NATIONAL AFFAIRS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Rudd's 'Indonesia solution' has been in place since 2007
, November 28, 2009
Despite Labor's trenchant attacks on the Howard Government's Pacific Solution - under which asylum-seekers were processed offshore - it has now emerged that Kevin Rudd's Indonesia solution has been in process since the 2007 election.
|Map showing Tanjung Pinang.|
The detention centre in which the Rudd Labor Government wanted to place the 78 asylum-seekers picked up by the Customs vessel Oceanic Viking is near the town of Tanjung Pinang, on the Indonesian island of Bintan.
The West Australian revealed that this detention centre was built with Australian Government funds. Approval for its construction was given in early 2007 by the Howard Government; and, after Kevin Rudd was elected Prime Minister, the Labor Government continued construction of the facility (West Australian, November 2, 2009).
The newspaper reported that "the centre was paid for by Australia and built by the International Organisation for Migration, which managed the Nauru detention centre for the Australian Government". It added: "Australia has also trained and equipped the officials who run it."
The Tanjung Pinang detention centre is said to have cost $8 million.
It is therefore clear that the Rudd Government was continuing the policy of offshore processing of asylum-seekers at the same time it was vilifying the Howard Government for doing exactly the same thing. (Under Howard, the number of boat people coming to Australia had fallen from over 5,000 in 2001 to a handful in 2007.)
Further, the Rudd Government said it did not intend to use the Christmas Island detention facility, established by the Howard Government but mothballed after Labor came to power.
Mr Rudd said it was unsuitable for families. However, when the current upsurge in boat people commenced late last year, the Federal Government quietly reversed its policy.
Last December, the first boat people were taken to the new facility, which is supposed to hold up to 800 and which was completed at a cost of about $400 million. There are reported to be 940 people currently detained there.
The use of the Tanjung Pinang detention centre is a further reverse in policy.
The ALP platform, adopted at the party's 2009 national conference, implies that asylum-seekers arriving by boat would be processed only at Christmas Island, the Australian territory off the coast of Java.
It says: "For the Australian people to have confidence and trust in the integrity of our migration system, Labor will fund and maintain robust border-security measures that support the orderly processing of migration to our country and protect our national interest and our national borders.
"To support Australia's strong border-security regime, Labor will maintain an architecture of excised offshore places [and] the non-statutory processing on Christmas Island of persons who arrive unauthorised at an excised place" (page 95).
Labor policy contains no reference to any other offshore detention facility, although at the time when this was adopted, it was clear that the Government had established and paid for the Tanjung Pinang detention centre in Indonesia to process asylum-seekers.
The saga of the 78 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers aboard the Oceanic Viking has been at the centre of Australian media attention for the past month.
Although they were picked up off the coast of Java after their boat was allegedly deliberately scuttled, the Indonesian Government did not give the asylum-seekers permission to land in West Java, saying that the local port was too busy, and there were already a large number of asylum-seekers at the port. (An earlier boat containing 255 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers had been detained there.)
After being rescued by the Oceanic Viking, the Sri Lankans were taken further away from Australia to the island of Bintan, which is near Singapore.
They refused to disembark, instead demanding that they be taken to Australia or given refuge in a third country, to the acute embarrassment of the Australian Government.
The Indonesian Government twice gave the Oceanic Viking extensions of a week in which to persuade the boat people to leave the ship, but to no avail. In the meantime, Indonesians demonstrated outside the governor's office in Tanjung Pinang and at the port, opposing the entry of the asylum-seekers into Indonesia.
The Rudd Government has been widely criticised by both the Opposition and the media as its asylum-seeker policy is seen to be ineffective.
Now refugee advocates have condemned the use of detention cells at Christmas Island, after six Sri Lankan detainees were put in the high-security "red block". They had been part of a boatload of asylum-seekers detained off Queensland last March, while attempting to sail to New Zealand.
The six detainees' request to apply for refugee status in New Zealand has failed, and they are due to be returned to Sri Lanka.