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Utter lies: The truth on boat arrivals and border protection

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Scott Morrison, Peter Dutton and Malcolm Turnbull have been architects of Australia's current asylum seeker policies (Screenshot via YouTube).

Our national policies on asylum seekers have been built on the shifting sands of government deception which the mainstream media has failed to expose.

Our borders are now less secure than ever before despite all the spin.

The Government continues to obscure the facts and the media shows little interest that, when in opposition, Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison triggered the surge in boat arrivals. Abbott and Morrison then claimed that in government they stopped the boats when in fact they didn’t. Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton now refuse to acknowledge that our borders are being overwhelmed by asylum seekers who are coming by air and not by boat in record numbers.

It is a disgraceful story of cynical manipulation of the facts by the Coalition with the cooperation of a lazy and compromised media.

We are all entitled by our own opinions but we are not entitled to our own "facts".

Here are some key facts.

First, Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison in Opposition gave the green light to people smugglers by successfully opposing, with the Greens and Independents, the implementation of the Malaysian Solution in September 2011. It was designed by the Gillard Government to curb boat arrivals.

Under this arrangement, boat arrivals in Australia would be returned to Malaysia and a multiple of the number returned would be accepted as refugees for settlement in Australia after processing by the UNHCR. Those returned by boat would go to the bottom of the queue. As a result of the defeat of the legislation to implement the arrangement, boat arrivals increased from four in September that year to 48 by July 2013.

Abbott and Morrison were largely responsible for this surge in boat arrivals.

A senior Liberal Party official told the U.S. Embassy as picked up by WikiLeaks that "the more boats that come the better". Abbott and Morrison were determined to see that Labor did not stop the boats. They seized a political opportunity to sabotage the Gillard Government's attempt to do just that. It was political cynicism at its worst. The media turned a blind eye.

Second, Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB), the showpiece of the Abbott Government, had only a marginal effect on boat arrivals. By the time OSB came into effect in December 2013, the number of boat arrivals had been dramatically reduced from 48 to seven. OSB was only about cleaning up a few loose ends. The media again failed to notice.

Third, in Pearls and Irritations, on 16 May this year, Abul Rizvi pointed out that people smugglers had turned their activities away from boats and were facilitating asylum seekers to come by air. 

Rizvi wrote:

We are seeing a steady rise in the asylum application rate at the AAT. This is the flow on from the record number of asylum applications … in 2016-17 (around 18,000 applications) and in 2017-18 (around 28,000 applications) and an unknown number in 2018-19.

This surge in asylum seekers coming by air exceeded the number coming by boat in the Rudd government period which caused so much political angst.

Abul Rizvi said, further: 

At the current AAT decision-making rate and assuming that the monthly asylum application rate continues at the current rate of over 1,000 per month, by the end of 2019-20 the backlog of asylum cases at the AAT may be approaching 30,000 … People smugglers will continue to exploit the vulnerable people they are bringing to Australia to work in appalling conditions while their asylum applications are processed.

Last week the Australian High Commissioner in Malaysia told the Malaysian Reserve Newspaper that ’30,000 Malaysians had applied for asylum (in Australia) in recent years, most of whom were thought not to be genuine refugees’. 

The Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded that ‘Malaysians are taking advantage of Australia’s immigration laws to enable them to stay longer in an unlawful manner’. This was again not seriously followed up by our media.

Malaysian asylum seekers coming by air are only part of the problem. As a result of the failure of Peter Dutton and the demoralised Immigration Department, asylum seekers from other countries, including China, are winging it to Australia by plane in record numbers. As one mode of travel closes, people smugglers force open another door.

I don’t think we have ever had our borders so out of control. But with a few exceptions, the media and most politicians continue to ignore it. Or are they just covering their backs because of past failure to get behind Coalition spin on boats?

Our media and particularly the Murdoch media and Australian Financial Review have become so addicted to government handouts claiming to be "exclusives" that they have lost the interest or skills to undertake their own investigations or research. They have swallowed the massive Coalition lie on "stopping the boats".

Abbott and Morrison triggered the surge in boat arrivals. Then they did not stop the boats. Now asylum seekers are coming by air in record numbers.

Government policies built on lies and spin, assisted by the media, have resulted in massive policy failure. We have allowed it to happen. The cruelty to the family in Biloela is an inevitable consequence of government deception and complicity by the media. It punishes a family to distract from policy failure and the lies that have accompanied it.

The Coalition has been so mesmerised by its own spin that it has persuaded itself and the media that if it shows any decency to the Tamil family the boats will start again. That nonsense is built on a litany of lies.

John Menadue was Secretary Department of Trade 1984-86 and is a commentator, businessman and former diplomat. You can follow John on Twitter @johnmenadue.

This article was originally published on 'Pearls and Irritations' under the title, 'The continuing litany of lies on boat arrivals and border protection' and is republished with permission.

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