National Security

Transcript | 6PR Perth Now | 09 April 2024

April 9, 2024

Tuesday 09 April 2024
Interview on 6PR Perth Live
Subject: Labor’s failure to deliver maritime surveillance

OLIVER PETERSON: James Paterson is the Shadow Home Affairs Minister, and he joins me live on 6PR today. Senator, thank you very much for your time.

JAMES PATERSON: Great to be with you, Oly.

PETERSON: Why are these boats arriving on the mainland?

PATERSON: Because this government, unfortunately, has weakened the successful border protection policies put in place by the previous government, which stopped the Labor government before that and their failure which opened up our borders again. We warned them when they abolished temporary protection visas, that that would be an incentive for people to get on boats. And that's what happened. We warned them when they failed to deliver the maritime surveillance hours and aerial surveillance hours that they're supposed to, that people would slip through the cracks. And we've now had 13 boats since the election, three of which have made it all the way through to the mainland.

PETERSON: Why are the surveillance hours being cut, Senator?

PATERSON: So Commissioner Outram of the Border Force admitted to me in October last year that there's been a 20% drop in aerial surveillance and a 12% drop of on-sea surveillance and there's a couple of reasons for that. One is the availability of the aircraft because they're in maintenance, because they're now an older platform that probably need to be replaced. The other is availability of pilots and the other demands on their time, and the scarcity of pilots able to do these sort of flights. Maritime surveillance? No adequate explanation has been provided to me as to why our current offshore vessel are not being able to conduct those hours, and that's something I need to get to the bottom off.

PETERSON: So you floated the idea of using drones or drone technology. That seems like a bit of a no brainer.

PATERSON: I think it is Oly because it's obviously one of those problems. Of course, drones also need maintenance, but they don't need human beings flying them in the air, they can be remote piloted, and they can be piloted by a computer program rather than a person sitting there the whole time, and we use them extensively in the military context for surveillance in our region, it is a perfectly acceptable technological platform for that purpose. So I don't see why this is any different. And if we don't have a solution like this soon then I fear there are going to be more boats that are going to slip through, or we're just going to be calling on the Navy to pick up more of the slack of Border Force when frankly they have other important things to do in the region too.

PETERSON: So, has Border Force indicated, are they looking at this technology? have they made any progress in going down the path of flying drones to patrol the borders?

PATERSON: Well, I put all this to Michael Outram in Senate estimates last year, and he said that was one option, and they were looking at that sort of thing. But he gave me no commitment on what timeline they were doing that when it would be addressed. In the meantime, we're failing to protect our borders, and it's one of the most fundamental things for a sovereign country to do is to protect your borders. At the moment, we've got asylum seekers wandering onto airbases in remote Western Australia and getting to the mainland without being detected at all, and that just shouldn't be happening.

PETERSON: So the Shire President of Wyndham East-Kimberley, David Menzel, indicated to us yesterday, he believes that the method is changing. It's not that the rickety old fishing boats that we saw of 10 or 15, 20 years ago. Senator, he's suggesting that these may now be high powered speed boats because the boats aren't found. People have dropped off and the boats return to wherever they came from. Have you got any information or intel, any sort of thinking that perhaps the shire president might be on the right track.

PATERSON: I have requested briefings from the government on this so that we can understand this, but in a breach of bipartisan tradition they have refused to provide me any briefings on this matter. But I suspect he's right. I suspect this has been a change of approach from asylum seekers and people smugglers. They are not relying on those older, slower wooden vessels that are easier to detect because they're slower moving and probably also not using steel hulled vessels that can be detected more easily by radar. It's possible that they're using fibreglass hull vessels which are faster, which are less detectable, which can get in and out more quickly, and therefore evade that detection.

PETERSON: When is the next time you get the opportunity to quiz the Border Force officials in Senate Estimates?

PATERSON: We've got them back before us again in just a couple of weeks actually, in late May after the budget and these are the kind of issues we will be exploring with them and frankly I think the Australian people deserve answers to this. This should not be happening. The government should be on top of this. The fact that they're not is a very worrying thing.

PETERSON: Should the government switch policy now? It was obviously also your policy when in government Senator, your party's policy when in government not to talk about

these operational matters. But now we've got three examples within five months. Does there need to be a further explanation from the government and or investigation into how and why these boats are arriving on the mainland?

PATERSON: Well, the previous government refused to talk about on water matters, but it's not an on water matter if they're getting on shore - it's an on ground matter. And I think that changes things like we do need more transparency from this government about why their border protection policies are failing, why these gaps have opened up, why it's been successfully exploited by people smugglers, that should not be happening. And so more transparency is required then we would normally expect.

PETERSON: Senator, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

PATERSON: Thanks Oly.


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