JOHN MENADUE. The continuing litany of lies on boat arrivals and border protection.

I am sorry if I keep repeating what I have been saying for four years but when will we finally accept that we have been consistently conned and lied to about boat arrivals and border protection for a long time. Our national policies on asylum seekers have been built on the shifting sands of government deception which the main stream media has failed to expose. Our borders are now less secure than ever before despite all the spin.

Government policies and public discussion on border protection are based on several lies and never-ending spin. The government continues to deny 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’.

Let me explain some key facts.

FIRST, Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison in Opposition gave the green light to people smugglers by successfully opposing, in cooperation with the Green and Independents in the House of Representatives, the implementation of the Malaysian Arrangement in September 2011 which 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 UNHCR. Those returned by boat would go to the bottom of the queue. As a result of the defeat of legislation to implement the arrangement boat arrivals increased from 4 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 US 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. See (The Coalition and media myth about stopping the boats)

SECOND, Operation Sovereign Borders the show piece 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 7. 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. See (The loss of control of our air borders and with the AAT drowning).

Abul Rizvi said, ‘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 continued ‘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 AFR 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’.

In summary FIRST, Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison triggered the surge in boat arrivals. SECOND they did not stop the boats. THIRD, asylum seekers are now 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 of the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs , 1980-83, during the massive outflow of Indo Chinese asylum seekers and refugees.


John Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

This entry was posted in Refugees, Immigration. Bookmark the permalink.

For questions regarding our comment system please click here.
(Please note that we are unable to post comments on your behalf.)

11 Responses to JOHN MENADUE. The continuing litany of lies on boat arrivals and border protection.

  1. Avatar michael schell says:

    Like Ed Cory, I would like to thank you John for once again so clearly portraying the abhorrent situation that this government has created. So much is glossed over by the terms “in the national interest” and “national security” that the truth about the treatment of our Manus and Nauru detainees remains a hidden, shameful part of our history. Now we see this same government deploying its vast resources in pursuing the deportation of this Tamil family – since when do we wage such vindictiveness on little children and their parents? If the law justifies this behaviour then it’s time to change the law and expose the twisted logic and “c0mpassion”of those people whom we have trusted to promote a fair go for all and to put Fairness back into our litany of Australian “VALUES”!

  2. Avatar Michael Rogers says:

    Some notes:
    1) Somebody presenting themselves to make an application for protection to the relevant officials in a country that is party to the United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees, may have been ‘smuggled’ out of where they feared persecution but they have not been ‘smuggled’ into the country where they are seeking asylum.
    2) You cannot get a visa to Australia if there is any suggestion that you have the intention of applying for asylum.
    3) Nonetheless in 2017-18 there were 27,931 applications made in Australia for protection (by people who had arrived by air with visas). Of these 1,425 were granted ‘permanent protection visas’.
    4) Appeals against refusal to grant a PPV can go this way:

  3. Avatar Malcolm Manville says:

    I’m a bit cynical, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Government is turning a blind eye to asylum seekers coming by air because it’s a wealth of cheap labour for business. If true it’s no wonder many Australians are finding it difficult to find work or make ends meet.

  4. Avatar Charles Lowe says:

    John, even you seem to not dare to assert that thesis which, once stated clearly, becomes the obvious.

    “Any adult human being has the irrevocable right to take whatever risk ze chooses (including that of their own death) providing that choice does not compel significant harm to anyone else.”

    Which means that, in the first instance, maritime asylum seekers are as legitimate claimants to refugee status as anyone else. Despite “37 deaths on my watch.” (Tony Burke).

  5. Avatar Anne Yardley says:

    What I cannot understand is why the Coalition, and Labor for that matter, insist on this policy of cruelty, of using innocent people as scapegoats to ‘send the message to people smugglers.’ Why is this harsh treatment a vote winner? Because it must be a vote winner or the major parties would have changed their policies long ago. When did we become so cruel and when did we become a nation of people who can’t see through flawed, disingenuous arguments?

  6. Avatar Kevin Bain says:

    On the first and second points (which I largely agree with), they will not displace the conventional wisdom (rampant amongst professional observers and refugee advocates alike) without debate within professional journals ie. beyond journalism and blogs. Has anybody done this?

    On the third point, Abul Rizvi’s insider analysis of the data (amplified by K Keneally) has been crucial in disarming the Coalition’s attempt to use their election weapon of choice last time. The plane arrivals show that, although an island nation, we can’t insulate ourselves from the world and should face up to our responsibilities as part of it. Another conclusion is that twitter and blogs like this have risen to become the town square for ideas and breaking news from political insiders.

    On the Biloela situation, it would be very helpful if the large and well organised Tamil diaspora can provide some hard evidence (beyond INGO reports) of persecution in Sri Lanka, given the large number of returnees from here and other countries.

  7. Avatar Stephen Saunders says:

    Agree on FIRST, SECOND, THIRD. But also (as I’ve argued on TAPRI, Independent Australia and MacroBusiness), FOURTH, cut net migration.

    Home Affairs can manage annual net migration, to within 20% of the annual Treasury targets. Their ‘border chaos’ is also the prime recipe for ‘GDP growth’.

    Our chronic condition is that the population growth trend (1.7%) exceeds the GDP growth trend (1.4%). No doubt all the OECD-nation finance ministers will flock down-under to study the mechanics of this ‘Aussie miracle’.

  8. Avatar Kien Choong says:

    Ha ha, I once heard Amartya Sen (a critique of the Indian government) say he was asked why he keeps repeating himself. He said something to the effect that there was no change, and so he must repeat himself.

    And whenever my dear mother apologises for repeating old stories, I like to tell her that good stories are worth repeating!

  9. Avatar Kien Choong says:

    Hi, as a Malaysian, I’m surprised to learn that Malaysians are applying for asylum in record numbers. I cannot understand how the asylum applications can be justified. (Perhaps I’m wrong!) I’ve heard that these “Malaysians” are in fact foreigners who have somehow obtained Malaysian passports, which seems more plausible. (Unfortunately, it’s plausible that corrupt officials have issued passports illegally.)

  10. Avatar Ed Cory says:

    Thank you John for this concise summary of a sorry situation. Two sorry situations actually – the (in)competence of the media, and the (in)competence of the government on migration matters.

Comments are closed.