Sorry, did you say _you_ stopped the boats?
In a joint doorstop interview at Whittlesea on the 2nd, Tony Abbott said:
You have the government which started the boats. You’ve got the Coalition which stopped the boats.
As an exemplar of a shallow and dishonest soundbite trivialising a complex bipartisan issue, pretty damn good. If all you’re looking for is to score some cheap points from human misery. But it’s not only shallow, it’s just plain wrong.
The first boat arrived in Darwin in April 1976 when Malcolm Fraser was Prime Minister. So you could, if you wanted to be precise, say that the Coalition started the boats. Now this is the same Malcolm Fraser who has become a vocal critic of the refugee policies of both major parties. This is op-ed, not journalism, so I’m with Mal. It amazes me how the mainstream press no longer cares to distinguish reporting from opinion.
Either blaming the problem or claiming the credit on one party is a gross distortion of the historical facts. Australian policy on asylum seekers has has evolved over the last nearly 40 years in a bipartisan way. Both major parties have added to and removed from Australian border protection.
Mandatory immigration detention for unauthorised arrivals was introduced by the Keating Government in 1992 under the Migration Amendment Act 1992, as part of the codification of migration policy.
In 1999 the Howard Government introduced Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs). The claim by the Opposition that TPVs halted arrivals is just not true. In fact, in the period after that there was a huge surge. In a report to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee in 2009, the then Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Evans, noted that:
Our figures show that in that period the percentage of women and children went from around 25 per cent to around 40 per cent. We saw more women and children taking the very perilous journey to come to Australia by unlawful boat arrivals.
So this is a Coalition policy increasing the risk to women and children on boats. In an anonymous post of 4th July on the Liberal Party website, it was claimed that:
Labor has created a dangerous new incentive for people smugglers to send children on the dangerous boat journey to Australia, knowing they won’t be sent offshore.
Not new, not an incentive, and not Labor.
In September 2001 the Coalition enacted the ‘Pacific Solution’ in several bills. The Bills amended the Migration Act 1958 to excise Christmas, Ashmore, Cartier and Cocos (Keeling) Islands from the migration zone.
The ‘Pacific Solution’ was widely criticised by refugee advocacy and human rights groups as being contrary to international refugee law, unjustifiably expensive to implement, and psychologically damaging for detainees. And it didn’t stop the boats.
In 2005 the Howard Government softened the immigration detention policy in response to human rights concerns.
On 8 February 2008 the ‘Pacific Solution’ was formally ended by the Labor government, as the last 21 asylum seekers detained at the Offshore Processing Centre in Nauru were resettled in Australia.
Prime Minister Gillard announced in June 2012 the creation of an Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers.The report of the Panel, presented to the Government on 13 August 2012, made 22 recommendations on possible policy options.
The Gillard Government acted swiftly in implementing some, although not all, of the recommendations of the Expert Panel. In particular, it acted quickly to reopen offshore processing centres in the Pacific.
As of August 2012, the processing of asylum seekers offshore in third countries in the Pacific, not onshore in Australia, is once again the preferred solution to the ‘problem’ of unauthorised boat arrivals as it was under the Howard Government.
Parliament of Australia – “Boat arrivals in Australia since 1976” – 29 January 2013