National Security

Asylum seekers flown to Nauru as Dutton calls PM a soft touch

November 25, 2023

25 November 2023
Angus Thompson and Karuni Rompies
The Sydney Morning Herald

A dozen asylum seekers have been taken to Nauru after arriving by boat on a  remote stretch of West Australian coastline this week.
 Apprehended on Wednesday after their boat landed at a barge mooring in the  Kimberley region, the 12 people were briefly housed at the Truscott airbase  before they were flown to the South Pacific island's regional processing  centre by Australian Border Force.
 Home Affairs Minister Clare O'Neil has accused Opposition Leader Peter Dutton  of exploiting the undetected arrival after he linked the appearance of the  vessel to people smuggling.
 O'Neil said the government was "careful and deliberate" about how  it discussed national security issues, including operational matters.
 "No political objective should ever come before the security of our  country and the integrity of the operations and agencies that protect us  every day," she said in a statement.
 The confirmation of the unexpected arrival on the mainland follows a  challenging fortnight for the government, which has been scrambling to deal  with the release of more than 100 former immigration detainees, including  convicted murderers and rapists, after a High Court ruling.
 Speaking at a press conference in Strathphine in Queensland yesterday, Dutton  urged the government to provide more information about the latest arrivals.
 "We need to know the status of these people; whether or not they've  sought protection, where it is they've come from - some of the public  open-source reporting at the moment is that they've come out of Indonesia,"  Dutton said. "At the moment, Australians see this prime minister as weak  and so do the people smugglers. The people smugglers see Anthony Albanese as  a soft touch because he is a soft touch."
 O'Neil refused to provide any information, saying only: "Whether it's  the conflict in the Middle East, tensions at home, Operation Sovereign  Borders or even the highly sensitive security operations involved in  individuals returning from conflict, there's nothing Peter Dutton won't use  for his own political ends."
 Informed of the High Court's decision - which overturned a decades-old regime  of indefinite immigration detention for foreigners who could not be deported  - and this week's boat arrival by The Age, the Indonesian police chief in  charge of the island nearest to Australia said news of the detainees' release  would embolden people smugglers.
 "The people smuggling perpetrators will be happier and get more active  finding potential victims," said Senior Commissioner Mardiono, chief of  police of Rote Ndao regency in East Nusa Tenggara province. "And the  closest place to Australia is Rote."
 It was from Rote Island, 500 kilometres off the coast of Western Australia,  that 13 Iraqi nationals attempted to travel to Australia last December before  being intercepted at Ashmore Reef.
 A month later, six Indians and four Indonesians were sent back to Rote after  also being stopped in Australian waters.
 Mardiono, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, said he had not been  aware of this week's landing of a boat from Indonesia in WA.
 "I have been in Rote for the past four months," he said. "I  have not found or received [any] fresh report about people smuggling  cases."
 Opposition home affairs spokesman James Paterson said this week's group was  "the first unlawful arrivals to reach the Australian mainland in a  decade".
 "The Albanese government must explain this serious and concerning border  protection failure, and immediately restore the funding they cut from Border  Force operations," he said. "Our maritime surveillance must also be  urgently boosted to make sure there are no more incursions like these  again."
 The arrivals will join 11 other people who were taken to Nauru in September  after being intercepted off Australia that month.
 Home Affairs officials revealed during a parliamentary hearing last month  that Australia was again using the offshore immigration detention centre, but  would not say where the detainees came from, prompting accusations of secrecy  from Greens and Liberal politicians.

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