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Call for Opposition support on boat people.

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Minister for Justice & Customs

Senator the Hon Amanda Vanstone

Senator for South Australia



Tuesday 9 November 1999



Minister for Justice and Customs and Acting Minister for Immigration, Senator Amanda Vanstone, today called on the Opposition to support the Government’s initiatives to make Australia a less-attractive destination for illegal immigrants.


Senator Vanstone said it was time the Opposition stopped attacking the men and women who operated Australia’s coastal surveillance system and supported Government initiatives that would do something positive to stem the flow of illegal immigrants.


“Changes to the visa system introduced by the Government will make Australia a less attractive destination for illegal immigrants, but the Opposition is wavering in its support for the measures,” Senator Vanstone said.


“The new system of temporary protection visas prevents unauthorised arrivals who are refugees from automatically accessing the benefits of permanent residence, which makes Australia an attractive destination to people smugglers. The Regulation will prevent unauthorised arrivals from obtaining permanent protection visas and the benefits, particularly family reunion, which appear to attract traffickers and forum shoppers.


“In addition, if they leave Australia. the temporary visa will cease and they will have no automatic right of return.


““Without these benefits, Australia will be a less attractive destination for people smugglers.


“The Government expects a move to disallow the regulations that make these changes.


“If the Labor Opposition isn’t willing to support the Government in this effort, Australia will continue to be an attractive destination for people smugglers.


“There are a number of countries that have various forms of temporary protection as part of their arrangements for refugees, including Canada, the United States, Denmark, France and Germany.


The key point however is that Australia’s protection regime is consistent with our protection obligations. We have chosen to be more generous than we are obliged to be to people who play by the rules, those people who seek to enter Australia legally.


“Instead of doing something positive about the problem by declaring its support for this and other measures being proposed by the Government, the Opposition has persisted in attacking the men and women of Customs Coastwatch and the Defence forces who are working tirelessly to detect and intercept the current wave of would-be illegal immigrants,” she said.


Senator Vanstone said that two more boat loads of suspected illegal immigrants had been detected yesterday in the Indian Ocean off the Western Australian Coast.


She said that late yesterday a Coastwatch flight had detected an Indonesian fishing vessel with 25 suspected illegal immigrants and two crew members about 80 kilometres south of Ashmore Reef.


The vessel was then intercepted by the Australian Customs vessel Botany Bay which had escorted it to Ashmore Reef.


Overnight, Police at Christmas lsland had intercepted another vessel with 160 suspected illegal immigrants on board.


“As the recent spate of foiled attempts to illegally enter Australia show, our coastal surveillance system is working effectively, but unless the Opposition is prepared to support the Government’s visa initiative, the boats will just keep on coming,” Senator Vanstone said.


“With Australia’s 37 000 km coastline it is impossible to guarantee that there is an impenetrable barrier around the country - indeed no country in the world can or would guarantee that.


“However, I can guarantee that Australia has an effective coastal surveillance system. ln addition to Customs Coastwatch fleet of aircraft they have direct use of Customs and Navy Patrol boats and RAAF P0-3 Orion aircraft and other resources.


“It is a sophisticated, strategically-driven operation that delivers all the best features of a Coast Guard without additional bureaucracy or the huge overheads associated with a stand alone service.


“The men and women of Coastwatch and the Defence Forces are providing an efficient and cost-effective civil coastal surveillance service,” Senator Vanstone said.


Commenting on Opposition calls for a separate Coast Guard, Senator Vanstone said that creating such a service using existing resources would simply be creating a third organisation to do the job which is already being done well by Customs with the assista nce of Defence resources.


“On the other hand, creating a new Coast Guard with its own resources and organisational overheads would be hugely expensive and it is doubtful that it would deliver any better service than the current system. Indeed, even Mr Beazley in his 1984 report on coastal surveillance ruled the Coast Guard option out as not being cost effective.”


The Government had recognised the need for additional resources following the Prime Minister’s Task Force report on illegal immigration in June this year. Additional funding was provided for two new Dash 8 surveillance aircraft and a night-capable helicopter to operate in the Torres Strait, she said.


The helicopter would be operating from next month and the two Dash 8 aircraft were currently on the production line being manufactured to Coastwatch’s specifications and would be delivered in July and August next year. The surveillance aircraft would have the latest in digital radar technology and state of the art infra red and video technology. In addition a new National Surveillance Centre with enhanced electronic links to Defence and other information sources would be operational early in 2000.


“The Government has also introduced legislation to provide enhanced powers that will enable Customs officers to more effectively deal with illegal activities at sea. These powers are not only aimed at illegal immigration but provide more teeth to fight international drug smugglers,” Senator Vanstone said.


“The new measures will enable Customs officers to exercise more powers at sea and beyond the traditional 12-mile limit.”


She said arrangements were being made to bring the latest boat loads of suspected illegal immigrants to Australia for processing by Department of Immigration officials.


A separate announcement today contains details of new plans for housing future suspected illegal entrants at Woomera, in South Australia’s far north.



al  1999-11-10  09:29