Australian government to withhold information on asylum seeker boat arrivals

New Liberal-National administration had campaigned on a policy to ‘Stop the Boats’

Australian Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Scott Morrison speaks on the new federal government’s Operation Sovereign Borders policy during a press conference in Sydney on Monday. Photograph: Getty

Australian Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Scott Morrison speaks on the new federal government’s Operation Sovereign Borders policy during a press conference in Sydney on Monday. Photograph: Getty

 

After campaigning in this month’s election on a policy to “Stop the boats”, Australia’s Liberal-National government has been accused of hiding the numbers of new arrivals of asylum seeker boats.

Immigration minister Scott Morrison has defended the policy of holding a weekly briefing on boat arrivals, rather than releasing a statement with each new arrival, as the previous Labor government did. Mr Morrison said the new “operation sovereign borders” policy is “not uncommon with military-style operations”. “It’s not the government’s job to run a shipping news service for the people smugglers,” he said. “It’s our job to deal with the issue of people coming to Australia. We will announce that on a timely, regular basis, in a methodical way, in the calm and measured way we’re going about this issue,” he said.

But Bill Shorten, one of two contenders to be the next leader of the opposition Labor Party, ridiculed the move. “They said they would stop the boats, then they said they would buy the boats, and now they’re saying they’re going to hide the boats,” he said.

Tony Kerin of the Australian Lawyers’ Association said the move is politically motivated. “It was a burning issue prior to the election and our community has a right to know what’s happening on our borders on this issue when it happens, not just when the government feels like releasing the information,” he said.

Rejected the criticism
Mr Morrison rejected the criticism. “There’ll be no lack of transparency,” he said. “People will know how many boats arrived, people will know how many people were on those boats and we will do that once a week.”

Since the new government won power on September 7th, 523 people have arrived in Australian waters by boat and claimed asylum. Mr Morrison said most of those have already been moved to either Papua, New Guinea or Nauru, for what is called offshore processing. “More than half have already gone,” he said. “And we’re going to continue to rapidly increase the turnaround time for people transfers.”

On Christmas Island, where most of the asylum seeker boats arrive, locals say they will inform the Australian media 3,386km away, about boat arrivals. “We can tell the world, which is what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” Gordon Thomson, general secretary of the union of Christmas Island workers told ABC radio.

“We’ll do everything we can to provide the information that the government wants to deny you.”