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Well the government has said that it will be on for three weeks and then they will review it. How much pressure do you think there will be on them to keep it up, and what would be the military implication of keeping it up?

ALAN DUPONT: Well I think there'll be a lot of pressure on and to sustain that commitment for beyond three weeks because the boats are obviously going to wait until the ships are no longer there and they'll take advantage of that. So I think that the government's going to have to think about a much longer deployment than three weeks if it wants to have an effective kind of a cordon sanitaire [phonetic] there, if you like, between Australia and Indonesia.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: What do you think are the kinds of powers the ships could have? What can they do?

ALAN DUPONT: Well the sorts of powers they might be given would be, for example, to warn off the boats first of all just by . through radio contact or else using megaphones. Coming alongside and telling the ships to turn back. Now if that doesn't have an effect then you have to start to look at other measures to forcibly get them to turn around. That may involve sailing fairly close to the ships and if you really want to escalate things further, there'll be things like warning shots across the bow and so on.

But that really would raise the stakes tremendously and I think that it would be unwise, I think, of Australia to take that course of action. So I think it's really more a show of force designed to deter the boats from leaving in the first place. I'm not entirely sure that if boats do decide that they're going to continue to come down to Australia whether the Navy is really going to be able to stop them unless it takes some very drastic action.

JOHN HIGHFIELD: That was Dr Alan Dupont of the Defence and Strategic Study Centre at the Australian National University with Catherine McGrath.


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