EXCLUSIVE by Steve Lewis and Malcolm Farr
The Daily Telegraph
April 18, 2009 12:00am
AUSTRALIAN Federal Police warned Prime Minister Kevin Rudd just weeks ago his border protection laws were making the country a magnet for smuggling.
The warning came in secret intelligence briefings prepared by the AFP that were delivered to senior Government ministers.
The Daily Telegraph understands the AFP also expressed reservations last year as the Rudd Government wound back John Howard's tougher approach.
Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus last night refused to disclose details of the AFP intelligence. But the revelations are likely to harden the Opposition's claim that Labor's softer stance on border protection has contributed to a surge in the people smuggling trade.
The also come as at least four asylum seekers injured when their converted fishing trawler exploded were placed on life support.
Three asylum seekers died after Thursday's explosion off Australia's northwest coast.
All 44 survivors, including five Australian navy personnel, were yesterday receiving medical treatment in Darwin, Perth or Broome.
As the wounds were treated, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd rejected Opposition charges he had dropped the nation's guard.
Mr Rudd said the growing numbers of refugees globally meant more money would have to be given to patrolling.
The AFP warnings were based in part on intelligence from officers in Indonesia.
Australian spy agencies and the police have been monitoring an increase in people smuggling activity in Asia since mid 2008 - around the time Cabinet rolled back key aspects of John Howard's policy approach.
But the new "risk based" detention policy also coincided with an upswing in people smuggling.
Six illegal vessels have arrived this year. Mr Debus yesterday confirmed 250 people had sought asylum in 2009 - compared to 160 last year.
Mr Rudd defended his border protection policies and the Government's determination to repel smuggling attempts.
He said the policies were "tough, targeted and integrated with the border protection efforts our partners around the world".
"We have dedicated more resources to border protection that any previous Australian Government," he said.
"(We) will dedicate what further resources are necessary as this threat, this global threat, unfolds."
Funding for border protection operations was increased by $20.6 million to $280 million last Budget.
Another boat on the way
Phillip Coorey, Damien Murphy in Darwin Tom Allard in Bali
April 18, 2009
AUTHORITIES were believed to be tracking another boatload of asylum seekers en route to Australia as Kevin Rudd labelled people smugglers the "vilest form of human life" and pledged to provide whatever resources were necessary to combat the growing incidence of arrivals.
Government sources told the Herald yesterday another boat had been under surveillance for about two days and would be intercepted once it entered Australian waters.
Rudd: We're hardline on asylum
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says people smugglers can 'rot in hell' as the Opposition accuses his Government of a 'soft' asylum policy.
In Indonesia 68 Afghans planning to enter Australia were arrested in a hotel at a beach resort near Jakarta. They were detained for entering Indonesia without travel documents or visas in Anyer, a town in Banten, a province in West Java about two hours' drive from Jakarta.
The captain of a navy patrol boat escorting the asylum seekers' craft said a "high threat" warning had been sent from members of the naval boarding party just minutes before the vessel exploded and sank.
Lieutenant-Commander Barry Learoyd, captain of HMAS Albany, said the six-man boarding party had been aboard the craft for some time and had raised the alarm when the explosion occurred about 7.45am.
Commander Learoyd would not comment on what had prompted the "high threat" alert, other than saying it was a recognised code indicating something serious had occurred.
He said the boat people were not told they were being escorted to Christmas Island.
As the Opposition continued to insist the increase in arrivals was a result of policy changes, Mr Rudd said Australia's recent experience was part of a worldwide surge in asylum seekers. "People smugglers are the vilest form of human life. They trade on the tragedy of others, and that is why they should rot in jail and, in my own view, rot in hell," he said.
"This Government is absolutely committed to dedicating all resources necessary to fight the fight against people smugglers, to maintain a hard-line, tough and targeted strategy in maintaining this country's border protection."
On Thursday, the boat with 47 Afghans, two crew and Australian Navy exploded off Ashmore Reef while under naval guard. The death toll, confirmed to be three, was expected to rise to five as there has been no sign of two missing people.
The Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, said the toll could go higher. "It looks like we've got some really seriously injured and the death toll may mount," he said. Of those taken to the mainland, the eight most severely injured were being treated at Royal Darwin Hospital. There were grave fears for five of them.
One was in Broome and 22 others had been taken to Perth. Five of these are in intensive care in a critical but stable condition. One is in a perilous condition because of a serious airway burn. Another 17 are in the burns unit but all are stable. Thirteen slightly wounded people arrived in Darwin aboard HMAS Albany, the patrol boat which intercepted the asylum seekers' boat near Ashmore Reef on Wednesday.
The Federal Government sent 18 Australian Federal Police officers and forensic experts to Darwin and Perth to assist with the investigation.
The West Australian Premier, Colin Barnett, claimed the boat exploded after the asylum seekers doused it with petrol. Mr Rudd said the cause was still unconfirmed and he would be saying nothing about it until it was.
The Government cited the Howard government's incorrect claims about asylum seekers throwing children overboard in 2001 as the reason for taking time to ascertain the facts.
The Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, said Australians did not like to see politicians trying to profit from such circumstances, and the Opposition Leader "might care to remember that". Malcolm Turnbull maintained that last year's policy changes of abolishing temporary protection visas and the "Pacific solution" were responsible for the surge in boats arriving in Australian waters. He stopped short of pledging to reintroduce either policy.
The Opposition immigration spokeswoman, Sharman Stone, had accused the Government of being responsible for the deaths but Mr Turnbull tempered the claim yesterday. "The particular tragedy was not caused by the Government," he said.
Mr Rudd said there were "global factors at work". "You have tens of thousands of people arriving as refugees on the shores of countries right around the world."