The Boat Arrival/Asylum Seeker issue has raised its head again as the NO Coalition Immigration spokesman (Scott Morrison) advised the populace that more asylum seekers have arrived on boats since Labor came to power in 2007 than people living in Alice Springs. Wow! Is that a frightening analogy, or what?
So more than 30,000 have come since 2007 eh? According to ‘Boat Arrivals in Australia Since 1976’, a Federal Government publication, some 19,614 people had arrived by boat from 2007 up to the 9th of July 2012. Doing a bit of additional digging I find that from Jan 2012 to July 6,765 people arrived by boat. Then 1,969 in August, 2,065 or 2,355 in September, 328 in October and, to date, 701 in November. That equates to 12,118 thus far in 2012. Using the other data (below) for 2007 to 2011, some 10,386 (give or take a few) have arrived over that period. So if my calculator is correct then that would suggest that some 22,504 have arrived since 2007 – not quite the 30,000 plus and somewhat less that the population of Alice Springs (27,589 according to the 2011 census). Hmmm? I get a discrepancy of some 7,496, or error on the numbers of some 25%%. Why do I feel that there’s a little porky pie (or two) in the statements coming from the NO Coalition’s Scott Morrison? Poetic licence perhaps – or deliberate obfuscation?
Well I guess we are all rather used to bold statements untrammelled by fact being made by our politicians, so a fuzziness of some 25% on quoted numbers is rather unremarkable.
SOURCE: ‘Boat Arrivals in Australia Since 1976’. Phillips & Spinks. Social Policy Section, Parliament of Australia. ARRIVAL DATA: 1976-1988: K Betts, ‘Boatpeople and public opinion in Australia’, People and place, vol. 9, no. 4, 2001, p. 34. Numbers of boats and crew members not specified. 1989–2008: DIAC advice provided to the Parliamentary Library on 22 June 2009 (excludes crew members). 2009–2012: Customs and Border Protection advice provided to the Parliamentary Library on 9 July 2012.
Being inquisitive and reasonably skilled in the manipulation of Excel I wondered what would happen if you considered boat arrivals, wars and respective Australian Governments. After a lot of cursing and faffing about, “how damned difficult is it for the relevant stats to be easily accessed on the net for God’s sake!”, the outcome was this (NB: there is no green blob where no people have turned up in boats);
So what can we glean from this little graphical compilation?
There have been arrivals over both Coalition and Labor periods of government since 1976. Yep! Pretty unsurprising that!
- It would seem that if the arrival rate is below 1,000 per annum the racist angst and ‘stop the boats’ fervour doesn’t happen. Interesting little theory!
- Despite the ‘Howard Pacific Solution’ there were still boat arrivals (5,804, ‘01 to ‘07), albeit small in number, sinking’s and boats towed back. So it reduced, but didn’t completely stop the boats. There’s also some debate about whether the removal of the Taliban from power in Afghanistan may have also had an effect.
- The heavy fighting in Sri Lanka over the period 1996 up to the ceasefire in 2002, plus the commencement of the Afghan war may account for the increase in the number of asylum seekers arriving by boat over this period (1999 to 2001). Or is it due to better cross-border access allowing improved refugee movements?
- The Asylum Statistics for the March quarter 2012 would suggest that the asylum seeker breakdown fiscally for ’09 to ’11 was; Afghanistan 44%, Iran 18%’ Sri Lanka 13% and, Iraq 8%, Others 17%. Hmmm, the presence of Iranian refugees is surprising!
- Since the cessation of hostilities (2009) in the war in Sri Lanka there has been a dramatic increase in boat arrivals, this appears to have been compounded by refugees from both the Iraq and Afghan wars. Is this because of improved refugee movement across borders, a desire to get out of Afghanistan before the Taliban take over again, increased persecution driving more people from their countries, better supply/demand chains, faulty immigration laws, non-bipartisan politics – or maybe a compounding of all of these?
The issue of asylum seekers arriving by boat, and how Australia deals with them is complex, and many factors are involved in creating a refugee population in the first place. It’s not helped by political rantings about “Stopping the Boats’ or refusing to go along with the advice of a body specifically set up to provide solutions. Nor is it helped by making stupid comparisons about the size of towns and the number of arrivals whilst apparently using fuzzy refugee numbers to make the point. Additionally, the Green’s extremist position and total unwillingness to comprise on their position doesn’t help either – nor does it do a great deal for their credibility.
I suspect that while there is a lack of common ground and bipartisanship on this issue the boats will keep coming, the management of asylum seekers will become even more chaotic and the political opportunists will continue to try to take advantage from the plight of the asylum seekers. Because that, quite simply, is what it is – attempting to gain political advantage from others ‘in extremis’ One wonders if the way the asylum seeker issue is being handled says less about the complexities of the issue and so much more about the quality of our politicians – and that’s food for thought!
- Govt further toughens asylum policies (news.theage.com.au)
- Australia’s ‘overwhelmed’ asylum centers slammed (edition.cnn.com)
- Asylum seekers to be released into Australia (dailytelegraph.com.au)
- Australia opens PNG asylum camp (bbc.co.uk)
- First asylum seekers arrive on Manus Island (abc.net.au)
- Refugees to get $440 a fortnight (dailytelegraph.com.au)
- Australia’s immigration detention centres put spotlight on asylum seekers’ well-being (o.canada.com)