5 Jul 2013

Boat turn-backs can work: ex-navy chief

1:55 pm on 5 July 2013

A former chief of the Australian navy says turning back asylum seeker boats worked during the Howard years and could work again if the strategy was resurrected.

Retired Vice Admiral Chris Ritchie was chief of the navy between 2002 - 2005 and stands by the use of boat turn-backs under the Howard government's border protection policy.

He said turn-back operations, as practised in 2001, were a "hazardous, risky task" as the navy was dealing with people determined to reach Australia no matter the cost.

"Nevertheless, it's a legitimate navy operation. It's something that navies have done over centuries," he told ABC radio on Friday.

"In that sense, if the government gives a direction to do it, the navy people will do it and they'll do it well."

AAP reports the coalition has vowed to reintroduce a policy of turning back asylum seeker boats where it's safe to do so.

Vice Admiral Ritchie said the navy would leave the vessels with just enough fuel to reach Indonesia, before turning them around and sending them back.

He conceded the navy turned only four boats back successfully but says the impact was nonetheless clear.

"No more boats came. None at all," he said. "If the conditions were replicated, it could still work."

He said the Indonesians were always alerted when a boat was being turned back, and when it was expected in their territory.

AAP reports asylum seeker policy is expected to be high on the agenda for talks between Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Bogor on Friday.