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Labor's nonsense claims on Coastwatch.

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Minister for Justice and Customs

7 November 2003

Labor's nonsense claims on Coastwatch

The Coastwatch program has been significantly boosted by the Howard Government, and Labor claims to the contrary were nonsense, the Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Chris Ellison, said today.

Rejecting Labor claims that Australia's Civil Maritime Surveillance program undertaken by Coastwatch had been cut, Senator Ellison said the Government's commitment to border protection has resulted in an increase of 20% in Coastwatch Dash 8 flying hours, and a doubling of sea days by Customs marine vessels.

"By any measure, the Howard Government's commitment to border protection outstrips the paltry record of the Labor Party," Senator Ellison said.

In the 2002 Budget alone, the Government provided additional funding of $9.5 million per annum between 2002/03 and 2004/05, increasing Dash 8 flying hours by 20% - or 1600 hours per year - to a total of 9600 hours. Coastwatch flights operate primarily from bases in Cairns, Darwin, Broome and Thursday Island, flying on average 13 -15 surveillance missions every day, or a total of nearly 4,500 surveillance missions in a typical year.

The Government also provided additional funds to double the sea days of Customs National Marine Unit. The unit's fleet of eight 38 metre Bay class vessels maintains a strategic presence around the Australian coast and responds to known or suspected border incidents. The injection of additional funds doubled the fleet's capacity to about 2400 sea days per year, complemented by the Navy's patrol vessels.

Labor's Shadow Minister for Immigration, Nicola Roxon MP, would do well to learn more about Coastwatch before she is again humiliated on radio, as occurred yesterday during this exchange with 2GB's Ray Hadley:

"ROXON: What we propose with the coastguard is to combine specific coastguard vessels of which there would be three patrol boats. But, to combine it with a whole lot of other services...

HADLEY: Did you just say three?

ROXON: Yeah.

HADLEY: Like, 1, 2, 3?

ROXON: Yes well, it might be distressing for you and your listeners to know that actually, with the Government's current plan, there was one that's actually been doing that patrol?

HADLEY: Yeah well, can I suggest to you Nicola that one is about as useful as three when we are trying to protect 35,000 km of coastline."

Senator Ellison noted that the recent announcement of the Government's intention to buy 12 new Armidale Class Patrol Boats, to be built in Western Australia, will further boost Australia's capability to intercept and apprehend vessels suspected of illegal fishing, Quarantine, Customs and Immigration offences.

"Labor is weak on border protection, and any of their claims must be treated with the utmost caution."

Media Inquiries: Simon Troeth (02) 6277 7260/(0439) 300 335

Last Modified: Friday 07, November 2003 Minister for Justice and Customs