SYDNEY - The Australian government was Saturday accused of secrecy over an operation with Sri Lankan authorities in which a boat carrying asylum-seekers was intercepted and all but one of its passengers sent back.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison confirmed Saturday that a people-smuggling boat carrying 38 Sri Lankans had been stopped north west of the Cocos Islands two weeks ago as it made its way to Australia.
"There is no greater deterrent to protecting our borders and stopping boats coming to Australia than by stopping the boats physically and returning those vessels from whence they came," Morrison said. "That is the policy that has been the stand out performer of the suite of measures that we have introduced since we came to government which has led to just one venture making it to Australia this year."
Since coming to power over a year ago, the conservative government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott has turned back several boats in an attempt to stop people-smugglers from bringing asylum-seekers on the perilous journey. In the latest incident, 37 Sri Lankans were transferred at sea to Sri Lankan authorities.
One man who was recommended to be assessed for refugee status remains in Australian government care and will be transferred to an immigration detention centre on Papua New Guinea or Nauru. Morrison said he did not have concerns about the safety of Sri Lankans returned because the screening process used to assess each asylum-seeker individually ensured Australia met its international obligations.
But Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten accused the government of having immigration policies which were "shrouded in secrecy".
"The whole story of the last year and a quarter of the Abbott government is that they just don't trust Australians or bring them into their confidence," he told reporters in Melbourne.
Morrison said the government's polices had stopped the influx of asylum-seeker boats and prevented deaths at sea through policies that the Australian people had endorsed at the last election. "What I want to assure Australians is that Australia's border protection policies are made in Australia, nowhere else," he added.
Morrison also said Saturday that Australia will help review Myanmar's border management plans after signing a five-year Memorandum of Understanding between the nations. "Australia has stronger domestic borders when the region has stronger borders. That is why we are working with partners throughout the region to build capability for stronger border management," Morrison said.