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Tuesday, 28 August 2001
Page: 30360

Mr PROSSER (2:08 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Can the minister inform the House of the diplomatic efforts Australia is taking to help resolve the issue of over 400 boat people on board the Norwegian freighter Tampa?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —First, I thank the honourable member for Forrest for his question and for his concern about this difficult issue. My department has been in close contact with both the Norwegian and the Indonesian authorities through the course of yesterday and overnight, in an attempt to try to find a resolution to the problem of the MV Tampa and its passengers. This morning I also personally discussed the issue with the Indonesian ambassador to Australia.

My department and I in all of our discussions have made it clear that we are concerned to find an outcome which addresses the humanitarian needs of the rescued passengers; but it is also critical for Australia that such an outcome protect the integrity of our immigration laws and our sovereign right to determine who enters this country. It is important that people understand that Australia has no obligation under international law to accept the rescued persons into Australian territory. I note that the fishing boat from which the 434 persons were rescued in international waters set off from Indonesia and was crewed by Indonesians.

After picking up the stranded passengers—and it is very important to understand this fact—the Tampa was en route to the Indonesian port of Merak, where the passengers were to have disembarked and where the captain intended to have them disembark. The fact is that, under a form of duress, the captain of the ship was made to turn the ship around and make it head for Christmas Island. In these circumstances, we do not think it appropriate to succumb to duress. What is more, the entry of the rescued persons into Australia is neither reasonable nor lawful under Australia's immigration laws. In our view, the ship should return those rescued either to their point of departure or to the original intended destination of the ship, as would be the normal practice in these circumstances. Australia is concerned about the welfare of those on board and, as the Prime Minister said in answer to an earlier question, is providing humanitarian assistance to them, including food, water and, of course, medical attention.