Consideration in Detail

Mr KEENAN (Stirling) (11:40): The nature of that response really was Orwellian. How the government, in what is the greatest betrayal of Indigenous Australians since the Mabo decision was made 20 years ago, can somehow spin that as being an advancement in native title is, quite frankly, Orwellian. We will move on though to other issues within the portfolio.

I wanted to ask about the recent interceptions at Cocos Island of illegal boat arrivals, one on 15 May and then another yesterday on 30 May. As members would be aware, there is a limited Border Protection Command presence at Cocos Island, and I understand that these interceptions were made by a single AFP officer. The boats were respectively carrying 63 passengers in the first arrival and 40 passengers in the second arrival. I wanted to confirm when and how the AFP officers became aware of these particular illegal arrivals. Why was the AFP forced to undertake this task and not Border Protection Command, as is obviously appropriate? What risk assessment has been done for illegal arrivals coming to Cocos Island, both for the Australian officers involved and for the asylum seekers themselves?

I assume this will be to the Minister for Home Affairs. I am not sure how you will be organising it. I wanted to ask whether he believes it is acceptable that the protection of Australian borders relies on a single AFP officer in a rigid inflatable boat, a RIB. Because this has happened on more than one occasion, I wanted to ask him how it was possible for two illegal boat arrivals to essentially just bump into Australian territory before being detected. What provisions have been made on Cocos Island for these continued illegal arrivals, including simple contingencies such as food, accommodation and other needs? Where are the people being detained on Cocos Island and in what conditions are they being detained? Given that these two arrivals have come within the space of a fortnight and there have been reports of an upsurge in Tamil asylum seekers coming from Sri Lanka, what is the government doing in response to increase our border protection system at Cocos Island?

Mr CLARE (Blaxland—Minister for Home Affairs, Minister for Justice and Minister for Defence Materiel) (11:43): I have some information for the member. If there is any additional information that he would like, I am happy to take that on notice and provide additional information. Just as was the case under the Howard government, boat arrivals at Cocos Island are rare. As was the case under the Howard government, the Australian Federal Police have responsibilities in relation to maritime patrol at Cocos Island, which is why they responded to this recent arrival.

Appearing before estimates last week, the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police said that AFP officers on Cocos Island had a responsibility to assist where they can and were trusted to make operational judgments. The AFP used that judgment and responded using rigid-hulled inflatable boats. The shadow minister made reference to rigid-hulled inflatable boats. I should make the point—it is an important point—that they are the same type of boat that was recommended in the WA coroner’s recent report for use at Christmas Island. It is one recommendation that we have accepted and will implement. I think it is one that is supported by the shadow minister and by the shadow minister for immigration. I have had conversations with the shadow minister for immigration about that matter specifically. The AFP provides health and safety information and training to its employees. It provides AFP members with an understanding of potential health effects and the skills and knowledge that enable them to work safely. The Indian Ocean Territories Health Service services the community of Cocos (Keeling) Islands and is responsible for initial screening of irregular maritime arrivals. Border Protection Command provides services such as transferring IMAs from the jetty to Cocos airport for quarantine and health screening. Customs and Border Protection is working with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship on arrangements to transfer the irregular maritime arrivals to Christmas Island, where they will undergo initial security and identity checks and their reason for travel will be established.

The shadow minister complained that this has happened more than once. I know that in his press release yesterday he said that it is disgraceful that this situation has been allowed to happen more than once. I should inform him that it happened more than once under the Howard government; it happened twice under the Howard government within a short period of time, so he should reflect upon that when making remarks like that. The Australian Federal Police had responsibility then at Cocos (Keeling) Island, as they do now.