Boat updates 'on an as needs basis'
Written statements will replace the weekly boarder protection briefings, announces Immigration Minister Scott Morrison. Nine News.PT0M24S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-30tr9 620 349 January 15, 2014
The Abbott government is seeking to choke off the flow of asylum-seekers closer to the source countries as signs emerged that the number of people travelling to Indonesia to launch boat journeys had plunged.
Giving his first media conference since Christmas, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said the number of people registering with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Jakarta each month had fallen from 1608 in September, to 296 in December.
And Australia was ''open to assist with voluntary and involuntary returns to reduce the transit population within Indonesia'', Mr Morrison said.
Operation ongoing: Scott Morrison in Canberra. Photo: Andrew Meares
He also revealed Prime Minister Tony Abbott's special envoy on people-smuggling, retired Army Major General Jim Molan, had been in the United Arab Emirates talking to authorities about cutting off flows of asylum-seekers from the key transit hub of Dubai.
Mr Morrison stubbornly continued his refusal to provide information on operations such as boat turnbacks or even reports of asylum-seekers on Christmas Island harming themselves and hunger striking.
The head of the government's Operation Sovereign Borders, Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, confirmed Fairfax Media's report last week that the government was buying a number of large lifeboats to help in border protection operations. However, General Campbell refused to say how they would be used.
Fairfax Media understands they may be used to return asylum-seekers to Indonesia if their own boats are unseaworthy.
Mr Morrison came close to confirming that the government had turned back boats. In a clear hint turnbacks were being used, he said border protection officials were ''doing things differently to provide active deterrents to those seeking to enter Australia illegally by boat''.
He also seized on the reduction in people registering with the UNHCR in Jakarta as proof the government's tough policies were deterring asylum-seekers from travelling to Indonesia to get on boats.
General Campbell indicated he might revisit the secrecy policy once he was satisfied the border protection operations were succeeding - suggesting the government might reveal past operations.
''When we get to that point, I am going to look to that question. I am making no assumptions or comments on it at this stage. So let's get there first,'' he said.
He said he would not be able to declare the operation a success until the monsoon season ends in late March. Poor weather typically reduces the number of boat arrivals in the early months of the year.
There have been no boat arrivals in the past four weeks.
Mr Morrison confirmed he would no longer hold weekly briefings but would hold media conferences as the need arose.
Labor leader Bill Shorten attacked the government's secrecy, saying: ''They've now decided that they'll tell Australians when the government thinks Australians need to know.''
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the government was ''waging a war against refugees and the Australian people's right to know''.