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Labor's Coastguard not supported by the experts.



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MEDIA RELEASE MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS ALEXANDER DOWNER

September 18 2004

Labor’s Coastguard Not Supported By The Experts

Tomorrow Labor will announce that their Coastguard will become the responsibility of the Australian Federal Police. This will be their fifth different Coastguard policy in three years.

Labor’s Coastguard would jeopardise Australia’s existing world-class border protection capabilities. Just listen to the experts.

The then Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, Mick Palmer, told the Joint Committee on Public Accounts and Audit in January 2001 that:

“My unqualified experience in looking at arrangements in countries where there are coastguard type arrangements…..is that I would gain no comfort at all from those arrangements. Those arrangements have caused a division through the investigative focus and it has caused competition between the investigative agencies in a very counterproductive way.”

Defence experts have also expressed concerns about Labor’s proposal. Alexey Muraviev, a strategic affairs expert at Curtin University, has questioned the very logic of Labor’s coastguard:

“In the US, Russia and Japan, the coastguard comes under the command of the navy during times of conflict. They are effectively a naval reserve which means crew must be trained by the navy to navy standards. That means you’re effectively retaining them as navy boats anyway, so why set up another authority? It just doesn’t make sense”. (West Australian, 20/11/03).”

Defence expert and managing director of independent think tank Future Directions International, Lee Cordner, has also said: “Labor’s Coastguard policy will only burden another agency, at greater cost and detract from the flexibility we now have” (West Australian, 18 December 2003). The fact of the matter is that under the Howard Government, Australia has a world-class coastal surveillance system in place that is working incredibly well.

The evidence is overwhelming. The Coalition’s policy has reduced illegal boat arrivals to virtually nil; it has been central in massively increasing drug hauls with more than 10 tonnes of illicit drugs taken off the streets; and it is catching boats that illegally fish in our waters.

The fundamental question Labor has to answer is why, for the sake of a cheap headline, is it planning to spend hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars changing a system that is getting the results.

This week, the Coalition has further beefed up Australia’s offshore surveillance by announcing UAV trials and two new patrol boats to protect the North West Shelf.

Most importantly, a coastguard means absolutely nothing unless it is accompanied by a commitment to strong border protection policies. Labor’s policies send people smugglers and illegal arrivals the signal that if they make it to Australian waters they will be brought onshore, processed quickly and allowed into the community. That is why Labor’s coastguard is really only a coast guide.

It looks like just another attempt to force those Australians working in maritime surveillance roles into joining the Maritime Union of Australia.

Media Inquiries: Chris Kenny 0419 206 890