“For the sake of correcting the public record, our post made four such requests …Two were accepted and two were not”: Immigration Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: Brendan Esposito
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has been forced to reveal that Indonesia has twice rejected requests from the Abbott government to accept asylum seekers rescued by Australian authorities.
In a rare move, given the secrecy surrounding the Coalition’s border security regime, Mr Morrison said the Coalition had made four requests to Indonesia to accept asylum seekers that Australia had picked up in Indonesia’s search and rescue region. Only two had been accepted.
Mr Morrison’s comments – which were seized on by Labor as a sign of worsening relations between Canberra and Jakarta – came after the Jakarta Post on Saturday reported that Agus Barnas, spokesman for the Indonesian coordinating minister for legal, political and security affairs, said his country had declined to receive three out of six Australian requests for transfers since September.
“I have given the Indonesian government an assurance that we would not canvass these requests publicly when and if they are made and I intend to honour that commitment,” Mr Morrison said in a statement. “For the sake of correcting the public record, our post had made four such requests under Operation Sovereign Borders. Two were accepted and two were not.”
He stressed that the incidents were search and rescues, not “turn-back” operations, “although they do achieve the same result”.
The statement was made shortly after a group of asylum seekers that Indonesia had refused to accept arrived on Christmas Island for processing. Their boat had been at the centre of a mid-ocean standoff between Australia and Continued Page 11 ‘Scott Morrison is more adept at turning back questions than he is at turning back boats.’
Indonesia since Thursday, when Australian ships had gone to the aid of the asylum seekers on the boat who had made a distress call.
Labor seized on the standoff, pointing out that turn-backs had been touted as a key plank of the Coalition’s plan to stop the boats. ‘‘The Abbott government’s border protection policy is in tatters,’’ Labor leader Bill Shorten told Fairfax Media on Sunday.
Mr Agus gave further details of the requests that had been rejected and said there had been similar examples under both Labor and Liberal governments. ‘‘It’s not gone into the media, that’s why the recent incident looks like it is the first time. In fact, Indonesia has made similar decisions more than three times … under the current government and the previous government, in 2012 and 2013,’’ he said.
‘‘The boats were fine. In some of those incidents they activated the distress alert and when the Australian ships were nearing them they deliberately broke the engines so that the Australian ships could take them,’’ Mr Agus said.
‘‘Everyone was safe, and besides their boats were already closer to Christmas Island. We were asked to receive them. We said we didn’t want to. If there were incidents where the boats were wrecked and people were in the water, of course Indonesia would help because it is a humanitarian issue.’’
Labor’s immigration spokesman Richard Marles said that while boat arrivals had slowed in recent months, this was due to the introduction of the Papua New Guinea resettlement policy announced by former prime minister Kevin Rudd in July.
Mr Morrison said that since the start of Operation Sovereign Borders in September there had been a more than 76 per cent decline in asylum seeker arrivals. ‘‘The significant decline in arrivals is due to no single factor but rather the resolve displayed by the new government across all measures,’’ he said.