National Security

Transcript | 6PR Mornings | 14 May 2024

May 14, 2024

Tuesday 14 May 2024
Interview on 6PR Mornings
Subjects: Labor’s weak border policies are bringing back the boats, Reported Chinese secret police operations in Australia

GARY ADSHEAD: The people smugglers are back in business. Senator James Paterson is the Shadow Home Affairs Spokesperson, joins me now. G'day Senator.

JAMES PATERSON: Good to be with you.

ADSHEAD: All right. So we know about these four Vietnamese asylum seekers they have supposedly been intercepted, but they're still at sea along with a bunch of other people, near Christmas Island, again apparently being kept at sea. What are you able to find out in your capacity?

PATERSON: Definitely some very unusual things Gary about this recent spate of arrivals. And the government is not being transparent about what has happened here, but based on me reporting, it sounds like all three of the boats that have come to Australia in the last week alone have made it to the Australian territory, before being intercepted. Saibai Island, Christmas Island and on the northwest coast near Broome. Now that is a very serious thing, and it means we’ve now had six boats in the last six months which have made it to Australian territory without being intercepted by Border Force because of the shocking failures of this government to deliver air and maritime surveillance operations. And it seems to indicate that the people smuggling trade is up and running again. These are now 17 boats since the election that have attempted to make the journey.

ADSHEAD: So in other words, your beef is perhaps around resourcing at the moment, as opposed to the way that Operation Sovereign Borders is being applied?

PATERSON: Operation Sovereign Borders was watered down and weakened by the Albanese government as one of their first acts of coming to power. They did so by abolishing temporary protection visas, which are a key deterrent for people smugglers and would be asylum seekers. By doing that, they've sent a message to them that they are weak on these issues, and they're being tested and unfortunately have been found wanting. As you point out, there also appears to be a change of procedure here. Instead of flying these people to Nauru for regional processing, which was under Operation Sovereign Borders, they appear to be doing something else with them, which they're not being transparent about, and I think they urgently need to explain. Where is the Minister for Home Affairs? Where is the Minister for Immigration? Where is the Prime minister? And why wouldn't they explain what is going on here?

ADSHEAD: Okay, so that situation where they're being kept at sea, I mean what do you think that means? Does that mean in the vessels that they were on, or have they been transferred across to Border Force vessels or Navy vessels? Do we know anything like that? Because I would have thought that there would be inherent risk in leaving them in the actual vessels that they were coming here on?

PATERSON: There certainly could be if those vessels are unseaworthy. And in the case of at least of the boat of 33 people that allegedly arrived at Christmas Island late last week, it apparently was damaged and wrecked upon arrival at Christmas Island. So it'd be unlikely to be safe to still be on that vessel. It could be that they're being held on ABF vessels to be returned, either from their point of departure or their country of origin. But in the case of the 33 people, we don't actually know which countries they have come from, whether it's one country or multiple countries or what their point of departure was, again because the government is not being transparent about this. And I think they really need to front up and explain this is very unusual. And they do appear to be letting the Australian public down with their failure to enforce our borders.

ADSHEAD: Just on that, though, James, you have to say that back in the days of Peter Dutton being the responsible Minister, that he was hardly forthcoming, when there were boats that might have been turned back, etc?

PATERSON: You're right. When we were in government, we were very cautious about giving away information about our successful policies to turn around the boats. What's different here is that those policies appear to no longer be successful. And what we didn't have under the previous government that we now have is boats reaching Australian territories. I mean, it appears to be six in the last six months. But prior to this, that was a virtually unheard of event. And so I think it does demand a different level of transparency.

ADSHEAD: Do you think that they are coming from, various locations, or is there a central point? Is there any evidence that you're hearing about a central point when they are departing as part of people smuggler operations?

PATERSON: Some of the media reports have indicated that they have departed from Indonesia, which certainly was the experience last time this was a major problem when Labor was in power. We had those 800 boats, 50,000 people attempt to come to Australia over six years. So that would be a concern if that has been revived again in Indonesia. But the country of origin, appears to be changing as well with the people that made it to Saibai Island allegedly from Africa. We have had reports of Vietnamese people seeking to come here, even reports of people from China seeking to come here. They are not the traditional source countries for people coming to Australia. So something has changed here.

ADSHEAD: Yeah, the Vietnamese trying to come here. That surprises me, as to why that would be, I mean, obviously there's just people there that are trying to escape for whatever reason. But, would they be any issue in repatriating them back to Vietnam?

PATERSON: Well, it would depend on their individual circumstances. Some of the boats that have previously attempted to make the journey under this government have included people who are self-admitted economic migrants that were coming here to work in Australia. And that is obviously not a valid asylum claim. And even if they do have a valid asylum claim under Operation Sovereign Borders, they are supposed to be processed in Nauru and only settled in third countries, not in Australia. We urgently need the government to clarify, are they intending to do the same with these people if they can't be returned to their country of origin, if they are genuine refugees? Why haven't they been taken to the Nauru for processing? And where do you plan to send them?

ADSHEAD: So the timing of this, of course, is in and around the federal budget. Are you saying that if there's not a big cash injection, more funding for Border Force, there'll be greater questions to answer here?

PATERSON: We'll be watching very closely, because in the last budget, the government planned to cut hundreds of millions of dollars out of the border protection budget. In the February budget estimates update released earlier this year, it amounted to $436 million. So that's one of the things we will be looking for tonight. Do they still plan to reduce spending on Operation Sovereign Borders, even though the boats have started again, even though our borders are out of control?

ADSHEAD: I remember when the Prime Minister was talking about the situation in the north here, where we had those two, boats that came and did make it to shore. Of course, you know, one was near an Aboriginal community that managed to detect them. And he said, well there's nothing to see here because this is just Operation Sovereign Borders like it was under the last government. They arrive here, but sure, they don't get processed here. They get sent to Nauru. So has he got a point? this is just how it operates?

PATERSON: Well, I don't remember, under Operation Sovereign Borders, people walking on to a base used by our military and in this case Truscott air base on the north west coast of Australia undetected. I mean boats have come drop people off and left again without being identified. And people have been wandering around the remote desert of northwestern Australia without detection. That is not business as usual. That is not Operation Sovereign Borders succeeding. That is a failure. And the Prime Minister needs to take responsibility for it and fix it. He needs to restore Operation Sovereign Borders to what it was and refund OSB to what it needs to be so we can deliver that maritime surveillance, and that aerial surveillance, and stop these boats breaking through.

ADSHEAD: I just quickly I know you were part of a Four Corners story on Monday, it's in and around how the Chinese, what lengths they'll go to in terms of trying to interfere with and indeed more, with dissidents that might be living in Australia. Has there been a strong government response to it yet or nothing?

PATERSON: Well, this is another reminder of the serious threat of foreign interference and espionage from China, which is the number one source of it in Australia. As yet, there's been no comment from any government Minister in response to this. And I do want to hear what they have to say about this, because it does include allegations that the Australian Federal Police facilitated the operation of the Ministry of Public Security, China's secret police, on Australian soil and that that operation resulted in an Australian resident being repatriated to China. Now, that is an extraordinary intervention and something that should never have been permitted to happen.

ADSHEAD: Alright, we will be watching to see whether there is a response. I do appreciate you joining us today.

PATERSON: Thank you.


Recent News

All Posts