The Opposition has accused the Federal Government of a “new low” when it comes to the secrecy surrounding a group of Vietnamese asylum seekers reportedly intercepted at sea.
The Government is saying nothing about reports that an Australian Navy supply ship has returned 50 asylum seekers to Vietnam, after they were found in waters north of Australia earlier this month.
Mr Marles accused Mr Dutton of being even more secretive than the Government was last year, when it returned a group of Tamil asylum seekers at sea.
“There was at least some indication from the Government about what assessment process had been undertaken,” he said.
“Right now we’re hearing nothing.
“This actually represents a new low in the secrecy of this Government in terms of how it’s handling the question of asylum seekers, and that is utterly inappropriate.”
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said Australian taxpayers deserved to know what had been going on.
“It cost more than $1.5 million to send this group of asylum seekers back to Vietnam,” she said.
“The Australian people have a right to know whether it was indeed legal.”
Senator Hanson-Young said she was not convinced lives were being saved by the Government’s policy to “turn back the boats”.
“We may not see the drowning, we may not see the gravestones, but that’s simply because we’ve pushed it elsewhere,” she said.
A refugee advocacy group is concerned for the refugees’ safety and says it is sending someone to investigate.
Trung Doan, a Vietnamese-Australian refugee advocate with a group called VOICE Australia, is trying to verify a Facebook message that claims the 50 Vietnamese asylum seekers were returned on Friday night at a port city in Vietnam’s south.
“The Facebook message said that the Vietnamese asylum seekers had been taken back to the Bung Tow province and they had been taken into Vietnam by the Vietnamese authorities,” he said.
“I hope that my friend can also go to the local detention centre to speak to locals near the local detention centre and hear what they have to say.”
He said he was not surprised to hear of asylum seekers fleeing Vietnam, and had heard the stories of some who had already made it to Australia.
“One was [fleeing] because he was involved in a church group,” he said.
“Another was because they protested against officials confiscating their land.
“And then another, who hasn’t got to Australia yet … [is] a blogger who tried to blog about democracy, and had to flee Vietnam but hasn’t got to Australia.
“They are hiding in Thailand at the moment.”