Prime Minister Tony Abbott has defended the government’s secrecy about its border protection operations, saying he’d rather be a “closed book” and actually stop boat arrivals.
With reports the Australian navy has recently towed back asylum seeker boats to Indonesian waters, the government is facing widespread criticism over its refusal to comment on what it dubs “operational matters”.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has this week refused to confirm media reports of boat turn backs or tow backs, or that the government would buy 16 hard-hulled lifeboats to send asylum seekers back to Indonesia.
But Mr Abbott backed the approach, saying the government didn’t want to “give rise to a whole lot of mischief making”.
“I’d rather be criticised for being a bit of a closed book on this issue and actually stop the boats,” he told Macquarie Radio on Thursday.
“The point is not to provide sport for public discussion. The point is to stop the boats.
“I’m pleased to say it is now several weeks since we’ve had a boat, and the less we talk about operational details on the water, the better when it comes to stopping the boats.”
The prime minister’s comments come after claims from some asylum seekers that they have been mistreated and abandoned by the Australian navy while being towed back towards Indonesia.
They also follow comments from Indonesian military commander General Moeldoko that he has discussed the turn-back policy with Australian defence chief David Hurley.
“Therefore, we do not need to feel offended,” the Jakarta Post quotes Moeldoko as saying.
His sanction of the policy appears to contradict the opposition of Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, who on Tuesday said turn backs were “not a solution”.
Asked about the state of Australia’s relationship with Indonesia in the wake of the last year’s spying scandal, Mr Abbott described it as “strong” and marked by “a lot of co-operation and mutual understanding”, which he said was “evidenced by the discussion that seemed to have taken place between General Moeldoko and our own General Hurley not long ago”.
The prime minister said he “absolutely” understood Indonesia’s concern for its sovereignty.
“But when these boats keep coming illegally to our country, that is a sovereignty issue for us,” he added.
“It’s absolutely non-negotiable – these boats will stop, these boats must stop, and we will do whatever is necessary consistent with our international obligations and ordinary decency to stop the boats.”