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Rudd asylum seeker plan still in limbo -

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Rudd asylum seeker plan still in limbo

Alexandra Kirk reported this story on Thursday, October 29, 2009 12:30:00

ELEANOR HALL: There is still no sign of an end to the stalemate over the 78 asylum seekers on board
an Australian customs ship that's anchored off Indonesia.

The Federal Government says it's committed to its plan to move the Sri Lankans off the boat but
it's providing no details on when or how it will do that.

For now Indonesian and Australian authorities appear to be waiting to see if the asylum seekers
will change their minds and disembark voluntarily.

In Canberra, Alexandra Kirk reports.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Indonesian authorities have made it clear that getting the 78 Sri Lankan asylum
seekers off the Oceanic Viking and onto Indonesian soil is a matter for Australia. The Home Affairs
Minister Brendan O'Connor is indicating that may take some time.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: The Prime Minister of Australia and the President of Indonesia had struck an
agreement. We want that agreement realised but we have to be patient. We have to ensure that the
wellbeing and safety of the passengers is paramount.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Government isn't saying how it plans to convince the Sri Lankans to disembark.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Now it's important that we focus upon the wellbeing of these passengers and
ensure that the transfer of these passengers to Indonesian soil is done so with dignity, done so
calmly and done so with some patience.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner didn't rule out offering a financial incentive.

LINDSAY TANNER: Oh look obviously I'm not going to speculate about those kind of things.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce was asked how he thinks the Government can get the
asylum seekers off the Oceanic Viking.

BARNABY JOYCE: How did we get ourselves into this position? The Labor Party got ourselves into this
position. Where does it go next? I don't know. Sooner or later it's going to have head back to the
Antarctic. I hope people are off by then. Otherwise we'll have to resettle them in Macquarie Island
I suppose.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Government hasn't ruled out using force. West Australian Liberal MP Don Randall
says it's time for some decisive action.

DON RANDALL: This, this ship drifting in and around Indonesia, this is the Labor Party's ship of
shame. It's appalling that Australian taxpayers' money is being spent on maintaining this farce at
sea.

These people are guests on our boat and if they won't behave themselves I suspect they eventually
should be kindly escorted off.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And his outspoken colleague Wilson Tuckey suggests Kevin Rudd end the stalemate
with the help of the Defence Force.

WILSON TUCKEY: I mean he can see the problem. He can ask the army to go up there and take those
people off.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But the Opposition's immigration spokeswoman Sharman Stone doesn't think that's a
good idea.

SHARMAN STONE: Send the Navy in and what blow up the boat or something? Send the Army in? No. I
think that is quite hypothetical.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Neither does her leader Malcolm Turnbull.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well given that the vessel is in Indonesian waters I would think it most clearly
is not an option.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: As to what Kevin Rudd should do, this is all Mr Turnbull has to say on the matter.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: If we were in Government, if I was the Prime Minister I would not have unpicked
the policies that worked and we would not be in the position we are.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Greens want the Opposition leader to discipline Mr Tuckey for suggesting
military force be used against the asylum seekers. They've also called on the Prime Minister to
rule out that option.

And Greens Leader Bob Brown is urging Kevin Rudd to listen carefully to union leader Paul Howes,
who's called for the asylum seekers to be brought to Australia.

BOB BROWN: I think the Prime Minister made a mistake in believing it could simply be palmed off to
Indonesia.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Liberal backbencher Don Randall says it's time Kevin Rudd showed some leadership
and stopped trying to handball the matter to Indonesia.

On that point he and the Greens Leader Bob Brown agree.

BOB BROWN: At the moment the process in Indonesia is very, very unbecoming for Australia. And again
it's moving to harm our international reputation. It puts pressure on Indonesia in a way that's not
good for us as neighbours.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Yesterday the Foreign Minister Stephen Smith ruled out taking the asylum seekers to
Christmas Island. But this morning the Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor declined to do the
same, despite being asked a number of times.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: We have an agreement between the Indonesian Government...

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Do you rule that out though?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: And the Australian Government...

ALEXANDRA KIRK: You completely rule that out?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: And we, and we therefore seek to ensure that that agreement is realised. But we
are dealing with human beings here. We're dealing with the lives of 78 passengers. And both
governments have made clear that we need to be patient and we also have to ensure that the
wellbeing and safety of these passengers is paramount...

ALEXANDRA KIRK: So you don't rule that out anymore?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: And for that reason, and can I say and for that reason we'll continue to work
with the local authorities, continue to be in contact with Jakarta to ensure that the agreement
between the Prime Minister and the President of Indonesia takes effect.

REPORTER: If it doesn't eventuate, they could come to Christmas Island, simple question, yes or no?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Again, I think it's important to understand the circumstances under which this
vessel is now docked near an Indonesian port.

ELEANOR HALL: Brendan O'Connor is the Federal Minister for Home Affairs. That report from Alexandra
Kirk in Canberra.