Prime Minister Tony Abbott has ratcheted up his rhetoric surrounding border protection, likening his government’s approach to a war.
The Abbott government is resisting intensifying pressure to detail its asylum-seeker tow-back operations but insists it is not violating Indonesia’s sovereignty.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott made no apologies as he faced questions on Friday about the government’s secrecy, likening its border protection operations to a war.
“We are in a fierce contest with these people smugglers,” he told Network Ten.
“If we were at war we would not be giving out information that is of use to the enemy just because we might have an idle curiosity about it ourselves.”
Mr Abbott’s comments came amid reports as many as five boats have been towed or turned back to Indonesia in recent weeks.
The government refused to release details.
Indonesia’s military chief, General Moeldoko, confirmed he supported Jakarta’s opposition to boats being turned back.
Comments he made earlier this week suggested he had no objections to turn-backs, but he now says his words were “twisted”.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says Mr Abbott’s secretive approach shows a deep disrespect for the Australian people.
“Even in times of war transparency and accountability is needed, if not more so, to give the Australian people confidence in their government’s actions,” he said.
“Nothing justifies the prime minister’s ongoing war on the truth.”
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison again issued his weekly Operation Sovereign Borders briefing by email, rather than fronting journalists and taking questions.
He says it has been more than three weeks since the last boat arrivals were transferred to immigration authorities.
His statement did not mention tow-backs but stressed it was not government policy to violate Indonesia’s sovereignty.
“Any suggestion that the government has acted contrary to this policy is false,” the statement said.
“Australia respected Indonesia’s territorial sovereignty and will continue to do so, just as Indonesia has stated it respected Australia’s territorial sovereignty.”
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young believes a scheduled Senate inquiry in February will be a chance to uncover information about the government’s approach to boat arrivals.
Key officials in the Department of Immigration and the defence forces will be required to justify the secrecy provisions put in place or risk being found to be in contempt, she said.
Meanwhile, federal independent MP Clive Palmer says he has sought permission from Mr Morrison to visit the Christmas Island detention centre to inspect conditions.