Ben Packham, in The Australian, 10 april 2013 with title “Asylum boat’s arrival on mainland may force border patrol rethink”
The boat carrying 66 Sri Lankans arrived in Geraldton harbour, 430km north of Perth, at 12.45pm local time yesterday en route to New Zealand. Picture: Graeme Gibbons Source: News Limited
BORDER protection authorities will review the adequacy of asylum boat patrols after a vessel carrying 66 Sri Lankans made it to the West Australian mainland undetected. Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said the boat, which arrived in Geraldton yesterday, is believed to have sailed direct from Sri Lanka. He said it appeared to have taken a much longer and more southerly route than most asylum-seeker vessels, keeping it at sea for 44 days.
“I’m concerned,” Mr Clare told ABC radio. “I’ve asked Customs and Border Protection to review the circumstances of this case and advise me whether there needs to be changes to the way in which we patrol the seas in the north-west.The point to stress is this is very unusual. We haven’t had a boat head for the mainland and make the mainland now in about five years. It’s a much shorter journey for people to travel to Cocos Island or to Christmas Island.”
TWO brothers in Geraldton yesterday came across the first asylum-seeker boat in five years to come within sight of mainland Australia undetected. He said it was possible the vessel took the route it did because it was making for New Zealand, as those aboard declared in a sign shown on their arrival in the WA port town. The asylum-seekers, who will have recourse to the Australian courts after arriving on the mainland, will be taken to Christmas Island for initial screening.
Mr Clare said they would not be transported to Nauru or Manus Island for processing but would be returned to Sri Lanka if they were found not to be legitimate asylum-seekers.
The 14-metre boat, thought to have been donated to Sri Lanka by Deutsche Bank after the 2004 tsunami, arrived at one of Australia’s busiest regional ports and the nation’s second-largest for grain export, 430km north of Perth, at 12.45pm local time yesterday. They were the first group to come within sight of the Australian mainland without being detected since 12 Sri Lankans tried to dock their boat at Shark Bay, 800km north of Perth, in 2008. It is thought to be the first time an asylum boat has made landfall so far south.Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the government had sat on its hands, failing to pass legislation that would have allowed those aboard the vessel to be treated as offshore arrivals.
The legislation to excise the mainland from the migration zone, which has Coalition support, is currently in the Senate. “The minister has been caught basically red-handed doing nothing on this issue and failing to get that legislation through the parliament,” Mr Morrison said. “What that means is, as we stand here today, the entire Western Australian coast and all the way into the Northern Territory and into Darwin, is basically open game for people-smugglers to land people in Australia and to not have their passengers subject to being transferred for offshore processing.” Mr Clare said he could not explain why the legislation had not been passed.
“It’s a strange beast, the Senate,” he said. “I don’t have carriage of that legislation but the government is committed to passing it. It’s passed through the House of Representatives. We want it passed through the Senate as quickly as possible.”
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said the government’s handling of border security had been a “disaster”. “I think effectively, the government has kind of surrendered,” he told Gold FM. West Australian Premier Colin Barnett yesterday expressed alarm that a boat could sail into a regional centre undetected. “The state government is working co-operatively with the commonwealth on this issue and will ensure people’s welfare is being looked after,” Mr Barnett said. “Nevertheless, this is a serious, unprecedented and unacceptable breach of Australia’s border security. That a boat, laden with people, can sail into a busy regional port in broad daylight is shocking.”
But Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor accused Mr Barnett of whipping up hysteria over the boat’s arrival. “It is not unprecedented; there were 11 boats that arrived in WA during the Howard years alone,” Mr O’Connor told Fairfax radio. “The Premier is wrong in his language. His language is bordering on hysteria, as it has happened many times before. This is rare and it won’t happen often, and I think it is unfair and unreasonable for the Premier to describe it (that way).”
Retirees Mark and Gary Rossiter were travelling in a 3.7m runabout near the Geraldton yacht club when they saw a rusty fishing boat with people onboard waving to them. Two men onboard who could speak English told the Rossiters they had come from Sri Lanka, were trying to get to New Zealand and had been at sea for 44 days. They needed help for a pregnant woman on board.
Additional reporting: AAP