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Wednesday, 19 November 1997
Page: 10780

Mr ENTSCH —My question is addressed to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. I refer the minister to an article in the Australian today relating to refugees sailing to New Zealand. Given the concerns expressed by me and by leaders of the Torres Strait community about illegal immigrant activity in the Torres Strait region, would the minister advise the House whether there is a new pattern that is emerging in relation to the movement of boat people in our region?

Mr RUDDOCK —I thank the honourable member for Leichhardt for his question. I did see the report today, and the member is right in observing that there appears to be emerging a new pattern in relation to the illegal movement of people. It obviously will cause concerns within the region, and it is a matter that I have been endeavouring to address over a period of time with governments in neighbouring countries, that we need to have a coordinated approach to dealing with the movement of people who are intent upon immigration outcomes rather than perhaps alternatives which might be protection claims.

The fact is that two boats have been detected recently in the Torres Strait over the last two months. Neither of the boats landed in Australia or on Australian shores. One is now in New Caledonia; and the other, as I understand it, is on its way there.

On 20 October, Coastwatch sighted a boat with 39 people approaching the Torres Strait. The vessel was intercepted, and the people were asked about their intentions. They were advised that, if they did not have a visa, they had no authority to enter Australia. But, interestingly, one of the immigration officials who was there recognised some of the people as having unlawfully entered Australia at an earlier point in time and who then had been removed from Australia. This group, however, said that they did not want to come to Australia.

This pattern was repeated on the second occasion. There was another boat sighted in the Torres Strait on 5 November; it had some 70 people on board. They, again, were intercepted. I think a report that I saw suggested that it was not seen by Customs. I think, for those folks in the honourable member's area, I ought to say that it was seen—they were not watching the Melbourne Cup; they were out and able to intercept it. The people, again, were quite adamant that they did not wish to come to Australia.

We do not shirk our international responsibilities in relation to those who have protection claims. Generally, if they are able to meet such requirements, they are able to stay; if they are not, we remove them.

There is ongoing cooperation between countries within the Pacific rim, including New Zealand. There have been a number of conferences held already. New Zealand obviously—if it is the destination that these people have in mind—will have to look at the way in which its systems are able to meet the demands. I have met with the minister; I have discussed with him the movement of boat people. My department is certainly keeping New Zealand officials abreast of these developments.

But I think the clear implication is that, in relation to those people who have been seeking to come to Australia before, the message is getting through; and that those who do not have bona fide claims are obviously thinking that they ought to look at other opportunities.

Mr Howard —Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper .