12 July 2012

Opposition slams people smugglers' exploitation methods

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Opposition Immigration Spokesperson Scott Morrison has criticised the methods people smugglers are using to ensure asylum seeking boats reach Australia.

Australia immigration

Measures people smugglers are taking are exploiting the Australian navy.

People smugglers have reportedly begun radioing Australian immigration authorities for assistance much earlier than necessary and often when they are in no genuine need of help, a move which has been roundly criticised as simple exploitation.

After the capsizing of two Australia-bound asylum seeking boats last month which resulted in the deaths of an estimated 94 people, Australian authorities have been desperate to avoid another disaster and have laboured to respond to all distress calls as soon as possible.

The first capsized boat radioed Australia for help despite being in Indonesian waters, forcing Australia to request permission to enter Indonesian waters and, since being granted permission, unscrupulous people smugglers are reportedly abusing the privilege to reach Australia easily.

People smugglers know that the vessels they use will have to be abandoned upon reaching Australia and typically use rickety, over-filled fishing boats to compensate for this. While many of these boats are unreliable and at risk of capsizing and sinking, the notion that boat crews are radioing for help unnecessarily has angered many, including Mr Morrison.

"Australian naval and customs vessels are now effectively being co-opted by people-smugglers to deliver their passengers for them to Christmas Island," said the shadow immigration minister.

"This is not why Australians joined the navy."

Mr Morrison's comments come after Australian immigration authorities were forced to rescue two asylum seeking vessels in Indonesian waters this week, despite one having no obvious need for assistance.

An anonymous source within the search and rescue operation told The Australian newspaper that the boat crew had clearly been instructed to radio for help regardless of the condition of their boat.

"They are not in trouble, they are lying," said the source, adding that Indonesian consent for Australian authorities to enter their waters had encouraged people smugglers.

"The people-smugglers tell them 'just call the Australians and they will come and get you'."

The Australian's source echoes comments made by Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare who acknowledged this new aspect to the fight against people smuggling last week, although Mr Clare also said authorities would continue to respond to all distress calls 'because if you don't, people die'.

Asylum seeking is one of the most politically charged in Australia right now and politicians are yet to find a suitable deterrent all parties can agree on; the governing Labor Party want offshore processing in Malaysia, the opposing Coalition in Nauru and the Australian Greens oppose offshore processing of any kind.

Each party has reservations about the others' solutions and refuses to negotiate; an independently proposed bill which offered a compromise between Labor and the Coalition's respective solutions passed the House of Representatives last month but was eventually voted out by the Senate, returning discussions to the deadlock which has been in place since January and opening the door for scores of other boats.

While politicians continue to try and gain traction by attacking their opponents, blaming them for the worsening situation, polling data shows voters growing weary of all sides in the debate.

A poll conducted for The Australian earlier this week blamed both Labor and the Coalition in almost equal proportion (32% and 28% respectively) with a smaller proportion naming the Greens as most to blame (16%).

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