Interview with Alexandra Kirk – 702 ABC Sydney – 4 Jul 2012

Topic: Asylum Seeker vessel

TONY EASTLY: The Prime Minister and the Indonesian President issued a communiqué after their annual leaders’ meeting in Darwin. But with the ink barely dry there are reports of an asylum seeker boat in distress off the Indonesian coast. The Home Affairs Minister, Jason Clare, is speaking here with Alexandra Kirk in Canberra.

[Excerpt from interview]

JASON CLARE: This is very early information. It’s unfolding right now, but the advice that I have is that a distress call was received by Australian search and rescue authorities this morning at about 4.30 of a vessel that’s in distress about fifty nautical miles just south of Indonesia.

Our search and rescue authorities, and Indonesian search and rescue authorities, are working on this right now. The latest advice that I’ve got is that the boat is now heading north, and it’s returning to Indonesia. An alert’s been sent out to merchant vessels in the area to assist.

HMAS Wollongong, one of our patrol boats, is returning right now from Singapore. It is expected to be in the area in about an hour, so if the vessel that’s reported to be in distress needs assistance, our patrol boat will be there, I understand, within the next hour.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And what about Indonesian boats?

JASON CLARE: I don’t have information on that. The latest information I’ve got is that Indonesia’s search and rescue authority, Basarnas, has put out a general alert to merchant vessels that might be in the area to assist if possible. In addition to that, the advice I’ve got from Australian search and rescue authorities is that the boat is now tracking north and heading back towards Indonesia at the moment.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: So, it is able to keep on sailing?

JASON CLARE: Yes. The advice I’ve got is that over the course of this morning they’ve seen the boat beginning to track north and it’s continuing to motor north.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Indonesia yesterday got a good deal from the annual talks between President Yudhoyono and the Prime Minister, in the form of quick processing of minors who are in Australian jails, joint military exercises, four planes for disaster relief, money to tackle poverty.

On people smuggling, there’s a joint pledge to, quote, enhance bilateral co-operation. Couldn’t you do better than that?

JASON CLARE: First, on the issue of returning children or juveniles, our view is children don’t belong in jail. They were returned under the Howard Government and they’re returned under the current Government as well. We’ve returned about one hundred and sixty-four children or juveniles in the last few years.

The changes we’ve made to increase the speed at which we do that means that young people that get caught up in this are processed and returned to Indonesia quicker now than they have been in the past.

I think on the general issue of people smuggling, stopping people getting onto boats, but also stopping people drowning, one of the key things that came out of this yesterday was an agreement that Australian search and rescue authorities, and Indonesia’s search and rescue authorities need to work more closely together.

Our police work very closely together at the moment. That’s led to about three hundred boats over the last few years being stopped or disrupted from setting to sea, but there is more that we can do, and we should do to get our search and rescue authorities working more closely together.

The Indonesian search and rescue authority has a different system to ours. They’ve got access to less information about where merchant vessels are that can assist in emergencies, like the one that we have happening right now.

It’s also about making sure that we’ve got access to the same computer system, so that the two search and rescue authorities can talk to each other and share information more quickly as well.

The officials for the two different search and rescue authorities are going to meet in the next couple of weeks, and then I’m heading to Indonesia in late August or early September with the Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, to sit down with all of our key agencies and all of Indonesia’s key search and rescue and law enforcement agencies.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: What do you know about a Pakistani on Christmas Island who allegedly survived last month’s boat capsizing and who the Indonesian police say is a member of the same people smuggling network that an Afghan teenager they’ve arrested, and who’s admitted to sending four boats to Australia?

JASON CLARE: Alex, Australian federal police are investigating this on Christmas Island now. You’ll know that Indonesian police arrested a person they allege is a key syndicate member of the team that put together that boat that led to ninety people dying two weeks ago. The federal police are working with Indonesian police to identify the organisers and other facilitators that were involved in putting that vessel to sea.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And have the federal police interviewed this man?

JASON CLARE: They’re in the process at Christmas Island of doing a number of things including victim identification and interviewing all of the survivors, including this individual. Because this is the subject of an investigation, not just in Indonesia, but also in Australia, the advice I’ve got from the federal police is it’s not appropriate for me to give further information at the moment.

[End of excerpt]

TONY EASTLY: The Home Affairs Minister, Jason Clare, speaking with Alexandra Kirk in Canberra