Yuko Narushima and Mark Metherell, SMH
October 3, 2008
THE first boatload of people to be intercepted off Australia's coast by the Rudd Government arrived at Christmas Island yesterday, but the lack of detail on the detainees has drawn accusations of secrecy from the Opposition.
The navy detected a boat with 11 male passengers, one female passenger and two crewmen off Ashmore Reef on Monday. The group was transferred to Australia's detention facility in the Indian Ocean by Customs.
The Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, used the swift action dealing with the group to demonstrate the Government's strong stance on border protection.
"They are unauthorised arrivals and are subject to mandatory detention," he said yesterday.
"The interception of this group of unauthorised arrivals clearly demonstrated the Rudd Government's border security arrangements are working."
The Government has not identified the group's country of origin but confirmed translators had been flown to the island to help with identification.
The Opposition spokeswoman for immigration, Sharman Stone, said the Government was being cagey with information on the arrivals, three of whom claim to be juveniles.
"The Government quite clearly would know from the navy what languages these people were speaking and they would have put appropriate interpreters on their plane," she said.
"It's a case of the minister being coy. It's important to be transparent. Australians are very sympathetic and welcoming and I am surprised that Minister Evans is keeping a little veil of secrecy around this," Dr Stone said.
She said the needs of the people were more important than their country of origin.
Australia has a $396 million detention compound built by the Howard government at Christmas Island, which, since completion, has not been used. The new arrivals were being kept at a smaller complex on the island, at Phosphate Hill, saving on the costs involved with running an 800-person compound unnecessarily.
The Government could not say yesterday what it cost taxpayers to process people offshore. So far these include passage for the unauthorised arrivals to Christmas Island and a plane to transport translators and staff to conduct interviews and testing.
Offshore processing continues policies introduced by the Howard government. Known as the Pacific Solution, the policies were designed to prevent people reaching Australia.
The removal of the boatpeople to Christmas Island, outside Australian domestic territory, depriving them of recourse to Australian law, has drawn a cool response from the Refugee Council of Australia.
The council's president, John Gibson, said that although the asylum seekers were being kept away from the mainland, the Labor Government had established "a more benign process" giving the boat people access to independent review and welfare support.
"Within the current framework it is the best outcome we have got …We would obviously prefer the excision ended," Mr Gibson said, referring to the previous government's excision of offshore islands for legal purposes.