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Thursday, 29 October 2009
Page: 7625

Senator ABETZ (2:13 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship and the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Evans. Whose responsibility is it to remove the 78 Sri Lankans from the Oceanic Viking if they continue to refuse to leave—Australia’s or Indonesia’s?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I thank the senator for his question. The operational responsibility on board the ship, and the control and management of the passengers, is under the control of Customs and Border Protection officers. The ship is captained, I think, by a P&O crew, but a Customs and Border Protection unit on board is in control of the passengers and is responsible for their care, safety and supervision. So any operational decision regarding the disembarkation of those passengers will be taken by them—although, obviously, they may take advice—and they will supervise the disembarkation of the passengers onto Indonesian territory. That will, of course, be done in accordance with their normal regulations and guidance, and obviously the Indonesians will take responsibility for the care and supervision of those passengers once they are disembarked in Indonesia. But Customs and Border Protection officers are highly trained and professional and are equipped to deal with these circumstances. We expect them to perform their role professionally and we are sure they will. They will obviously have operational control when it comes to the disembarkation of those passengers in Indonesia.

Senator ABETZ —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Which minister is directly responsible for the Oceanic Viking debacle? Given that the minister is bound by sessional orders to be directly relevant to the question, a name will suffice.

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I am not sure that it is within the standing orders for the questioner to demand the answer that he would like, but can I say that the management of this situation is across government and that we have had a range of agencies and ministers engaged with the process. Clearly the responsible minister for customs and border protection has immediate ministerial responsibility for the ship and the actions of the Customs officers on board the ship. But there has been a series of negotiations with the Indonesian government, as you would expect, and they have largely been led by our embassy in Jakarta. Obviously other ministers have been engaged but, fundamentally, in terms of the operational matters, it is a matter for Customs and Border Protection.

Senator ABETZ —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Exactly what is the Prime Minister’s role in this debacle? Has the Prime Minister exhausted his foreign affairs prowess with Indonesian authorities? Does the Prime Minister agree with the Indonesian foreign minister’s understated observation—one that all Australians would agree with—that ‘I don’t think what is happening just now is necessarily the model of how we will proceed in the future’? If so, what would the Prime Minister do differently?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —Again, it is a rather odd question, but can I say that the Prime Minister has been taking responsibility for the government by appearing in question time every day this week and answering a series of confused and contradictory questions from the opposition where they try and make up their mind just whose side of the debate they are on on this. They ask questions that reflect that policy confusion that exists among them. What is usual is that we have a mature relationship with the Indonesian government. We operate under the conditions of the Lombok Treaty, which is established to deal with those sorts of relationships, and we are also operating under the Bali processes where we co-chair with Indonesia regional solutions to people-smuggling. We are engaged in that partnership with Indonesia and other nations and we will continue to engage in that way. (Time expired)