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Leaked documents reveal Howard's failure on illegal immigration.

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85/01 19 October 2001


“Leaked Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade cables reported in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper confirm the Howard Government’s diplomatic failure on the problem of people smuggling”, the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Laurie Brereton, said today.

“Effective action to crack down on people smugglers requires regional and bilateral cooperation”, Mr Brereton said. “The flood of boats towards Australia can only be stopped by fixing our relationship with Indonesia. A real solution must be found in Jakarta. It won't be found in Nauru or PNG or elsewhere in the South Pacific.”

“It is clear that the Howard Government has conspicuously failed to secure the cooperation of Australia’s Asian neighbours. Indeed John Howard’s politically-driven handling of this issue is discouraging the cooperation required to suppress the people smuggling networks.”

“Record numbers of illegal immigrants have come to Australia under the Howard Government. In the past ten years, 13,500 illegal immigrants have arrived - but of these 11,000 have arrived during the term of the Howard Government, with numbers of arrivals skyrocketing over the last three years.”

“It has now been revealed that the Howard Government has been in possession of a steady flow of intelligence and diplomatic reports which have identified the names, addresses and operational capacities of people smuggling networks from Iraq and Pakistan to the Philippines and Indonesia.”

“The Government has long had the intelligence necessary to coordinate a regional law enforcement crack down on this trade. Had the Government acted and secured the cooperation of Australia’s neighbours, many boats would never have left port bound for Australia.”

“Instead John Howard failed to act until the eve of an election. MV Tampa was the 213th boat to arrive on his watch.”

“Howard's belated response has been to throw millions of dollars at the problem to gain political advantage on the eve of the election. He has deployed a significant proportion of the Navy to the north at great expense, when it should be concentrating on its proper role of defending Australia from real military threats.”

“In addition to the costs of this naval deployment, John Howard has spent more than $100 million to dump asylum seekers in camps in Nauru and PNG and plans to send more to whatever other South Pacific country he can induce to take them until after the election.”

“John Howard's policy is ad hoc. It is temporary. It is no long-term solution.”

“It’s tricky because it won't last beyond the election. And still the boats keep coming, one after another.”

“The leaked documents revealed in today’s Sydney Morning Herald confirm both John Howard’s politically-driven approach and the absolute failure of his diplomacy.”


“Only a Beazley Labor Government is committed to put in place a real plan to crack down on people smugglers across our region and strengthen our maritime border protection through the establishment of an Australian Coast Guard.”

“Australians require a real solution which last and work - and which will stop the boats carrying illegal immigrants coming.”

Contact: Philip Dorling 02 6277 4717 or 0418 861 602


Sydney Morning Herald, 19 October 2001

Jakarta's silence left envoys all at sea

By Mike Seccombe

Australian diplomats in Indonesia could not even get Indonesian authorities to return phone calls, much less help stem the flow of boat people bound for Australia, leaked documents show.

The confidential cables indicate the Government's attempts to stop the boats have caused authorities in Indonesia and Malaysia to reduce the amount of help they give.

One of the documents, a restricted cable from the Australian Ambassador to Indonesia, Richard Smith, on October 7, describes as a "sorry saga" the failed attempts by embassy staff to have Indonesian authorities stop a boat which arrived off Christmas Island on October 6.

The boat will be remembered as the one from which some asylum seekers jumped and threw their children into the water when the Navy tried to force it out of Australian waters.

The cable records that authorities were aware a boat, crewed by Indonesians and thought to be carrying up to 300 asylum seekers (there proved to be 187), was leaving Indonesia, intending to enter Australian waters.

After it appeared off Christmas Island on October 6, the embassy tried unsuccessfully to contact representatives of the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the Co-ordinating Minister for Security and Political Affairs, Bambung Yudhoyono.

When the Indonesian Minister for Foreign Affairs finally was contacted - by the Indonesian Ambassador in Canberra - his main response was irritation at being disturbed on a Saturday, the cable notes.

He said he would talk to Mr Yudhoyono on Monday. The Ambassador noted there was no sense of urgency or desire to help Australia, and concluded: "Our strategy in this sorry saga, apart from seeking co-operation in having the boat returned to Indonesia, has been to try to raise the 'ante' and to cause the Indonesian Government to see that their problem with the PIIs (potential illegal immigrants) does not in fact end when they leave Indonesia's shores.

"To a large extent, this has been frustrated by the crude and unsatisfactory device of simply not communicating with us."


While the Government has claimed the inaction is largely due to resentment over Australia's role in East Timor, it is clear the politicisation of the boat people issue in Australia has undermined co-operative efforts to stop the flow.

A confidential cable from the Australian High Commission to Malaysia on September 13 says: "The Malaysian Department of Immigration has withdrawn plans to assist with a survey by a High Commission officer of possible unauthorised departure points on the Johor coast.

"This is, at least in part, attributable to critical reporting in the Australian press that Malaysia has not done enough to assist in efforts against people smuggling."

That reporting reflected comments by Government figures, including the Prime Minister, John Howard.

The source of the leaked documents said the problem was not a lack of intelligence about the activities of people smugglers and their cargoes, but the Government's inadequate and politicised response to it.

He cited a steady flow of intelligence and diplomatic reports over the past two years from Asia which identified the names, addresses and operational capacities of people smuggling syndicates from Iraq to Manila.

"But the Government's response has been to task lower level officials to deal with the problem," he said.

"Noticeable for its absence has been any sustained effort by the PM or senior ministers to cultivate better working relationships with their Asian counterparts."