Two More Boats Intercepted: 79 On Board

Two more boats intercepted: 79 on board

Yuko Narushima
Sydney Morning Herald
April 30, 2009

ANOTHER two boatloads of suspected asylum seekers are heading to Christmas Island after they were found in Australian waters yesterday, intensifying calls for an inquiry into unauthorised arrivals.

One boat carrying seven people was discovered by customs north of Ashmore Island. Another, with 72 aboard, was spotted by air off Bathurst Island, north of Darwin, and intercepted by the navy.

The most recent arrivals bring to 10 the number of unauthorised vessels detected in Australian waters this year. Between them they have carried more than 450 people.

The Minister for Home Affairs, Bob Debus, said the 79 who arrived yesterday would be transferred to detention facilities on Christmas Island for health and security checks.

Customs and border control and the navy would work together to “protect Australia from unauthorised arrivals”, he said.

The Opposition customs spokeswoman, Sussan Ley, said the latest boat arrivals showed an inquiry into border protection was needed.

“An ongoing pattern of behaviour has been established and the Government needs to follow the Opposition's suggestion regarding an inquiry,” Ms Ley said. “The pattern will not go away.”

The debate about asylum seekers has intensified in recent weeks after an explosion on a boat carrying 49 people killed five passengers on April 16. The cause of the explosion has not been explained.

Yesterday a spokesman from the Department of Immigration said survivors of the blast were gradually being discharged from hospital. More than half had been formally held under immigration laws by last night. Other more seriously injured patients were yet to undergo the interviews necessary to determine whether they were seeking asylum.

Yesterday the former treasurer Peter Costello joined other Coalition MPs in linking the recent rise in boat arrivals to the Government's changes to immigration policy. The Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull, had earlier said an independent inquiry was needed to investigate Labor's “softer” policy and its effect on encouraging people smugglers.

“I don't think it is a coincidence that you change your border protection laws and the number of boats increase,” Mr Costello said.

But the Human Rights Commissioner, Graeme Innes, rejected the need for an inquiry. He said the public was better equipped to understand the reasons that were driving the movement of refugees than politicians gave them credit for.

Boat arrivals account for less than 5 per cent of the total number of people entering the country without authorisation, he said. “This great fuss about unauthorised boat arrivals is out of sync with the reality. I get disappointed that political games are played with people's lives,” Mr Innes said.

Upheavals in neighbouring countries such as Sri Lanka and Burma were contributing to the number of people forced to flee their homes.

The national co-ordinator of A Just Australia, Kate Gauthier, said Mr Turnbull was trying to emulate the political pointscoring on refugees of the former prime minister John Howard.

“The only people sending a message to people smugglers are the Coalition. They are the ones saying the policy is soft.”

The Coalition immigration spokeswoman, Sharman Stone, said Australia's borders had become so porous under Labor that the country was at risk of an increased exposure to swine flu.

with AAP