Greens push to use Senate powers to reveal boat arrival secrets

September 24, 2013 - 1:13PM
Judith Ireland
Breaking News Reporter

The Greens will seek to force the Coalition government to reveal timely information about boat arrivals and boats turned back when Parliament resumes, arguing Australians have a right to know what is happening on its borders.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young has hit back at the Coalition's new asylum seeker information restrictions, announcing her party will try to use the Senate's powers to order the "production of documents" relating to boat arrivals.

The Senate has the power to order information and there are no limits on the types of documents that may be called for. Although ministers have been known to refuse, the Senate has several remedies - such as censure motions and ordering information to be produced to a committee - to get ministers to comply. Advertisement

Senator Hanson-Young said the Greens would push for information on boat arrivals on a rolling basis, so that once an event occurred, the relevant document would automatically be released to Parliament.

Parliament would not have to be sitting for the information to be released.

"This is crucial. We will force Tony Abbott to reveal information about turnarounds and other operations in relation to interceptions, because the Australian public have a right to know," Senator Hanson-Young told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.

On Monday, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said he would not go into tactical or operational details in his planned weekly briefings, including whether a boat had been turned back.

The Coalition had already announced that it will not provide individual announcements when a boat arrives in Australian waters, but provide weekly updates on Operation Sovereign Borders instead.

On Tuesday, interim Labor leader Chris Bowen said there was no operational reason for Mr Morrison not to be "upfront" about boat arrivals.

"When a boat arrives, the Australian people should be told about it," he told reporters in Gosford.

Senator Hanson-Young noted that Labor MPs had been critical of the Coalition's approach and called on the opposition to support the Greens in demanding the information through the Senate.

She also rounded on the Coalition for what she described as "rank hypocrisy", for promoting the numbers of boats that had arrived under the Labor government.

Two former Defence leaders have also questioned the government's new approach to controlling information about boat arrivals.

Former Defence secretary Paul Barratt, who led the department from 1998 to 1999, said the public were entitled to know how many boats arrived and how many had been turned back.

"Anyone who cannot tell us what we need to know about boat arrivals without giving away significant operational information isn't trying," he posted on Twitter.

"If boat arrivals are the matter of vital national interest the Coalition has represented them to be, they are news."

Vice Admiral David Shackleton, who was Navy chief from 1999 to 2002, also said the Australian public had a right to know about boat arrivals and boats turned back.

"The government said before it was elected that it was going to do all these things," Vice Admiral Shackleton told ABC Radio.

"I think a measure of their success is keeping the Australian public informed to be able to give the public confidence that they're achieving what they said they were going to do."

But Howard government immigration minister Amanda Vanstone supported the Coalition's move, telling ABC Radio "this is a border control issue, it's not an infotainment-media issue".

"Of course the public have a right to know in the end what [government is] doing and especially in the law enforcement area," Ms Vanstone said.

"But on a day-to-day basis, as things are operational, I think the closer the government keeps information to its chest, frankly, the better."

Earlier this year in the Senate, the Greens and Coalition similarly tried to compel the Labor government to release information about mining tax profits. In the end, the Australian Taxation Office released the the information through the Treasurer.

With David Wroe


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