All at sea on boats policy

Herald Sun
October 28, 2013 12:00AM

IMMIGRATION Minister Scott Morrison won?t tell us how the Abbott Government is stopping the boats. But however his Sovereign Borders taskforce is doing it, fewer asylum seekers are arriving.

There were 70 per cent fewer arrivals in the first month, said Mr Morrison at his weekly briefing. Obviously, that’s a good thing, but the way the message is delivered remains a problem. The media could draw its own conclusions, said the Minister: “We’re just getting on with the job.’’

Operation Sovereign Borders started on September 18 and since 573 asylum seekers have been transferred to offshore processing centres, with 386 going to Manus Island and 187 to Nauru.

We will not know until this week’s briefing whether that figure will have changed. The Minister is referred to by some journalists at these briefings as Admiral Morrison or Major Morrison, which says something about the verbal combat that takes place.

Mr Morrison and Joint Australian Task Force Commander, Lieutenant-General Angus, were accompanied at the latest briefing by Assistant Commissioner Steve Lancaster, of the Australian Federal Police, who leads the Operation Sovereign Borders Disruption and Deterrence Task Group.

These titles and terminology lend a certain stiffness to proceedings. Mr Morrison wasted no time in telling journalists that “contrary to some media reports’’ Manus Island was “not at capacity’’. What he won’t say is what that capacity might be. That is an “operational’’ matter, the reasoning being that you don’t tell the people smugglers they might have pushed the centres to the limit.

There is certainly a limit to what the media is told. Commander Campbell informed those present he would not “discuss current or potential future on-water operations’’, which is code for whatever does happen.

Mr Morrison was similarly unhelpful. Had there been any loss of life since a boat went down last month, he was asked? “You could reasonably assume that if there were, we would have reported them as we have previously,’’ he snapped. Mr Morrison also had some words to say about “wild claims’’ being made that were “rarely substantiated’’ but “if substantiated’’ would be addressed “very seriously”. That begs the question if the Mr Morrison doesn’t substantiate them, who will?

Australians also regard the asylum seeker issue seriously. It was one of the issues on which Prime Minister Tony Abbott campaigned so successfully. Mr Morrison, who was at the forefront of the Opposition attacks, now appears more concerned with getting asylum seekers off the 24/7 news cycle.

Transparency, however, is part of democracy and the Immigration Minister needs to remember that openness is an integral part of his job. As an MP he seems to have got too close to the generals. Lecturing the media when they ask for answers doesn’t help.

Everyone needs to settle down. When lives are lost at sea, as they will be if the people smugglers boats continue to attempt the risky voyage to Australia, questions will be asked. Refusing to discuss “on-water operations’’ won’t cut it.

People have a right to know. When General Campbell spoke at the first of these briefings he spoke of the need for “a balance”. Mr Morrison must bear that balance in mind.


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