13 November 2003

Rudd demands facts on asylum seekers

KEVIN RUDD, SHADOW FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, it could well turn out to be another situation of the Howard Government being loose with the truth on border security and national security.

We don't know the facts.

That's our problem, Tony.

Mr Downer, I think, said on Sunday that they definitively did not seek asylum, and now we hear from Senator Vanstone, the Immigration Minister, today, that they may have sought asylum.

Mr Downer then comes out today and says he's now going to look into it, and now this further report on Lateline tonight from the Indonesian immigration authorities, and I think the Turkish individuals themselves, saying that, in fact, they may well have sought asylum -- or did in fact seek asylum.

Look, this I think has a grave danger of trashing Australia's international reputation if you've got the Howard Government being flip, flop, flap and loose with the truth on such basic facts concerning this case.

TONY JONES: Well, Mr Downer, as you've pointed out, has now called for an investigation into what exactly was said to Australian authorities by these people.

But in the end he says, at the same time, it won't make any legal difference because of the excision of Melville Island from the migration zone.

Is that so?

KEVIN RUDD: Well, I'm not briefed on that.

I'm in London and I don't know the precise legal status of the Government's proclamation of this excision from the point of the proclamation until the Senate does what it's about to do in a couple of weeks time.

But I think the whole broader question of excision is brought sharply into relief by this entire matter.

I mean, for goodness sake, Tony, we have a boat of 14 Turks arrive 20km off the Northern Territory coast, having breached John Howard's sort of iron cordon sanitaire across the air/sea gap between ourselves and Indonesia.

And what does the Howard Government then turn around and do?

It says, 'Wow, we can't in fact defend our sovereignty for 4,000 northern islands and we're going to excise them from Australia'.

Well, I think this is a dumb response and the way in which this entire matter is working out will reveal it to be even dumber.

We all know the Senate will disallow the excision of the 4000 islands, some of them as far south as Mackay. When that happens the government's retrospective excision will itself be retrospectively excised. If these people did ask for refugee status then the government violated the Refugee Convention by returning them to Indonesia.

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