Consideration in Detail

Mr KEENAN (Stirling) (12:13): I want to ask the Minister for Home Affairs about the process of issuing media releases and informing the Australian public about illegal boat arrivals.

My colleague in the other place Senator Abetz asked some questions about this during the estimates process and we did get some very comprehensive information back from the government. That information told us that Customs reports a boat arrival to the minister’s office within about six hours, on average, and that the average time it took the minister’s office to issue a publicity release was just over 15 hours—about double that time.

I want the minister to inform the House about how this process works. Has Customs ever formally requested that the minister’s office not issue a public media release until the boat has been intercepted, or is it up to the minister’s office as to when this release is issued?

According to information that we have been provided with, there have been at least 10 instances where there was a delay of two to four days before informing the public about a boat arrival. I want an explanation as to why that would happen.

I also want him to explain the process of issuing of a media release in relation to the detection of illegal boat arrivals: Once detected, who informs the minister’s office? Who is notified? What is the chain of communication and, ultimately, who gives final approval for the release? Is it the minister who gives this final approval?

Mr CLARE (Blaxland—Minister for Home Affairs, Minister for Justice and Minister for Defence Materiel) (12:13): I thank the member for his question. I am not sure what it has got to do with the budget, but I am happy to answer it anyway.

My office is informed when Border Protection Command are aware of a boat. The release is not issued until the boat has been intercepted and the information in that release can be confirmed. From time to time, we will be told that a boat has been detected, and that from the air it can be determined that there might be 30 or 40 people on the boat, but the release is not issued until an interception has occurred and we can confirm those numbers to provide the information that you receive in the press release. That is, I think, the appropriate course of action to make sure that the information that is provided to you and to the media is as accurate as it could possibly be.

You asked who ultimately approves the release—me. It is my name at the top and it is my obligation to make sure that the information is accurate. I cannot speak for previous ministers, but I am assuming that that is the practice that they adopted in the past: to make sure that a statement is issued only once the boat has been intercepted and all of that information can be properly and accurately provided.