Keneally raises questions over aerial border patrols as Dutton visits Sri Lanka

Kristina Keneally asks why Coalition halted aerial surveillance, as Peter Dutton puts asylum seeker policy back on the agenda

The home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, will hold high-level meetings in Sri Lanka on Tuesday, with people smuggling at the top of the agenda.

But Labor’s new home affairs spokeswoman, Kristina Keneally, has questioned why the Coalition halted aerial patrols of Australia’s borders, before resuming them in February.

Dutton is due to meet Sri Lanka’s president Maith­ripala Sirisena, prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his ministerial counterpart in Colombo on Tuesday.

“The purpose of the visit is to prosecute Operation Sovereign Borders’ interests and to engage Sri Lankan authorities on ­counter-terrorism matters,” Dutton’s spokeswoman told News Corp Australia.

“We greatly value the ongoing cooperation on regional maritime security.”

Last week a boat carrying 20 Sri Lankan asylum seekers was intercepted off Australia. Dutton has said the boat left in early May and claimed the voyage was a test of “what people thought was going to be a Labor administration”.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese has rejected the claim, noting that 10 asylum seekers boats had come from Sri Lanka on the Coalition’s watch and suggesting the terrorist attacks at Easter may have prompted the boat.

The asylum seekers were returned by plane to Sri Lanka via Christmas Island, although Dutton has denied they were detained there.

On Tuesday Keneally seized on a report in the Australian which suggested Border Force had resumed aerial surveillance after a “lengthy hiatus”.

“Mr Dutton needs to explain why he stopped these crucial border patrols,” Keneally wrote on Twitter.

On the front page of the @australian today there is an astonishing admission- Peter Dutton stopped aerial patrols of Australia’s borders.

“The patrols resumed periodically in February after a lengthy hiatus”

Mr Dutton needs to explain why he stopped these crucial border patrols

— Kristina Keneally (@KKeneally) June 3, 2019

Dutton, who arrived in Sri Lanka on Monday for a two-day visit, laid a wreath at the altar of St Sebastian’s church, one of the three churches and three hotels hit in the Easter Sunday suicide bombings on 21 April. The attacks left 257 dead, 113 of them at St Sebastian’s.

Dutton said Australia would also help Sri Lanka rebuild after the attacks.

“We’re here to continue to provide support as Sri Lanka rebuilds, particularly its tourism market, but the economy otherwise off the back of these horrific attacks,” he said.

Peter Dutton (left) holds flowers as Catholic priest Shameera Rodrigo looks on during the home affairs minister’s visit to the bombed St Sebastian church.
Peter Dutton (left) visits the bombed St Sebastian’s church on Monday. Photograph: Ishara S Kodikara/AFP/Getty Images

Dutton said Australia and Sri Lanka shared “a very special bond” and passed on condolences for the attacks on behalf of the Australian government.

“All of us condemn any act of violence, regardless of the perpetrators’ religions, regardless of their background.

“To commit an evil act, particularly in a place of worship – that has a special level of indecency about it.”


Paul Karp

The GuardianTramp

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