News National Tempers flare over heavily censored boats report

Tempers flare over heavily censored boats report

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The opposition and Greens are demanding a full and frank government account of the circumstances surrounding Australian border protection vessels’ six breaches of Indonesian territory, following the release of a heavily redacted report.

Customs and Defence conducted a joint internal review into the incursions – which took place between December 2013 and January 2014 under Operation Sovereign Borders – but only the executive summary with five recommendations was publicly released in February.

A copy of the 55-page report was obtained under Freedom of Information laws, but Customs cited damage to international relations among the reasons for 18 blacked-out pages and other redacted sections.

Both Labor and the Greens have been vocal in their calls for the report’s full release.

The opposition’s immigration spokesman Richard Marles said the Abbott government’s culture of secrecy, surrounding the military-led asylum seeker boat crackdown, was deeply concerning.

“The Australian public has a right to know the exact circumstances into how and why our navy illegally entered Indonesian waters,” he said.

He’s concerned about safety at sea as well as the impact on Australian and Indonesian relations.

The document does not disclose whether Australian border protection vessels were turning asylum seeker boats back at the time of the breaches.

Sections identifying which border protection vessels were involved and the circumstances are also blanked out.

The document shows the joint review actually made seven recommendations but two have not been made public.

Discussion about the Abbott government’s policy parameters on boat turn backs – only when safe and outside 12 nautical miles from Indonesia’s archipelagic baseline – was also heavily redacted.

Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the redacted report is just another example of the Abbott government’s obsession with secrecy.

So far explanations about the breaches had been “woefully inadequate”, Senator Hanson-Young said.

“It is time for Tony Abbott to… provide the Australian people with a full and frank explanation as to how Australian vessels came to breach another country’s waters,” she told AAP.

Last month, a Senate inquiry into the breaches found that the government’s directions, to turn boats back when safe and outside of Indonesian territory, may be unachievable.

“Our defence personnel are being forced to carry out dangerous operations on the high seas and are being held as the government’s scapegoat,” Senator Hanson-Young said.

The review blamed the breaches on incorrect calculations of boundaries of Indonesian waters rather than deliberate actions or navigational error.

The discovery of the “inadvertent” breaches prompted the Abbott government to issue a swift apology to Indonesia.

Relations between the two countries were already under strain following revelations Australian spies tapped the mobile phones of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife in 2009.

Customs and Defence are still assessing whether lapses in judgment contributed to the breaches.

Training regimes are under review and revised force preparation training will be introduced by next month.

Officers will also be given special training on the United Nations convention of the law of the sea from the end of June.


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