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Aussie PM defends secrecy over border protection

SYDNEY -- Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott defended his government's secrecy over its border protection policy Thursday after reports that boats had been turned back to Indonesia and asylum-seekers mistreated.

Under the conservative government's hardline Operation Sovereign Borders program, officials refuse to discuss “operational matters.”

This has meant reports that at least one boat was forcibly turned or towed back to Indonesia, and that members of the Australian navy subjected those on board to verbal and physical mistreatment, have not been addressed in detail.

The government has also refused to confirm or deny that it is planning to buy 16 hard-hulled lifeboats to ferry asylum-seekers to Indonesia, sparking claims from the Labor opposition that it is overseeing a “Stalinist”-style media blackout.

Abbott said he would rather have the boats stop arriving than provide a running commentary as “sport for public discussion.”

“I'd rather be criticized for being a bit of a closed book on this issue and actually stop the boats,” he told Sydney commercial radio.

“The point is not to provide sport for public discussion. The point is to stop the boats.

“I'm pleased to say it is now several weeks since we've had a boat, and the less we talk about operational details on the water, the better when it comes to stopping the boats.”

His comments follow claims by an asylum-seeker to AFP on Wednesday suggesting people on a boat towed back to Indonesia, which is the major transit point for would-be refugees to Australia, had been mistreated by the Australian navy.

Yousif Ibrahim from Sudan claimed they were handcuffed and called insulting names. He said one person was beaten with shoes after their vessel was intercepted and towed for four days back towards Indonesia, arriving at Rote Island on Monday.

Defense force chief David Hurley defended the navy on Thursday, echoing comments by Immigration Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday.

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