The repeated lie that Abbott and Morrison stopped the boats has become a ‘fact’. It is just not true.

Apr 22, 2021

Our corporate media will not acknowledge that Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison did not stop the boats. Despite clear evidence, the Canberra Press Gallery fell for the spin. With a tame media and cooperation by the military, the big lie was repeated time and time again and became accepted as fact. This was all before Donald Trump and his big lies.

By the time the much-publicised Operation Sovereign Borders was launched in December 2013 by Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison, the number of boat arrivals had been reduced from 47 in July 2013 to seven in December 2013. The job was almost done. This has been pointed out time and time again, but our media, having been conned in the first place will not admit failure.

From September 2015, more than five years ago, Peter Hughes and I have pointed out repeatedly that Abbott and Morrison triggered the surge in boat arrivals from September 2011 and did not stop the boats as they claim from December 2013. I had been Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. Peter had been a Deputy Secretary.

The facts that Peter and I set out have not been challenged or disputed in any way.

We thought that perhaps our media had trouble understanding text. So we decided to make it easier for the Canberra Press Gallery and set out the facts in graph form, below. But that did not help either.

There are two graphs below on boat arrivals 2011-2014. The first graph describes the ‘raw’ data, while the second graph omits the monsoon months. The monsoon varies from year to year but usually runs January to March. This second graph, excluding the monsoon months, is probably a better measure of boat arrivals in response to government policies.

Source for Graphs:  Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Submission to the Select Committee on the Recent Allegations relating to Conditions and Circumstances at the Regional Processing Centre in Nauru, May 2015. (Submission 31),   Data on Attachment H, following P 87.

There were three critical ‘decision months’.

The first was September 2011 when the Coalition in the House of Representatives with the help of the Greens MP and Independents rejected amendments to the Migration Act that would have enabled the Gillard government to implement the Malaysian Arrangement.  It was necessary to amend the Migration Act in light of a High Court decision.

Under the Malaysian Arrangement  800 boat arrivals in Australia would initially be repatriated to Malaysia and Australia would accept from Malaysia 4,000 refugees who had been orderly processed in Malaysia in cooperation with the UNHCR. With the collapse of the Malaysian Solution, when four to five boats a month were arriving, there was a steady and then rapid increase in boat arrivals until July 2013 when 48 boats arrived.

The second critical ‘decision month’ was July 2013. In that month the Rudd government announced that any person arriving by boat would never be settled in Australia. As a result, boat arrivals fell dramatically from 48 in July to 7 in December 2013 when Operation Sovereign Borders began.

The third critical ‘decision month’ was December 2013 when, with great fanfare, OSB commenced. General Angus Campbell became its very enthusiastic Commander. But the job was almost done  as the graphs show. Boat arrivals were by then only a trickle. Abbott and Morrison were involved only in cleaning up a few loose ends. The job was substantially done by the time OSB commenced.

I hoped that with these easy-to-follow graphs, our mainstream media could at last understand three things.

  1. By defeating the means to implement the Malaysian Arrangement, Abbott and Morrison triggered the surge in boat arrivals from September 2011 onwards.
  2. The decision by the Rudd government in July 2013 to refuse settlement in Australia for any persons arriving by boat after that date resulted in a dramatic reduction in boat arrivals from 48 to 7. That was the game changer.
  3. When OSB commenced in December 2013, boat arrivals had almost stopped.

Abbott and Morrison triggered the boat arrivals and did not stop the boats. What is clear is that most of all they did not want Labor to stop the boats. As a  ‘senior Liberal Party official’ told the US Embassy that ‘the more boats that come the better’ .Morrison was State Director of the NSW Liberal Party from 2000-2004.

The mainstream media has fallen for the Coalition’s spin on boats for more than five years. Even graphs did not help. It is hard for our media to admit it has been conned.

(This is a slightly updated post of May 11 ,2021…John Menadue)

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