Pressure on Rudd as more boat people caught off WA

8th December 2008, 6:30 WST
West Australian
Andrew Tillett

The seizure of the biggest boatload of suspected asylum seekers this year near Broome yesterday has forced the Rudd Government to boost border security with extra navy and air patrols.

On board the boat intercepted early yesterday were 44 suspected asylum seekers and three crew. They are expected to arrive at Christmas Island this morning where they will be detained and questioned.

While the Government blames the arrival of the boat — the third in a fortnight — on good weather, Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull has demanded a tougher approach to border security, including reinstating hardline elements of John Howard’s immigration regime.

The boat was the sixth cut off in Australian waters in little more than two months and was carrying the biggest number of boat people since the Government softened immigration policies towards asylum seekers in August.

The latest arrival comes despite the Government last week hailing the arrest of a people-smuggling ringleader in Indonesia as a breakthrough in the fight against human trafficking.

The Government also announced last week the Customs department would be expanded and renamed the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service as part of an overhaul of national security.

Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus has sent an extra navy vessel and surveillance plane to the North-West coast to step up border patrols after yesterday’s seizure.

“There has been something of an increase just in the last three weeks, so the Government has decided to dispatch an extra navy patrol boat and an extra PC Orion aircraft to assist in surveillance of the area,” he said.

“People smugglers are taking advantage of good seasonal conditions and the extra border patrols will be kept in place to cover this period of activity.”

The latest vessel was spotted by an RAAF surveillance plane a long way out to sea but was intercepted by HMAS Maryborough when it approached the mainland.

Mr Debus said the Border Protection Command had responded swiftly to apprehend the boat people and ensure their safety and security.

“The nationalities and intentions of the people on board are yet to be determined and no significant health issues have been identified at this stage,” he said.

Mr Debus and Immigration Minister Chris Evans have had to fend off accusations Labor was soft on border security since the Government announced policy changes to the treatment of asylum seekers.

The Opposition claims the changes, which included abolishing temporary protection visas and indefinite mandatory detention and shutting Manus Island and Nauru detention centres, had emboldened people smugglers.

Mr Turnbull said yesterday the Government should consider reintroducing temporary protection visas to deal with the recent wave of boat people. He said TPVs, introduced in 1999 to discourage people smuggling, had been effective because they made boat arrivals’ residence in Australia subject to review to ensure they were genuine refugees.

“This sixth vessel is a long-ignored wake-up call to Mr Rudd that his policy has been a mistake,” Mr Turnbull said.

“His greatest responsibility is to protect the security of Australia and he has sent a signal to the people smugglers that the Australian commitment to secure borders has been weakened.

“Remember, people smuggling is an industry and if they think Australia is a softer target they will be sending more boats our way.”

A group of 40 boat people intercepted last week near Ashmore Reef, about 320km off the Kimberley coast, arrived at Christmas Island detention centre yesterday morning.

A dozen Sri Lankans picked up near Shark Bay were flown to the island last week.




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