Politics Analysis

Peter Dutton — the boy who cried 'boats!'

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Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has warned of the "dangers" of boat arrivals on numerous occasions (Image by Dan Jensen)

With reports of two attempted asylum seeker boat incursions and the return of the Nadeslingam family to Biloela, Liberal Leader Peter Dutton is warning of a looming disaster of boat arrivals.

It is reasonable to assume some people smugglers will attempt to test the resolve of the new Government. But will this convert to an armada of boats arriving in Australia?

Dutton would know his warning must overcome one powerful fact.

Whenever offshore processing and turnback policy has been in place, firstly under the Howard Government and subsequently under more recent L-NP governments, no asylum seeker boats have successfully made it to a non-excised part of Australia.

Dutton has warned of an armada of boats many times.

One of his reasons for not accepting the NZ Government’s refugee resettlement offer, at a cost of billions of dollars and massive human misery, was that it would restart the boats. Yet when the offer was accepted, no boats arrived.

Former PM Scott Morrison and Dutton warned of an armada of boats when the Medevac Bill was passed.

To prepare for that, Dutton spent tens of millions of dollars re-opening the Christmas Island detention centre.

Scott Morrison travelled to Christmas Island for possibly the most expensive photo opportunity in history. 

But no boats arrived and within three months the detention centre was again closed.

As long as the new Government’s resolve on boat turnback policy and, as a contingency, offshore processing is maintained, it is highly unlikely any boat will get to a non-excised part of Australia.

Our Navy is more than capable of safely intercepting small leaky wooden boats.

Once a few boats have again tested our Navy, it is highly unlikely many will continue to try. It’s just too expensive.

That is not to say, however, that the new Government will find asylum seeker policy a walk in the park.

There are currently almost 130,000 asylum seekers living in Australia — something no previous Australian government has ever inherited.

The 130,000 is in two parts.

There are over 31,000 asylum seekers associated with the legacy boat arrival caseload and another 100,000 who have subsequently arrived by aeroplane.

Of the legacy caseload, over 19,000 are on some form of temporary protection. The new Government has said it will provide a pathway for them to permanent residence.

When that happens, Dutton will, like the boy who cried wolf, no doubt again warn of an armada of boats.

Another 10,000 legacy asylum seekers have been refused protection. They are effectively in the same position as the Nadeslingam family before they were taken into detention.

Why Dutton picked on this family and not the other 10,000 remains a mystery. Perhaps he realised the cost would have overwhelmed his department.

There are a further 2,000 legacy boat arrivals whose asylum applications are still under consideration.

But most Australians would be surprised that while Dutton was staring out to sea and warning of boats, Australia experienced our biggest ever labour trafficking scam abusing the asylum system.

This scam involved around 100,000 people being organised to arrive by plane, mostly on tourist visas.

What Dutton doesn’t understand is that it is far easier and cheaper to exploit the asylum system by trafficking people on aeroplanes.

As a result of Dutton’s negligence, we now have almost 30,000 asylum seekers at the primary stage and another 37,000 at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

The majority of them are being refused protection. Consequently, there are another 31,000 who have been refused at both stages but remain in the community without any support or work rights.

Hardly any are being removed because Australian Border Force (ABF) doesn’t have the resources for the task — just think about how much ABF spent trying to remove the Nadeslingam family and multiply that by many thousands.

For those who have been refused asylum, former Agriculture Minister David Littleproud proposed an amnesty. That was because the scam mainly supplied cheap labour to farms. Farmers generally do not like employing people without work rights — it's illegal.

Littleproud’s amnesty was quickly shot down by former Attorney-General Michaelia Cash who, without a hint of embarrassment, said:

“An amnesty would send a dangerous message that it is okay to flout our strong visa and migration rules, principles that this Government has worked incredibly hard over a period of time to secure.”

Apparently, totally ignoring the trafficking scam was how these strong visa rules would be enforced.

Any attempt by the new Government to resolve this situation is likely to be met by strong opposition from Dutton, despite the fact it was his negligence that created the problem.

So like countries in North America and Europe, we will have a large and growing number of unsuccessful asylum seekers living in the shadows of our society — thanks to Peter Dutton.

Unless action is taken by the new Government, the trafficking scam will resume as international travel increases.

Dr Abul Rizvi is an Independent Australia columnist and a former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Immigration. You can follow Abul on Twitter @RizviAbul.

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