Opposition out to politicise boat arrivals: Albanese

Andrew Brown |

The opposition has questioned border force funding after the arrival of an asylum seeker boat.
The opposition has questioned border force funding after the arrival of an asylum seeker boat.

The prime minister has accused Opposition Leader Peter Dutton of seeking to politicise border security following the arrival of a boat carrying refugees in remote Western Australia.

The group, reportedly from Pakistan and Bangladesh, were found on Friday near a remote Indigenous community close to the former West Australian church mission of Beagle Bay.

Following comments from the opposition leader that the government did not support Operation Sovereign Borders, Anthony Albanese said the remarks were hindering security efforts.

“Peter Dutton is someone who is showing, with his overblown rhetoric and with his overreach on this issue, that he’s not interested in outcomes that are in the Australian national interest,” the prime minister told reporters in Nowra on Sunday.

“Peter Dutton needs to think very carefully about the role that he is playing, and I think it’s there for all to see whether he’s interested in the national interest, or interested in just playing politics.”

The prime minister confirmed he had spoken with Operation Sovereign Borders commander Rear Admiral Brett Sonter on Sunday, following reports three groups of boat arrivals had been found.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese
Anthony Albanese says Peter Dutton is politicising border security with “overblown rhetoric”. (Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS)

The commander previously said alternative narratives had the potential to be exploited by people smugglers.

But Mr Dutton doubled down on his criticism of border security, saying the government needed to be more open.

“We don’t know whether it’s one or two boats that have arrived. The prime minister himself was not aware,” he told reporters.

“So how can two boats get to the Australian mainland without being detected if the same settings were in place that we had under the coalition in Operation Sovereign Borders?

“That’s exactly what we’re seeing, it’s what the people smugglers are seeing and it’s now what the Australian people are seeing: a government that is starting to lose control again of our borders.”

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland said criticism from Mr Dutton had been damaging.

“I would be very cautionary in terms of Mr Dutton and his comments, as leading people in the Australian Border Force have said any suggestion of alternative narratives is actually harmful,” she told Sky News on Sunday.

“Operation Sovereign Borders has been operating in exactly the same way since it was introduced under the previous government, consistent with successive governments.”

West Australian Premier Roger Cook said he wasn’t concerned about the weak-on-borders rhetoric but it underlined the need to ensure the coast, fisheries, defence facilities and infrastructure were protected.

“It does emphasise just how exposed our vast northwest coast is,” he told reporters.

Broome airport
Speculation suggests the Beagle Bay arrivals are to be held offshore. (HANDOUT/ABC TV)

Nationals leader David Littleproud said the arrivals had signalled the government was weak on border security.

“The damage is already done, you don’t get on a boat unless you’ve got something to sell to these people, and they’ve been telling them that Australia’s borders are porous,” he told Nine’s Today program.

“We need to make sure the resources are there for Border Force to intercept these people because this is dangerous. This is people’s lives at risk as well, beyond our borders.”

Opposition defence spokesman Andrew Hastie said a lack of funding for the Border Force had contributed to the issue.

“The government has ripped $600 million out of the Australian Border Force and so the question is, can we even surveil the northwest coast of Australia?” he told Sky News.

Speculation suggests the Beagle Bay arrivals will be held offshore, with the ABC reporting they had been taken to Nauru on a plane that left Broome late on Saturday.