After Scott Morrison’s success in implementing boat turnbacks, and Shorten insisting he will maintain that policy, Dutton’s role in this space has largely been confined to scaremongering. At last he has found a role he excels in. But like the boy who cried wolf, is the Australian public starting to see through Dutton’s bluster?
The unfortunate fact for Dutton is that when turnback policy was in place under Howard, it was rare for any people smuggler to challenge the Australian Navy. A few months after the policy was implemented, the smugglers were even having trouble getting enough asylum seekers to pay the big money needed to justify such a venture. That was the case throughout the period Howard steadily re-settled the refugee caseload, predominantly in Australia and New Zealand.
And frustratingly for Dutton, the situation is no different today. He loves to refer to intelligence on ‘chatter’ amongst people smugglers in Indonesia every time there is discussion about re-settling the caseload from Manus and Nauru, as he did again recently in a Sky News interview. But unless there is an actual increase in the number of asylum seeker boats leaving Indonesia and challenging the Australian Navy, will the Australian public continue to be taken in by Dutton’s warnings?
Dutton must lament there was no increase in boat arrivals when the US started accepting refugees from Manus and Nauru. And even with the increase in sick children being taken off Nauru following a range of legal challenges, there still hasn’t been an increase in boat arrivals. If Dutton had any hair left, he would be tearing it out.
Under pressure from within his own party, Morrison has decided to make a virtue of taking more sick kids off Nauru. He is apparently doing it quietly and without fanfare – as if Morrison has ever done anything quietly and without fanfare.
Oh to have been a fly on the wall when Morrison told Dutton of the new policy of voluntarily removing sick kids from Nauru? But, but, but the boats! What about the boats?
Sadly for Dutton, still no increase in boat arrivals. And at the same time, Pauline Hanson has come out with an obscene line about procreation on Nauru, stealing any advantage Dutton may have had with ‘his base voters’ in Queensland.
Dutton now argues the sick kids are being removed from Nauru, not because of pressure from within his own party, but because it saves money. For pete’s sake (pun intended), if saving money was a factor the government would have re-settled the whole caseload years ago. Spending taxpayer’s money to keep the refugees on Manus and Nauru so Dutton could use his scaremongering skills has been the whole purpose of the exercise.
With the New Zealand government’s offer to resettle some of the refugees back in discussion, Dutton is out again with his usual warnings about the boats re-starting (see here). Surely if saving money is an objective, even if humanity is of no interest to the government, it is time to take up the New Zealand offer just as John Howard did with no risk of an increase in boat arrivals.
The sad fact for Dutton will be that the boats will not re-start coming if some of the refugees are re-settled in New Zealand and he still won’t be able to say ‘I told you so’.
Abul Rizvi was a senior official in the Department of Immigration from the early 1990s to 2007 when he left as Deputy Secretary. He was awarded the Public Service Medal and the Centenary Medal for services to development and implementation of immigration policy, including in particular the reshaping of Australia’s intake to focus on skilled migration. He is currently doing a PhD on Australia’s immigration policies.