War of words erupts over border security after latest boat arrivals

PM criticises Dutton

A war of words has broken out between Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton amid reports of another large group of boat arrivals at a remote campsite in Western Australia.

Thirteen men, believed to be from Bangladesh and India, appeared at Pender Bay, in WA’s north, and walked into the local campground on Friday afternoon.

The area is north of the tiny Indigenous community of Beagle Bay where locals discovered more than 20 men on dirt tracks near the town that morning. They said they had journeyed via Indonesia.

The discovery of the new group has raised fears there could be more undetected suspected asylum seekers wandering the remote stretch of coastline.

It’s not clear whether the second group had reached Australia on the same boat as the first.

Opposition Peter Dutton said the sudden influx of boat arrivals showed the Albanese government was “weak” on border control.

“I know exactly how these people smugglers work,” said Dutton.

“They will react to a weak prime minister and to a weak minister. If they see vulnerabilities, they will exploit them, and that’s exactly what has happened here.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said people who attempted to arrive in Australia by boat “will not settle here”.

Albanese took a veiled swipe at Dutton for “politicising” issues of national security which he said would play into the hands of people smugglers.

“We do not seek to politicise national security issues and it is unfortunate when any politician seeks to do so.”

“I do say for people in public life to have a look at the very clear, strong and unequivocal message sent by Rear Admiral Sonter last night in the very clear statement that he made.”

Operation Sovereign Borders commander Rear Admiral Brett Sonter had issued a statement on Friday evening warning that negative public discussion about Australia’s border security could encourage people smugglers.

That criticism was taken up by Communications Minister Michelle Rowland, who  said such comments amounted to sabotage.

“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.”

Admiral Sonter said Australia’s military-led border operation’s purpose remained the same as it was when established in 2013.

“Protect Australia’s borders, combat people smuggling in our region and, importantly, prevent people from risking their lives at sea,” he said.

“Any alternate narrative will be exploited by criminal people smugglers to deceive potential irregular immigrants and convince them to risk their lives and travel to Australia by boat.”

A High Court decision in January to release 149 immigration detainees who had no prospect of being deported had already put Labor under pressure, with the opposition slamming the government’s handling of the case.

More than two dozen have been re-arrested and charged since being freed, including for visa breaches.

Of the seven people accused of Commonwealth offences, three are in custody and four are on bail.

-with AAP

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