The navy chief responsible for turning back asylum boats under the Howard government has warned that any decision to reintroduce the policy would be “dangerous stuff” for all concerned.
David Shackleton said the Coalition should be under no illusion that such a policy would lead asylum-seekers to sabotage their boats, jump overboard and do whatever it took to stop being turned around.
“Nothing has changed, this is dangerous stuff,” Vice-Admiral Shackleton told The Weekend Australian in a rare interview.
Admiral Shackleton was chief of navy from 1999 to 2002 when the Howard government under its Pacific Solution ordered boats to be turned back toward Indonesia.
“If they (the navy) board boats against people’s will then asylum-seekers will inevitably do what they did last time and that includes people jumping over the side, blowing up the engine and setting fire to their boats,” he said.
“So if that’s the policy it will be extremely difficult to implement.
“And if you do turn them around, where do you send them to? These people have got wise to international law.”
Admiral Shackleton’s comments add to the growing debate about the feasibility of the Coalition’s election commitment to turn back the boats.
Sri Lanka’s high commission to Canberra, Thisara Samarasinghe, said this week that the Sri Lankan navy‘s policy of turning back asylum boats before they left their waters was proving successful and that it was a policy that could be replicated elsewhere.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison has refused to explain how the turn-back policy would work, arguing that such details were operational matters, which should not be discussed publicly.
“These are sensitive operational questions and in the same way that if one was minister for defence you wouldn’t expect him to be going out there and telecasting operational matters that are very sensitive because it does put people at risk,” Mr Morrison told ABC radio this week.
Senior Defence sources have said there is no operational sensitivity when it comes to speaking in general terms about how turnbacks may be achieved.
But they stressed that the commanders on the spot would make final decisions about how and when a turnback was possible.
The Coalition says a policy of turning back asylum boats is a tough but necessary measure.Source: The Australian – Coalition’s pledge to turn back boats ‘dangerous stuff’
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