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Labor unaware of laws passed by Parliament.

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Labor Unaware of Laws Passed by Parliament MPS 124/2001

The Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Philip Ruddock said today that the Labor Party appeared to be unaware of laws it debated in the Parliament to give Australian authorities the power to interdict vessels in international waters.

Mr Ruddock was commenting on calls by the Opposition for authorities to board vessels and warn the crew about the penalties they face if they persisted in coming with unauthorised passengers.

Mr Ruddock said the Border Protection Act of 1999 gave the Government power to enforce Australia's border strategies in international waters. It gave officers powers to board, search and detain vessels in international waters that they suspect were involved in people smuggling.

"The legislation provided increased penalties for people smuggling with fines of up to $220,000 and sentences of 20 years jail," Mr Ruddock said.

"These penalties were to serve as a deterrent and make it clear to would-be perpetrators and the Australian community that the Government considered people smuggling to be a very serious issue.

"One of the results was that people smugglers were having difficulty getting crews. They were having to pay more money and the crews were getting younger, in the hope that minors would receive lesser penalties.

"Several vessels had been interdicted in recent months including three off Ashmore Island and one off the Kimberley coast.

"However the crews are also being threatened by the passengers if they attempt to turnaround.

"In one earlier incident, a boat turned round after being warned but some passengers threw fuel and water overboard, forcing Australian authorities to intervene.

"I am surprised the Opposition is unaware of laws that it supported in the Senate and the measures that are being implemented," Mr Ruddock said.

24 August 2001 Media Contact: Steve Ingram (02) 6277 7860

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