Dutton’s border protection rhetoric is nothing like his border protection record

Dec 5, 2023
Passengers walking through Australian border force lines

Peter Dutton’s border protection rhetoric has contributed to a remarkable improvement in the Coalition’s public polling. He will ride that rhetoric to the next Election.

But few Australians would be aware of Dutton’s appalling record on border protection. As Minister for Home Affairs, he allowed the unscrupulous to run riot with Australia’s visa system in a way that is completely unprecedented. The fact is real border protection is a lot more difficult than border protection rhetoric.

Dutton’s border protection rhetoric

Over the last month, a decision by the High Court and the arrival of a boat with 12 asylum seekers has enabled Dutton to let his fear mongering skills soar.
On the boat arrival, he made it clear he thinks this is the start of an armada of boat arrivals despite the fact the Albanese Government is committed to boat turn-backs and offshore processing with no prospect for new boat arrivals to be re-settled in Australia.

The advantage of the scare on boats is that if an armada does arrive, the Coalition can say they warned Australians and the Government. But like the boy who cried wolf, Dutton has been warning for years about an armada of boats. As he has never been held accountable for these warnings, he will happily continue to run scare campaigns on boats all the way to the next Election.

On the High Court decision, Dutton’s response in Parliament was that the released detainees should be immediately returned to immigration detention. Either this reflects complete contempt for the High Court or Dutton thought no one would hold him accountable for proposing an obviously illegal action. His Home Affairs spokesperson, Senator James Paterson, was asked three times on the ABC Insiders program if he agreed with Dutton’s proposal. Three times Paterson refused to answer the question.

Dutton’s supporters in the right-wing media happily ignored the illegality of Dutton’s proposal and supported it as the right thing to do. In the era of Trump, contempt for the law is a badge of honour and Dutton’s supporters would not have cared that his proposal was illegal.

Dutton was right to criticise the Albanese Government for not having a plan to deal with the High Court over-turning a 20 year precedent. Nevertheless, the Government within days introduced new legislation that enabled it to use ankle bracelets, curfews, etc on the released detainees on a discretionary basis.

The Coalition immediately criticised that and demanded these requirements be made mandatory. The Albanese Government largely caved-in to these demands. Not surprisingly, this legislation has been immediately challenged in the High Court with a strong likelihood the High Court will either overturn the legislation or put its own interpretation on the legislation.

If that happens, no one will be more happy than Dutton to see the Government trying to explain why the legislation failed even though it will have been overturned because of Dutton’s politically motivated demands.

Now that it has the details of the High Court decision, the Government will shortly introduce legislation for a new preventative detention regime, different to the one that currently exists for Australians because that is viewed as inadequate.

It is reported the new legislation will allow the Minister to seek a court order to detain one or more of the released detainees if the Minister can convince the court that the person represents an unacceptable risk of committing a violent or sexual offence in the future.

This legislation will need to make clear the objective is community protection and avoid the appearance of seeking additional punishment. It is highly unlikely the Government will have sufficient evidence to convince a court of such a risk other than for a tiny number of the released detainees. Even if it is able initially to do so for some detainees, it will need to keep proving this time and again.

Just a few of these people being put back in detention for a relatively short period will be totally insufficient for Dutton. He has made it clear he wants all of the released detainees back in detention until they can be removed from Australia. While he would know that such legislation would inevitably be overturned by the High Court, he will not care less. Just being able to pretend to the Australian public that he is a tough guy on border protection will be sufficient.

Dutton will know the vast majority of these people will never be removed from Australia and are likely to live in the Australian community for the rest of their lives. But he will nevertheless enjoy making life hell for the Government for as long as he can.

Dutton’s actual border protection record

Most Australians would be surprised to learn that while Dutton was Home Affairs Minister, Australia experienced the biggest labour trafficking scam abusing the asylum system in our history (see Chart 1).

Source: DHA Asylum and PV Reports

In 2017-18, around 67 percent of the all-time record number of asylum applications in that year were from Malaysian and Chinese nationals with an approval rate close to zero. It was a scam that Australia will be dealing with for years to come as most of these people are still in Australia, either at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal or living in the community without a visa and no rights. Dutton allowed creation of a shadow community in Australia of people extremely vulnerable to exploitation, particularly by the people who trafficked them to Australia.

The cost of dealing with this scam, including the unscrupulous people (read criminals) who organised the scam, will be huge.

At the same time, Dutton allowed a massive reduction in immigration compliance activity (see Chart 2).

Source: DHA Asylum and PV Reports

Dutton created the ideal environment for criminals to exploit Australia’s visa system. The recent report by Christine Nixon lays bare Dutton’s failures on border protection.

Sadly, few Australians will remember Dutton’s failures on border protection. They will remember Dutton’s rhetoric and fear mongering on border protection.

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