Asylum seeker boat ‘threat is very real’

ASYLUM seekers have attempted to bust through Australia's national security fortress again for the fourth time in as many months, with Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton declaring the "threat is very real" after another rickety boat was intercepted at sea.

Australian taxpayers have picked up the tab to fly home 13 suspected Sri Lankan asylum seekers, intercepted by Australian Border Force under Operation Sovereign Borders on August 7 in waters west of Christmas Island, it can be exclusively revealed today.

Just weeks after Mr Dutton met with Major General Craig Furini and Vice Admiral De Silva in Colombo in June to strengthen ties in defeating people smuggling operations, the old fishing-type vessel left Sri Lanka for Australia on July 25, was intercepted almost two weeks later and those on board returned home by plane on August 18.

Since former PM Tony Abbott in 2013 set up Operation Sovereign Borders - which is credited with stopping the tsunami of boats sent by people smugglers - Australia has returned home 204 people to Sri Lanka. They were on board 12 people smuggling boats.

During the federal election campaign, 20 Sri Lankans who set sail for Australia were intercepted and returned to Colombo on a government charter jet.

The latest asylum seeker venture is the fourth known to reach Australia since the election on May 18. In total, the four boats were carrying more than 90 people.

Mr Dutton told The Courier-Mail Australia remained a target for people smugglers.

"The threat out of Sri Lanka is really concerning. It is the reason Sri Lanka was the first country I visited after the election to make sure we can keep these boats stopped. This threat is very real," Mr Dutton said.

"Labor wants people to believe that the threat of new boat arrivals is not real. It is. We are dealing with it everyday."

A boat full of suspected asylum seekers was located in Australian waters. They have been taken to Christmas Island.
A boat full of suspected asylum seekers was located in Australian waters. They have been taken to Christmas Island.

Mr Dutton confirmed to The Courier-Mail yesterday there had been six Sri Lankan ventures intercepted, disrupted or failed already this year.

The latest revelations will give the Morrison Government ammunition to ramp up its credentials about having the mettle to take on people smugglers and make the tough calls on border security.

The Government is still pressuring Labor to repeal its Medevac laws, amendments passed by Labor and the crossbench last year.

The Government argues the laws are unnecessary, because very sick refugees on Nauru and Manus Island are already brought to Australia or sent to other countries for treatment, and are a pull factor for asylum seekers and give doctors to much power over the Government's border security policies.

Labor has argued the laws are necessary to provide lifesaving treatment and ensure greater transparency and fairness.

A boat full of suspected asylum seekers was located in Australian waters. They have been taken to Christmas Island.
A boat full of suspected asylum seekers was located in Australian waters. They have been taken to Christmas Island.

A Senate inquiry probing the laws is expected to report back next week, with a vote on their repeal likely to be brought on by the Government the following week.

When the repeal legislation is brought on for debate, the Government will argue there is no provision for asylum seekers, who are brought to Australia under the medical transfer provisions, to be removed from Australia or returned to a regional processing country once they no longer need to be in Australia.

The Government will also warn that the medical transfer provisions have a broad application with limited scope for refusing transfers on security or character grounds; the timeframes to make decisions do not allow a sufficient amount of time to gather and consider all the relevant information; and standard medical processes already exist to provide for the transfer of asylum seekers for temporary medical purposes from regional processing countries, including transfer to Australia under the Migration Act.



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