The Coalition Government has chosen to move away from Labor’s policy of publicising the arrival of asylum seeker boats and the number of passengers. Where Labor chose to give several media releases per day on asylum seeker activity, alerting the Australian public to the arrival of each asylum seeker boat, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has announced that the Coalition will be giving one media update per week. These asylum seeker briefings will be held on a Monday, the first of which will take place today.
It is expected that, during the briefing, Mr Morrison will confirm the arrival of a boat at Christmas Island yesterday. It was carrying women and children, and was the first boat to arrive since the Abbott Government’s blackout protocol came into effect. It is the eighth boat to arrive since 7 September 2013. Today’s briefing will also include the Deputy Chief of Army, Angus Campbell, who will talk about Operation Sovereign Borders, the Abbott Government’s military-based plan to ‘stop the boats’.
When asked why the Abbott Government had chosen to slow the flow of information regarding asylum seekers, Mr Morrison said, “The government of the day sets the rules for how information is treated… The Coalition Government has a different view about how this should be handled, based on a review of these matters by our operations command.” He went on to explain that the changes had been made to ensure the success of Operation Sovereign Borders.
Candidate for the Labor leadership, Bill Shorten, was not impressed by the changes. “I can’t imagine who dreamed that up, not telling anyone about the deaths at sea. If a boat sinks … and people drown, I don’t think the government has a right to not tell people that this tragedy has occurred.”
As part of Operation Sovereign Borders, the Abbott Government plans to set up asylum seeker ‘transit points’ in Indonesia, drawing anger from Jakarta. The $198 million plan has been criticised by an international law expert, who has suggested it would be the most legally controversial part of the Coalition Government’s asylum seeker management plan.
This is, in my opinion, a decision made out of fear. The Abbott Government is afraid that it will not be able to ‘stop the boats’, so it is choosing to take control of the flow of information. Officially Mr Morrison justifies this change as a means of denying the people smugglers any feedback, but what difference does it make if the people smugglers receive the information daily or once per week? I think this is simply a case of the Government hoping that it will be able to downplay its failure to meet this particular election promise. It’s a reasonable fear to have.
I don’t actually expect the Abbott Government to stop the boats. If it ever did, I think there would have to be some gaping moral holes in its methods, and it would be a tainted ‘victory’. Nevertheless, we were promised that the boats would stop. Instead of a real solution, we’re being asked to close our eyes, stick our fingers in our ears and believe really, really hard that if we can’t see the boats, they don’t exist.
This is not just an issue of pro or anti-asylum seekers. This is about freedom of information. I believe that Australians have the right to know what is happening with the asylum seeker boats. Millions of people, on both sides of the debate, feel very passionately about this issue, and they should be allowed to make an informed choice on their opinions. It is not okay for the Abbott Government to mete-out this information as it sees fit through the military.
What do you think? Will the Abbott Government be able to stop the boats? Should it? And should we know what is happening with asylum seekers, or is it a matter of national security?