20 November 2003

Government secretive on boatpeople: judge

Justice Mildren today published his reasons for the dismissal, saying he could not issue the writ because it had not been sought to secure the release of the men.

The writ had been sought to enable the NT Legal Commission to obtain instructions as to whether the men wished to apply for refugee visas for Australia, where they would be placed in immigration detention anyway.

However, he also said he was 'far from satisfied' the detention of the men was lawful.

Justice Mildren described the government's handling of the case as secretive.

'The policy of the government was to operate as clandestinely as possible and to provide no access to the (men by the) plaintiff (NT Legal Aid) ... and no information to the plaintiff or to the public through the media to the extent that this could be avoided,' he wrote in his judgment.

'Not only were the plaintiff and her officers deliberately given the run around ... but attempts to prevent the media from coming anywhere near the vessel were made by the imposition of a 3,000 metre exclusion zone over the island and the closing of the airport to prevent the media as well as others from getting to the island.

'Behaviour of this kind usually implies that there is something to hide.

'Even to this court the information provided ... was quite minimal.'

Justice Mildren said he found it 'incredible' that the government's chief witness, John Eyers from the Department of Immigration's legal section, did not know whether any of the 14 had asked for legal assistance or asylum.

The 14 Turkish Kurds and four Indonesian crew briefly landed on Melville Island, north of Darwin, on November 4 before being towed back out to sea by the Australian Navy.

Perhaps the government could introduce a bill excising Darwin from the Australian judicial zone.

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