Scott Morrison ends secrecy [sic] surrounding Operation Sovereign Borders

SEPTEMBER 18, 2014 10:21AM
Jared Owens

IMMIGRATION Minister Scott Morrison has lifted the veil of secrecy around Operation Sovereign Borders, revealing a dozen boatloads of asylum seekers have been turned back to Indonesia in the past year, including four in orange lifeboats.

On the first anniversary of Operation Sovereign Borders, Mr Morrison claimed the turnback operations had delivered “the critical blow” to the maritime people-smuggling trade between Australia and southern Asia.

A further 45 planned ventures to smuggle 1673 asylum-seekers were disrupted in “partnership operations” between Australian, Sri Lankan, Malaysian and Indonesian authorities, resulting in 214 arrests.

The turnback operations involved six inadvertent breaches of Indonesian territorial waters, for which the government has been forced to apologise.

Mr Morrison said the government’s previously secret “on water” policies had been implemented “safely, effectively and sustainably” and could be maintained indefinitely.

“We always make sure there’s a safe maritime platform so people can return to their point of embarkation,” Mr Morrison told ABC Radio.

“It is safety that drove the innovation of the policy which involved the use of the lifeboats.”

Over the past year, asylum-seekers have told media of being transferred to orange lifeboats and towed to the edge of Indonesian territory before being left with only enough fuel to reach Indonesia.

Between September 18 and December 19 last year there were 23 suspected illegal entry vessels (SIEVs) and 1265 illegal maritime arrivals (IMAs).

Since the turnbacks began in December, only one boat had made it into Australian waters and no asylum seekers had died at sea, compared with more than 1100 who died at sea between 2008 and 2013.

In the last year of the Labor government there was a total of 401 SIEVs and 26,543 IMAs.

Mr Morrison said the government would “never” declare victory, as “there will always be those who try to give it a go”.

“Everything we do, we do in a way which is sustainable and that’s why I think we’ve had the success we’ve had to date,” he said.

Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek accused the Coalition of endangering lives by blocking the Malaysia offshore processing deal proposed by the Gillard government, which would have seen up to 800 unprocessed asylum-seekers transferred to the country in exchange for 4000 processed refugees.

“I’m surprised something that was an ‘on water matter’ only a few weeks ago is now on the front page of a newspaper,” Ms Plibersek told ABC Radio.

“One of the most important features in reducing the number of people making the dangerous journey to Australia by boat is offshore processing. Why Scott Morrison and the Liberals couldn’t agree to that with Malaysia, where people would have had work rights, their children could have gone to school, they would have had access to a good medical system, is beyond me.

“I think the question today for Scott Morrison is why he never supported Malaysia.”

Mr Morrison in 2012 described the Malaysia policy as a human rights “abomination” that would have been quickly overwhelmed by people smugglers.

Mr Morrison said the trade would return if a future government were to relax the Coalition’s tough policies.

Mr Morrison told Sky News the opposition “never will be convinced” of the government’s success. “They had to be dragged kicking and screaming to offshore processing, they refuse to support turn-backs, and they’re voting against temporary protection visas,” he said.

“They just can’t be trusted on this issue because their heart has never been in it. Never will be.”

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull conceded “many” genuine refugees would have been aboard the 12 boats turned back, but applauded Mr Morrison for “changing the dynamic” of people-smuggling ventures.

“There is no easy answer to this … and I’m sure that many of the people in the boats that have been turned back would have plausible claims for refugee status,” he told ABC Radio.

“Yes it is a tough policy, agreed, but it’s the only one that has been proven to work.”

Mr Morrison denied the tough border policy had strained relations with Australia’s regional allies.

“The issue of border protection now is no longer dominating these discussions with our regional partners. There are other issues now we’re able to get on with and this has no longer been the distracting and dominating issue it has been in the past,” he said.

Additional reporting: Rosie Lewis


Back to