The ABC’s political reporter in Canberra, Andrew Green, says the news of the drowning and of a second attempt to return asylum seekers to Indonesia has been met with a ‘deafening silence’ from the Australian government and participating agencies.
The Government is sticking by its policy of not commenting on the operational details of any intercepts at sea under Operation Sovereign Borders.
The next opportunity to question the Immigration Minister and his Commander will be at their scheduled briefing on Monday, frustrating efforts to accurately report on any operations by the Australian Navy off Java, Mr Green says.
“There has been deafening silence from the major agencies as well as the immigration office,” he said.
“All the agencies involved, Customs and immigration have been asked to refer all questions to the Immigration Minister’s office.
“But (Immigration Minister) Scott Morrison is on his way back from Papua New Guinea, and his office has been unavailable for comment.
“At this stage it is frustrating to get any kind of information about Australian involvement.”
Mr Green said that he had learned the three-star general in charge of operation borders had taken temporary leave and that Defence Force vice chief, Air Marshal Mark Binskin, was stepping in temporarily to oversee Operation Sovereign Borders.
Operations hint at new tougher approach under Tony Abbott
Interceptions of this kind, where Australian authorities hand asylum seekers back to Indonesian authorities after being asked to assist in their rescue, only happened once during the six years of the last Labor government.
On all other occasions when asylum seekers have been intercepted by Australian authorities, they have been taken to Christmas Island.
The ABC’s Parliament House bureau chief Greg Jennett said yesterday that while the first rescue did not strictly qualify as a boat “turnback”, it hinted at a new and tougher approach by Australia.
He says it could also establish a precedent with Indonesia whereby any call for Australian help with rescues or intercepts comes with a condition that the passengers will be handed back.
But the public may never know if such protocols exist.