Monday February 18, 2007 7:30am WST
For Immediate Release
"The Immigration Minister has absolutely no mandate to start undermining a fully confirmed, endorsed and stated Australian Labor Party Policy, but it is of extreme concern that this is exactly what Senator Chris Evans is doing in relation to Labor's Excision Zone Policy since his trip to Indonesia last month," WA Human Rights group Project SafeCom said this morning.
"Just before Senator Chris Evans departed for a trip to Indonesia to discuss people smuggling strategies with local operatives and sections of the Australian Federal Police, he was interviewed by ABC Radio National broadcaster Steve Cannane (16 January), where he stated that he 'had not discussed' the excision of what he called 4,000 islands off the coast of Australia," spokesman Jack H Smit said.
"Further, last week the Minister confirmed to Anna Greer for the New Matilda Online magazine (transcript below) that "the excision of some 4000 islands will continue", implying that the Rudd Government intends to maintain John Howard's large excision zone, rather than implement Labor's own, and much smaller, excision zone."
The Coalition Govt and the ALP Excision Zones:
The Excision Zone as defined by the former Howard government and signed off by Australia's Governor-General is in fact a zone comprising almost 4,600 islands, spanning northwards from Latitude 21° South (Queensland), Latitude 23° South (Western Australia) and Latitude 16° South (Northern Territory).
Photocopy of government-issued map is here:
The Excision Zone as defined by the Australian Labor Party, endorsed and confirmed at State Party Policy Conventions and the most recent Sydney Darling Harbour Policy Convention in March 2007 comprises just a few islands: Christmas Island, Ashmore Reef, the Cocos and Keeling Island group, and the Cartier Island group.
"It seems that either the Minister remains blissfully unaware of his own party's policies in relation to the excision zone, or that he sneakily tries to duck for cover while trying to change this policy 'by stealth', presumably with the approval of his leader, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, or, worse still, under duress of agents in Indonesia or Canberra working in "Operation Resolute", the border protection Unit established during the Howard government," Mr Smit said.
"Perhaps the time has come that Minister Evans speaks out on what took place around his trip to Indonesia. The Minister is answerable to Parliament and to the Australian people, but he gives more the impression that he remains answerable, and secretively so, to operatives who thrived under the former government, operatives in the Immigration Department and in the ranks of Australian Federal Police. It's not these two government departments that should issue directives to the Minister, but it is the Minister himself, who should be issuing directives to these operatives, and they should be directives conform to confirmed Labor Party policies," Mr Smit said.
"Perhaps also, the Minister should be spoken to by the National Director of the Labor Party. If anybody in Labor should represent confirmed Labor Party policies, it is the National President of the ALP, or the several State ALP Presidents: the same policy was endorsed at several State Policy Conventions in recent years," Mr Smit concluded.
Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.
[phone number posted]
No Specific Solution
11 Feb 2008
By Anna Greer
The Rudd Government made headlines soon after coming to office with its promise to scrap the Pacific Solution. In fact only part of the policy has been dismantled, writes Anna Greer
Just after winning office, the Rudd Government made headlines with the welcome news that it would be scrapping the Howard Government's controversial Pacific Solution.
On Friday it was reported that the policy had finally been "set adrift", as a flight carrying the last 21 Sri Lankan asylum seekers being held on Nauru landed in Brisbane.
But has the policy really been sidelined?
newmatilda.com spoke to Immigration Minister, Senator Chris Evans, who confirmed that a major departure from past policy is not in fact on the table under the Rudd leadership.
While it's true that the so-called Offshore Processing centres on Nauru and Manus Island will be closed and the practice of settling refugees in other countries will come to an end, the other aspects of the "Solution" - the excision of some 4000 islands, including Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Ashmore Reef, from the migration zone; and strict border protection - will continue.
The Rudd Government will also maintain a policy of mandatory detention for unauthorised arrivals and continue with the construction of a new detention centre on Christmas Island.
In 2002 the Howard Government set the wheels in motion for the new maximum-security centre. The total cost of the centre comes to almost $400 million and is due to be completed in April this year. Original plans put the centre at a 1200 bed capacity but that has since been scaled back to a 400-bed capacity, with space for another 400 people if needed. All new unauthorised boat arrivals will be processed at the centre.
There are only two asylum seekers currently left on Christmas Island, which means this multi-million dollar centre could stay empty for quite some time. The two are Vietnamese nationals with criminal histories who cannot be returned to Vietnam, according to a spokesperson for the Department
The contract for the detention facility went to Baulderstone and Hornibrook, an engineering and construction company. Leaked plans of the centre in 2006 revealed a maximum-security facility with closed circuit television in individual rooms, electric fences and electronically controlled doors to enable centre-wide lockdowns. Senator Evans declined to comment on whether the facility would be toned down.
The Minister visited the near-finished facility late last month on a scheduled stop en route to Jakarta where he met with the Minister for Law and Human Rights, Andi Mattalatta, to discuss people smuggling and regional border security.
The other aspect of the Pacific Solution that looks set to stay under the current government is the costly border patrols on Australia's northern borders.
In 2006, the Pacific Solution's Operation Relex II, the navy operation that focused on unauthorised boat arrivals coming from Indonesia, was consolidated into Operation Resolute with a number of other operations that dealt with issues such as illegal fishing and smuggling and protection of Australia's oil and gas reserves. Resolute is still operational but the question that remains to be answered by Senator Evans is what he plans to do if there is a new asylum seeker boat detected from Indonesia.
Operation Resolute is a joint defence and customs operation commanded by the Border Protection Command (BPC), which is coordinated out of Customs House in Canberra. A spokesperson for the BPC told newmatilda.com that, "In the event of a boat from Indonesia, the boat would be intercepted. Our role is to control, detect and respond. Everything else is a question of policy and a decision for the Government."
The Minister's office did not return calls to newmatilda.com in relation to this matter, but media releases suggest that it will be business as usual for boat disruptions in the region.
After returning from his recent visit to Indonesia, a ministerial press release stated: "Indonesia and Australia would continue to work together and with other countries in the region to strengthen their borders against people smuggling, terrorism and other forms of trans-national crime."
"We discussed the success of these arrangements in protecting people from being drawn into risky people smuggling ventures," said Evans.
If the Pacific Solution really was a "cynical, costly and ultimately unsuccessful attempt by the Howard Government to circumvent Australia's international obligations," as Senator Evans claims, he would be wise to scrap the whole thing.