Strong Borders – Except When They’re Not

Trevor Gauld

'Sometimes when a boat arrives, it actually doesn't. It depends on where it comes from': Border Force

By ETU National Policy Officer Trevor Gauld

The Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government would have us all believe the Liberal Party is strong on borders, often repeating John Howard’s mantra: “We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come”.

But is there one skerrick of evidence that actually supports these statements?

This question should be on everyone’s lips considering the scare campaign coming from Morrison’s minority government after it failed to block newly elected independent Kerryn Phelps’ bill that made changes to the way people locked up on Manus and Nauru may be medically assessed.

Consider the irony surrounding why Phelps is even in parliament and able to propose this new law: because Peter Dutton disposed of his leader Malcolm Turnbull, only to lose an internal party vote to Scott Morrison.

Notwithstanding, according to the Liberal Minister for Immigration David Coleman[1], there are a little over 1,000 people left on Manus and Nauru as of 3 February 2019. Most of them have been there for well over five years. The Morrison Government would have us believe that suddenly, despite not raising this as an issue for the past five years, a whole bunch of these people are dangerous and if they receive medical treatment, life in Australia as we know it will end.

Whilst you would have to approach this with just a touch of scepticism it always pays to do a bit of fact checking.

The first thing to check would be what the government said about these people in the past, such as the January 2017 phone call between US President Donald Trump and then-PM Turnbull. Remember? That’s when the Liberal PM was absolutely certain about the character of people in Australia’s offshore detention centres (emphasis ours):

Trump: Does anybody know who these people are? Who are they? Where do they come from? Are they going to become the Boston bomber in five years? Or two years? Who are these people?

Turnbull: Let me explain. We know exactly who they are. They have been on Nauru or Manus for over three years and the only reason we cannot let them into Australia is because of our commitment to not allow people to come by boat. Otherwise we would have let them in. If they had arrived by airplane and with a tourist visa then they would be here.

The only possible explanation for Dutton and Morrison’s claims these people have suddenly become violent criminals and sexual predators is political opportunism. They want to create fear and uncertainty about the new medical assessments law. So, let’s run a ruler over the new law.

Firstly, medical transfers are not a new thing. Between 2012 and 2018 a total of 535 people have been transferred to Australia for medical assessment or treatment under the Federal Liberal Government[2]. The only two differences with the new law in this area are, first, the medical assessments must now be independent and second, the minister now has a more defined scope for when they can override the medical advice.

You may be surprised to learn that the minister has been spending nearly $250,000 of taxpayer money each year on lawyers to try and delay these transfers – not on security grounds, but because the government simply doesn’t like the medical advice they receive.

Despite this, they keep losing those cases, mostly because the previous laws were uncertain.  The new law makes the rules clear and stops this wasteful government spending. The minister still reserves the right to veto transfers that might pose a security risk to Australia.

Look at this exact extract of the new law and you’ll soon see someone is telling fibs.

And then comes the question of stopping the boats – or not stopping them, as the case may be.

According to the Parliamentary Library, there have been 29 boat arrivals between December 2013 and August 2016[3] carrying 740 asylum seekers. It’s hard to get figures out of the relevant departments from recent years, but a number of sources indicate that figure is now at 33 boats and 820 people.

Do a quick Google search of “Cairns Refugee Boat” and a bunch of articles come up about the brazen boat arrival in August 2018 that contained 17 people from Vietnam. Our favourite story of the time was how some FNQ locals responded by taking some of the boat arrivals fishing and offering them a couple of cold tinnies – now that’s some true Aussie hospitality!

Source: News Corp

And when exactly is a boat arrival not a boat arrival? Let’s see how the Australian Border Force (ABF) bosses answered that question in Senate Estimates a little while back.

So, now we know the boats haven’t stopped and medical transfers have been happening for years. What has changed is that the rules are clearer so we stop wasting taxpayer dollars on useless legal cases.

Does all of this really point to a government saying it’s strong on borders when in fact it is actually weak on borders? Not really, but it certainly shows a government willing to lie through its teeth to the voting population.

But it also ignores all the other measures of a strong border.

Let’s move away from the three-word slogans and look at the whole immigration picture.

  • As at July 2018 over 64,000 people are in Australia illegally after overstaying their Visa.[4]
  • A secret internal government report released in January 2018 claims there are over 60,000 undocumented people hiding in Australia.[5]As at 31 December 2018 there were approximately 1.5 million visa holders with some form of work rights, nearly 70,000 more visa holders with work rights than compared to December 2017.[6]
  • There are over 150,000 “education visas” which allow people to continue to work here for up to 4 years after they’ve finished studying with no requirement to work in an occupation related to their field of study.[7]
  • Over the past four years nearly 64,000 asylum seekers arrived by plane, nearly double the annual boat arrivals that occurred under the last ALP Government.[8] 

Can we be reminded which political party has lost control of our borders?

To make matters worse, a recent report into wage theft[9] found the rates of exploitation of migrant workers was rampant and the government was doing very little, if anything, to fix this problem. The electricity industry is not immune to this issue, as demonstrated by the ETU’s recent submission to a Senate Inquiry on the Effectiveness of the Current Temporary Skills Visa System.[10]

That submission highlighted the Morrison Government spin-job claim that under its watch 457 Visa numbers are falling. This is true, but only because the government changed the visa’s name.

In reality, the government created a new sub-class 400 Visa to accommodate the shonky, so-called “free trade” deals it has negotiated. These deals actually provide for a visa to allow foreign workers to come to Australia for 3-12 months on the condition they are paid their home countries’ wages – not Australian wages and conditions. These agreements mean no labour-market testing, no skills testing and no Australian wages.

Australia’s solar construction industry is rampant with foreign worker exploitation, most of which is either sanctioned or ignored by the current Federal Liberal Government.

So, in the lead up to the Federal Election we really need to look at what the major political parties are saying around formal policies that seek to do something about this mess.

READ MORE: Solar farms: Warnings to watch out for foreign workers treated like slaves

So far, the Liberal Party has not published any useful policy on these issues. They have announced their plan to privatise Australia’s visa processing facilities and they have published a commitment to continue their so called “strong borders” policy, despite all the evidence contrary to Australia actually having a strong border under the Liberals’ watch.

The ALP has released a range of long-overdue policies aimed at fixing free-trade deals and the skilled visa system, including ensuring labour market testing, proper skills assessments and renegotiating trade deals with Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions in them that allow foreign governments and corporations to sue Australian governments (and you the taxpayer) over changes to our laws. [11]

Much more is needed in this space and voters should be watching carefully for which party is prepared to announce a full set of genuine policies to stop the current rorting Australia has experienced over the past decade through free-trade deals that allow corporations to bring anyone into Australia they want, regardless of whether there is a skills shortage or not.

Let’s face it, screaming "they’re all terrorists" about one thousand people we locked on an island for five years – many fleeing places our country bombed – seems like a pretty low act, particularly when the government knows and has previously admitted they aren’t bad people.

It should make you mad when you realise nothing is being done about exploited foreign labour being given priority over unemployed Australians who are increasingly facing no real job opportunities. Your blood should boil when you see this is being endorsed in trade deals.

The reality is, under this Liberal Government our borders are leaking more than the boats that allegedly no longer arrive.

Just another reason why we need to keep campaigning and fighting to #ChangeTheRules













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