Interview with Sabra Lane – ABC AM – 15 August 2012

Topic: Asylum Seekers

TONY EASTLEY: The Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare has confirmed that a captain of a car-carrier that rescued 67 asylum seekers earlier this week abandoned his planned journey to Singapore and headed instead for Christmas Island because he feared for his crew’s safety.

The Minister says the captain became concerned as the asylum seekers became agitated when they discovered the ship was headed for Singapore.

Mr Clare has spoken to our chief political correspondent Sabra Lane about that, and the reconnaissance teams heading for Nauru and PNG today.

JASON CLARE: We’ve brought the reconnaissance team forward by one day. They’ll leave Australia this morning; they’ll arrive in Manus Island later today and then Nauru I understand tomorrow.

They’re job is to identify how to set up those facilities and how quickly they can be done. The Prime Minister has made the point that this needs to be weeks, not months. We want to be processing people on Nauru within a month.

SABRA LANE: There are reports in the West Australian this morning that the captain of the car carrier that picked up 67 asylum seekers earlier this week originally planned to Singapore with them, but he had to turn the boat around and head for Christmas Island because the asylum seekers became agitated when they were learning that they were going to Singapore.

What can you tell us about this?

JASON CLARE: That’s right. This all happened on Tuesday. We had a call from a vessel in distress off the coast of Indonesia. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority put out a call to merchant vessels in the area. A merchant vessel arrived, picked up 67 asylum seekers, then began a journey to Singapore – its destination.

When the asylum seekers on the boat found out about this, they became very aggressive and the master of the ship made the decision to turn the vessel around and head to Christmas Island.

SABRA LANE: When they became aggressive, have you been told exactly what they were doing? Did the captain call Australia and tell Australia of his intentions to turn the boat around?

JASON CLARE: The captain did. The captain rang the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to tell him of his intentions and he made the point that he was concerned for his crew’s safety and therefore decided to take the ship to Christmas Island.

They arrived on Tuesday night. Now that means that the people that were on this boat now face the prospect, like other people that arrive in Australia from now on, of being transferred to Nauru or to Manus Island.

SABRA LANE: This agitation. Did they threaten the crew?

JASON CLARE: I don’t have those specific details. We’ll need to talk to the master of the ship about exactly what happened. What we do know is that the master of the ship contacted Australian authorities said that he was concerned for the safety of his crew and on that basis made the decision to take the asylum seekers to Christmas Island.

SABRA LANE: Does it worry you that that happened?

JASON CLARE: It does. It shows you just how dangerous it can be out on the high seas when you’ve got desperate people doing dangerous things, and that’s what happened here. It tells you how dangerous potentially towing a boat back to Indonesia can be as well, when people behave like this.

But there’s no advantage in that sort of behaviour. There’s no advantage in it because these people now face the prospect of going to Nauru.

SABRA LANE: The car-carrier’s owned by the same company that owned the Tampa.

JASON CLARE: Yes and there’s another point worth making here, Sabra. Next week’s the 11th anniversary of the Tampa.

Politicians here have been fighting about this now for 11 years. We’ve been fighting about it for too long and hopefully today we’ll have legislation passed through the Senate and we can end this debate once and for all.

SABRA LANE: The UNHCR representative to this region is very concerned about this new measure that some people may be held on Nauru and Manus Island indefinitely, without processing.

And he says that Australia risks breaching its international obligations.

JASON CLARE: This is a wretched area of public policy, there’s no easy choices here. What’s this all about? It’s about trying to make sure that people don’t come to Australia by boat because they think it’s the fastest way to get here.

That’s why compassionate people like Angus Houston, Paris Aristotle and Michael L’Estrange have established this principle of no advantage, so that if you come to Australia by boat, you won’t be processed any quicker, you won’t be able to get to Australia any quicker than if you went through the UN in Jakarta.

It’s very tough. That’s right, but it’s about trying to make sure that people don’t have the incentive to pay a people smuggler $10,000 to get on a boat to come to Australia.

SABRA LANE: On the missing boat that set sail for Australia in late June, Fairfax reports this morning that the Palestinian representative to Australia, his office, contacted the Federal Government three weeks ago with his concerns and he says that the Government did nothing and nothing happened.

Is that right?

JASON CLARE: I can confirm some information for you and talk to you about what government authorities know. I was first informed of this on Thursday last week through a call that we received from the West Australian newspaper who’d been in contact with the Palestinian community in Australia.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority have said in the newspaper today that they never received a distress call about this vessel and that no search and rescue for this boat ever occurred.

The best information that we’ve got is that the boat set sea on the 29th of June and was never heard from since.

It wouldn’t surprise me if concerned members of the Australian community contacted a range of different government departments over that time from the 29th of June till now. Whether that’s Immigration, the Maritime Safety Authority or my own agency, Customs and Boarder Protection, and I’ll go back and do more work to find out when those calls first occurred.

TONY EASTLEY: The Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare speaking to chief political correspondent, Sabra Lane.

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