Tony Abbott defends silence on asylum boats
Prime Minister tells 2GB radio listeners that less government talk over asylum boats helps the process of stopping them.PT0M21S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-30jca 620 349 January 9, 2014
Former Liberal Party leader John Hewson says Tony Abbott should be less secretive about his asylum seeker policies, suggesting the Prime Minister give proper briefings to the public and to MPs from other parties.
''I don't know how long you can sustain just stonewalling, to say, 'We are not going to tell you anything','' Dr Hewson said.
As the controversy surrounding the Abbott government's tow-back policy continued on Friday, the Prime Minister again defended his secrecy over the treatment of asylum seekers at sea, saying he would not release information that would help a war enemy.
Former Liberal party leader Dr John Hewson. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
''If stopping the boats means being criticised because I'm not giving information that would be of use to people smugglers, so be it,'' Mr Abbott told Network Ten.
''If we were at war, we wouldn't be giving out information that is of use to the enemy just because we might have an idle curiosity about it ourselves.'' Mr Abbott said the most important goal - stopping the boats - appeared to be working and his claim is supported by new figures that show not a single asylum seeker has been taken by Australian immigration authorities for more than three weeks.
This appears to confirm reports that Australian navy personnel have intercepted at least one asylum seeker boat and towed it back to Indonesia.
Dr Hewson suggested Mr Abbott had gone too far in his efforts to suppress information.
The Prime Minister's original position on border protection - to treat it like a military operation and offer weekly briefings - was ''defensible'', Dr Hewson said, but only if ''the media briefings were actually media briefings''.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has brought an end to weekly briefings on the progress of the strategy for stopping asylum seeker boats - Operation Sovereign Borders - and instead issued a statement on Friday afternoon. And while he provided overall numbers of boat arrivals, he still refused to discuss matters that occur ''on water''.
Neither Mr Abbott nor Mr Morrison confirmed the reports of the Australian navy towing back asylum seeker boats during the past fortnight, actions that have angered the Indonesian government.
Even the head of the Indonesian military, General Moeldoko, who this week appeared to defend Australia's tow-backs, said on Friday his words had been ''twisted'' and he did not support the Abbott policy of turning back boats.
A 28-year-old Sudanese asylum seeker, Yousif Ibrahim Maser, gave a detailed account of his boat, which was carrying more than 40 people, landing on an island near Darwin on New Year's Day. He said the Australian navy towed the boat for several days before dumping the asylum seekers in the middle of the night outside Indonesian waters.