Right: Turning them back: Opposition leader Tony Abbott has said that "Indonesian flagged, Indonesian crewed and Indonesian home-ported vessels without lawful reason to be headed to Australia would be turned around and escorted back to Indonesian waters."
Arguments in favour of 'Operation Sovereign Borders'
1. Asylum seekers constitute a national emergency
The Opposition is claiming that its new strategies are justified by the extent of the problem posed by unauthorised asylum seekers.
In the Coalition policy statement, Mr Abbott claimed, 'There is a national emergency on our borders.
The facts speak for themselves. Since Kevin Rudd dismantled the Coalition's border protection policies in 2008:
More than 1,000 people have perished at sea;
Over 48,000 people have arrived on almost 800 illegal boats;
More than 23,000 illegal arrivals are currently in the immigration detention network or on bridging visas;
More than 6,000 children have had their lives put at risk by travelling on illegal boats; and
Over $10.3 billion has been lost in border protection Budget blowouts.'
Launching the policy in Brisbane, Mr Abbott stated, 'This is one of the most serious external situations that we have faced in many a long year. It must be tackled with decisiveness, with urgency, with the appropriate level of seriousness. That's why we need to have a senior military officer in operational control of this very important national emergency.'
Tony Abbott reiterated this position in a press release he issued on August 7, 2013, stating, 'The interception of the latest boat carrying 67 passengers means that over 50,000 people have now arrived illegally by boat since Mr Rudd dismantled our border security policies.
This is a terrible milestone.
50,032 people on 798 boats have arrived under Mr Rudd's failed policies, including over 1,900 who have arrived since Mr Rudd launched his 'PNG solution'.
This will be forever remembered as one of Mr Rudd's worst decisions. It has cost over 1,000 lives. It has also resulted in over $11 billion in Budget blowouts.'
2. The proposed arrangements will result in better-integrated border protection
The Coalition policy document states, 'Our current disjointed institutional arrangements within government do not provide an optimal structure for securing our borders.
There must be one person responsible with all the necessary resources of government at his or her command.
The scale of this problem requires the discipline and focus of a targeted military operation, placed under a single operational and ministerial command.'
The policy document further states, 'Under Labor, there are more than 12 separate government agencies that have involvement in, or responsibility for, the security of our borders, yet the boats still keep coming and too much is falling between the cracks. A Coalition government will streamline decision making into a single command structure with participation from all related agencies...
The commander will report directly to the Minister for Immigration, who will have portfolio responsibility for Operation Sovereign Borders.
Operation Sovereign Borders will be directed by a Joint Agency Taskforce involving all agencies with direct involvement in border security.'
On July 26, 2013, Greg Sheridan, The Australian's foreign affairs editor stated, 'Abbott's plan, crafted with his immigration spokesman Scott Morrison, relies on two insights. The first is that in complex operations, especially if they involve a military component, your best bet of success is to ask a soldier to do it. So Abbott plans to put a three-star general in charge of Operation Sovereign Borders. Australian soldiers are focused on outcomes and accomplishing difficult missions.'
Sheridan then went on to argue, 'The second insight is that a single operation with a single chain of command and a single person in charge is most likely to achieve a coherent outcome.'
3. Australia needs to take control of its own border protection
The Opposition has argued that Australia needs to take independent control of its borders, taking action that is not reliant on the co-operation of other nations in its region. In particular, with regard to its turn back the boats policy, the Opposition is arguing it has the right to protect its territorial waters irrespective of the views of nations such as Indonesia.
On April 27, 2012, Mr Abbott stated, 'I would, of course, politely explain to the Indonesian government that we take as dim a view of Indonesian boats disgorging illegal arrivals in Australia as they take of Australians importing drugs into Bali.
Within a week of taking office, I would give new orders to the Navy that, where it is safe to do so, under the usual chain-of-command procedures, based on the advice of commanders-on-the-spot, Indonesian flagged, Indonesian crewed and Indonesian home-ported vessels without lawful reason to be headed to Australia would be turned around and escorted back to Indonesian waters.'
On July 7, 2013, Tony Abbott stated, 'Australia is a sovereign nation and we have to take decisions on our side of the border ... and that is what a coalition government will always do.'
In addition, Mr Abbott has argued, 'Having strong co-operation in our region is no excuse to hand over decisions about what happens on our side of the Indonesian border to anyone else.'
On July 16, 2013, Mr Abbott indicated that he stood by the Coalition's asylum seeker policy, saying again that Australia had the 'right to act' in its national interest on asylum seeker policy and turn boats back, despite Indonesia's concern about the Coalition's stance.
Mr Abbott said turning boats around was a 'standard operation...It is not beyond the professionalism of our Navy to do it.'
Mr Abbott has claimed, 'We will maintain the best possible relations with our friends and neighbours, always have, always will. But we have the right to act in our national interest. And it is overwhelmingly in the national interest of Australia, just as it is in the national interest of Indonesia, that this evil trade [in people smuggling] cease.'
4. A strong border protection policy will act as a deterrent to asylum seekers arriving by boat
The Opposition has claimed that its strong stand against asylum seekers arriving by boat will have an immediate deterrent effect. On July 6, 2013, Mr Abbott stated of his party's Operation Sovereign Borders (including its turn back the boats component) 'We'll make a difference from day one when it comes to illegal boat arrivals to Australia.'
In June, 2013, Mr Abbott told The Age newspaper that he 'would be dismayed if, by the end of our first term, we hadn't very substantially stopped the flow.'' While during the 2010 election, Mr Abbott set himself a three month deadline to 'dramatically arrest the rate of boat arrivals'
The current Opposition has claimed that it has modelled its policy on that adopted by the Howard Government and claims that the Howard government's Pacific Solution, combined with 'Operation Relex' and 'Operation Resolute', was an effective solution that succeeded in deterring asylum seekers from attempting to come to Australia by boat.
On June 16, 2013, the former foreign minister in the Howard Government, Alexander Downer, wrote an opinion piece published in The Adelaide Advertiser in which he claimed, '[T]he Howard government's policies were tough. We turned boats back on seven occasions, we sent people to Nauru and Manus Island in PNG for processing. We excised some parts of northern Australia from the migration zone. And we introduced temporary protection visas.
The combination of these measures did, however, stop the boats.'
Mr Downer continued to explain the deterrent success of the Howard Government's policy. Mr Downer has stated, '[L]et me tell you, on the basis of my experience, what worked best for the Howard government. It was its sheer determination that people wouldn't get to Australia by this means and everything would be done to stop them.
The refusal to allow the Tampa to unload people in Australia sent out a clear, simple strong message. So, too, did the decision on seven occasions to turn back the boats.'
5. A stronger border protection policy will undermine people smugglers
The Opposition has stated that its total asylum seeker policy package is intended to undermine people smugglers by actively interfering with their operation and if necessary preventing them bringing people into Australian territorial waters.
On July 15, 2013, Mr Abbott indicated that he planned to 'do what is necessary to stop the boats.'
Mr Abbott stated, 'We are not going to be played for mugs by people smugglers. A serious country does not allow itself to be taken for a ride by people like this.
We will be prepared to turn boats around where it is safe to do so. These boats are Indonesian flagged, Indonesian home ported, Indonesian crewed. They have a right to return.'
In a doorstop interview in Melbourne given on July 30, 2013, Tony Abbott stated, 'The Coalition's clear policy to stop the boats has involved...deny[ing] the people smugglers a product to sell and the willingness to turn boats around where it is safe to do so... our will is stronger than that of the people smugglers.'
On June 16, 2013, the former foreign minister in the Howard Government, Alexander Downer, wrote an opinion piece published in The Adelaide Advertiser in which he claimed, 'We took a simple view. People smugglers were deliberately sending boats to Australia from Indonesia in breach of our laws. We were not going to allow it. Each time we turned back a boat, I, as the foreign minister, rang my Indonesian counterpart to tell him we had intercepted a boat and towed it to the edge of Indonesia's territorial waters leaving it with enough fuel to get to a designated port...
I think we can do this again. We won't have to do it often because, once the people smugglers and their clients know we are serious, the trade will stop.'