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Tuesday, 2 December 2003
Page: 23423


Mr TOLLNER (2:28 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister advise the House how regional cooperation arrangements with Indonesia on people-smuggling are assisting with the handling of the Minasa Bone case?


Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Solomon for his question. I recognise the strong support that, on behalf of his local constituents, he has always provided for the government's border protection policy. Regional cooperation with Indonesia is a critical component of our policy. By mid-October this year, about 3,900 potential illegal immigrants had been intercepted and processed under arrangements in place with Indonesia. These arrangements involve the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and at the moment the UNHCR is continuing the processing of passengers from the Minasa Bone. During that processing, further information is coming to light about the circumstances of their voyage. I understand, according to media reports, that the UNHCR has said that at least six of the passengers have indicated a wish to return to Turkey. The AFP has completed interviews with the Minasa Bone passengers and investigations are continuing into the broader smuggling operation.

The government has, in the case of the Minasa Bone, sent a very clear message to the people smugglers that they will be thwarted. They were thwarted by the government's decision to excise Melville Island, they were thwarted by the return of the vessel, they were thwarted by the regional cooperation arrangements we have with Indonesia involving the IOM and the UNHCR, they were thwarted by our Federal Police. This is another example of the government's determined and successful fight against people-smuggling. This is a tough policy, but this is an effective policy.

Are there any alternative views? There are a variety of alternative views from the opposition, and I note a report in the Sydney Morning Herald of 26 January last year. The report says that the Leader of the Opposition—taking a line somewhat different from the general opposition line but somewhat similar to the position he takes more generally on foreign affairs—accused Indonesia of behaving `in a highly irresponsible and illegal manner' by trying to `pass on the flow of asylum seekers to our country'. We on this side of the House do not accuse Indonesia of behaving in a highly irresponsible and illegal manner, but we have a policy of being tough on people-smuggling. The Leader of the Opposition once more demonstrates his style of diplomacy, which is to abuse our allies, abuse our neighbours, abuse our friends. Where will that sort of approach—let alone the pulling down of the barriers and the infamous coastguard that the opposition wants to put in the place of the current arrangements—get us in terms of cooperation on people-smuggling?