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(Image via @Biggy1883)

In Part 2, authors John Menadue and Peter Hughes complete their debunking of the myth that Tony Abbott stopped the boats. It was Labor's policies that saw the dramatic fall in boat arrivals while Abbott helped keep the door open for people smugglers.

Tony Abbott did not stop the boats

IN PART 1 yesterday, we pointed out that Tony Abbott kept the door open for tens of thousands of boat arrivals by opposing legislation that would have enabled implementation of the Malaysia Arrangement in September 2011. By this action, he helped turn on the green light for people smugglers.

Moreover, the data just does not support the claim that, after coming to power in September 2013, Tony Abbott “stopped the boats”. The media uncritically accepted the Coalition’s line in the confused period of the changeover of governments and in the context of drama and secrecy surrounding a small number of boat turn-backs.

The data shows that the downward trend in boat arrivals began in August 2013. By October and November 2013 maritime asylum seeker arrivals had dropped by 90 per cent compared to the corresponding two months in 2012 (547 arrivals versus 5115 arrivals). These reductions occurred well before the first boat turnaround by the Coalition Government on 19 December 2013. See table below:

Number of illegal maritime arrivals who arrived in Australia by month (1 January 2011 to 31 December 2014), by port arrival date.
   

SIEVS/BOATS

IMAs

2011

January

3

223

 

February

3

149

 

March

7

419

 

April

6

318

 

May

6

333

 

June

4

235

 

July

4

228

 

August

5

335

 

September

4

319

September

Abbott failure to support Malaysian Arrangement

 

October

5

259

 

November

10

734

 

December

13

1,070

 

TOTAL

70

4,622

2012

January

5

301

 

February

9

849

 

March

3

110

 

April

11

837

 

May

16

1,286

 

June

24

1,642

 

July

31

1,756

 

August

37

2,078

 

September

31

2,062

 

October

47

2,452

 

November

44

2,663

 

December

18

1,017

 

TOTAL

276

17,053

2013

January

11

541

 

February

17

973

 

March

35

2,320

 

April

47

3,329

 

May

47

3,252

 

June

40

2,750

 

July

48

4,230

19 July 2013

Rudd announcement not to settle IMAs in Australia

 

August

25

1,585

 

September

15

829

 

October

5

339

 

November

5

208

 

December

7

355

19 Dec 2013

First Abbott turn-backs

 

TOTAL

302

20,711

2014

January

0

3

 

February

0

1

 

March

0

0

 

April

0

0

 

May

0

0

 

June

0

0

 

July

1

157

 

August

0

0

 

September

0

3

 

October

0

0

 

November

0

0

 

December

0

4

 

TOTAL

1

168

The source of this data is the Senate Select Committee on the Recent Allegations relating to Conditions and Circumstances at the Regional Processing Centre in Nauru: Submission 31 from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP). Crew are excluded. Note that the table refers to the number of ‘Illegal’ Maritime Arrivals (IMAs). ‘Illegals’ is not a term that we think is appropriate, but the term is used in the material from DIBP.

Three measures put in place by the Labor Government before the election caused the dramatic fall in the number arrivals, (allowing for a short time lag).

The first was “enhanced screening” of Sri Lankans and quick return of non-refugees to Sri Lanka.

The second was a decision by Indonesia, at Australia’s urging, that Iranians could not enter Indonesia without visas.

The third and most important was the announcement by Kevin Rudd on the 19 July 2013 that in future any persons coming by boat, who were found to be refugees, would not be settled in Australia. We may argue about the wisdom of that policy, but it effectively crippled the people-smugglers.

Fortuitously for the Abbott Government when it was sworn in on 18 September 2013, the flow of maritime arrivals was well on its way to being finished as a result of measures already taken.

By the time Operation Sovereign Borders geared up for its first boat turn-back on 19 December 2013, the number of boats was down from 48 in July to 7 in December.

Operation Sovereign Borders was applied to the “tail end” of a phenomenon that had largely been stopped. The game-changer was Kevin Rudd’s announcement in July 2013.

Arguably, boat turn backs would not have been “successful” at all without the July 2013 decision. For example, the Navy and Customs were able to turn back three boats in December 2013. It’s hard to believe that it would have been physically possible to turn back 48 boats if they had continued to arrive at the monthly rate that occurred in July 2013 and that Indonesia would have quietly acquiesced.

Tony Abbott’s role in “stopping the boats” was at the margins and vastly overrated.

John Menadue was Secretary, Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs 1980-83. Peter Hughes was a senior officer in the Department of Immigration and Citizenship for 30 years until he retired as Deputy Secretary in 2011.

This article was originally published on John Menadue's blog 'Pearls and Irritations' on 23 September 2015 and is republished with permission.

You can follow John on Twitter @johnmenadue.

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