CANBERRA OBSERVED: by national correspondentNews Weekly
Gillard government's surrender on illegal immigration
, June 23, 2012
Whatever crumbs of credibility the Gillard Government had about its border protection policies were swept away by the recent ABC Four Corners program that exposed the shamelessness and insouciance of the people-smugglers toward the Australian authorities trying to stop their trade.
Here was a people-smuggler and his family living in multiple government-subsidised accommodation arrangements in suburban Canberra — a city stuffed to the brim with immigration and customs officials, Australian Federal Police and ASIO officers, Australian Crime Commission officers, and sundry other government and defence bureaucrats.
All are charged with the responsibility of stopping and vetting people arriving on our shores seeking our asylum, and to ensure that only genuine refugees fleeing war and persecution are permitted to stay and thereby gain access to the benefits of living in Australia.
Literally billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money have been spent by these government agencies over recent years to undertake this important job of making sure our borders are not open to exploitation. This includes surveillance technology.
Yet it took a lone reporter from the ABC to hunt down and confront the now infamous “Captain Emad” at his workplace rounding up shopping trolleys in a northern Canberra suburban supermarket car park.
“Captain Emad”, who subsequently fled Australia after the airing of the program, had allegedly masterminded a people-smuggling operation, captained an illegal vessel from Indonesia to Australia, but then hid at the back of the boat upon arrival in Australian waters.
Immigration officials stamped his papers as a “genuine refugee” — apparently he was one of the first on the boat to be cleared. Security checks found no problem, and he was moved through the system. He ultimately gained access to health and welfare benefits, subsidised rental accommodation (care of the Red Cross), and other government assistance.
Such is the impotence of officialdom that the AFP was powerless to stop him from leaving the country.
Following the Dr Muhamed Haneef Affair — when police detained an Indian doctor because they suspected he was connected with a terrorist ring in Britain, and former Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews subsequently cancelled his temporary skilled-worker visa — officials are now apparently terrified of making a wrongful arrest.
AFP Commissioner Tony Negus described the police’s inability to stop “Captain Emad” as “frustrating”.
But not as frustrated as the Australian people feel, who have stood by and watched as two successive Labor Governments have botched the nation’s border-protection policy month in, month out.
Ultimate responsibility for the debacle lies with the Rudd/Gillard governments.
It was Kevin Rudd who first relaxed the asylum-seeker rules in 2007, sending a message through the people-smuggling networks in Asia that if you could get to Australia, there was an excellent chance of staying.
Then the Gillard Government mismanaged the deterrent by insisting on its “Malaysian solution”, even after it was rejected by the High Court.
Prime Minister Gillard has refused to countenance reverting to the policy of the Howard Government, which had set up an offshore processing system on Nauru.
It has been a sorry tale of incompetence, stubbornness and denial by the Gillard Government — incompetence in its inability to drive an effective policy solution, stubbornness in refusing to adopt anything Tony Abbott suggests simply because it is Tony Abbott who suggests it, and denial in its inability to see the extent of the problem and its genuine impact in the electorate.
The Sydney Morning Herald’s Paul Sheehan summed the situation up brilliantly in a column on June 11.
He wrote: “The numbers are extraordinary. The failure is breathtaking — a failure in every possible way, of policy, morality, practicality, security, sovereignty, fairness and budgeting.”
Or, as The Australian’s editor-at-large Paul Kelly put it so succinctly:
“Australia’s humiliation at the hands of people-smugglers is now complete: our borders are easily penetrated, our refugee program is critically compromised and elusive smuggler Captain Emad has made Australia a double fool, arriving illegally and departing untouched.
“Last week seven boats arrived. Last month 1,100 boatpeople arrived. Forty-five boats have arrived since Labor’s Malaysian policy was deadlocked in the parliament. The pattern is irregular but the trend is relentless — more boats are coming because people-smugglers know our borders are relatively open and they are feeding asylum-seeker demand.”
Around 18,000 people have now arrived in 314 boats under the current Labor administration, and it is estimated around 90 per cent wind their way through the system and get to stay in Australia.
The people-smugglers are right. If you pay up and get to Australia by whatever means, there is a fair chance you will be successful in short-circuiting the long, difficult and uncertain process of official immigration applications.
Incredibly, a federal Labor Government has run up the white flag on illegal immigration.