Politics Analysis

Sky News debate on asylum seeker policy: Indisputable facts

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Questions remain over the recent arrival of boats in Western Australia (Screenshot via YouTube)

*A Sky News debate on asylum seeker policy will feature IA columnist and immigration expert Dr Abul Rizvi. Dr Rizvi has agreed to participate with a couple of conditions outlined here.

I HAVE BEEN ASKED to participate in a debate on a new Sky News program, The Jury. The debate will be on asylum seeker policy.

Knowing that I will be at a significant disadvantage in such a forum, I proposed two conditions for my participation.

The first was that the debate question be policy-oriented and not politically based. Sky has agreed the debate question will be: Are we right to be panicking about recent boat arrivals?

My second requirement was that there would be an agreed set of facts that the moderator – who will be a Sky journalist – would read out.

The facts I have proposed the moderator read out are listed below.

1. For the last decade, both major parties have had identical policies on boat arrivals. Policy on temporary protection visas (TPVs) has zero practical relevance to these policies as no new boat arrival since mid-2013 has been eligible for a TPV.

2. Expenditure on the Border Enforcement function in 2022-23 and 2023-24 will be at least $100 million higher each year than in any of the previous three years. The forward estimates show a decline in funding (as they often do because of the way government budgeting works), but these will be subject to future budgets.

3. There have been fewer Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB) patrols in 2023-24, reportedly due to an ageing aeroplane fleet (consequently, planes have been in maintenance for longer) and there is a lack of trained pilots. The Department of Defence has been supplementing the work of OSB until these issues are addressed.

4. OSB has yet to provide public information on how the two recent boats escaped detection. This may require interviews with the boat arrivals about the route they took.

5. From 2015 until international borders were closed, Australia experienced the biggest labour trafficking scam abusing the asylum system in our history. Opposition Leader Peter Dutton was the relevant minister during this period when between 100,000 and 120,000 asylum applications were lodged.

6. During this period, the immigration compliance function was significantly run down, with the number of immigration compliance officers falling from 380 to 203. That made our visa system ripe for exploitation by the unscrupulous.

7. Once international borders were reopened, asylum applications steadily increased and are currently around 2,000 per month. Until late 2023, neither the Coalition Government nor the Labor Government had a plan to address this.

8. The $160 million package announced in late 2023 is designed to stem the increase in asylum applications. We will not know if this has been effective until well into 2024.

9. Neither major party has a strategy to resolve the situation of 110,000 asylum seekers currently in Australia. That is what we should be talking about.

Sky News cancelled the debate with the reason given that the issue had "lost its topicality".

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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