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Why won’t Immigration Minister Morrison provide information?

I’ve discovered that the Parliamentary Hansard records are an excellent source of information so for this post I have relied on the Hansard Proof from the first session of the first period of the forty-fourth parliament of Australia on the 13th of November 2013. The hansard proof is a record of the proceedings of parliament  (House of Representatives) that have been broadcast on national radio that day.

In the session on National Security, Manager of Opposition Business—Hon. Anthony Stephen Burke MP stated that:

the Prime Minister The Hon. Tony Abbott MP and Minister for Immigration and Border Protection The Hon. Scott Morrison MP have adopted a new culture of secrecy and are hiding information from the Australian people. The Minister has repeatedly refused to answer questions at weekly …briefings. That failure to answer questions has led the Australian people to rely on the Jakarta Post for information about their own Government. 

Burke went on to request that Morrison explain the status of:

  1. all discussions with Indonesia about the progress of Operation Sovereign Borders, including those discussions relating to a people swap arrangement with Indonesia;
  2. how the Government intends to pursue its election commitment to turn back boats to Indonesia and buy back boats in fishing villages; and
  3. whether measures have been effective in reducing the flow of asylum seeker vessels to Australia including the Regional Resettlement Arrangements with Papua New Guinea and Nauru and the abolition of visa on arrival arrangements in Indonesia for Iranians.

Morrison followed his policy since becoming a minister in Abbott’s government by not answering any of these questions and instead responded with the following propaganda:

  • ‘illegal’ (note 1) arrivals are down by 75 per cent (note 2) in the first eight weeks of Operation Sovereign Borders (note 3) coming into being. People are being stopped coming through the region through our active cooperation—in particular, with Indonesia but also with Malaysia and all the way up through the region and back to source countries.
  • These efforts have also benefited our partner Indonesia. Based on UNHCR figures, since the election of this government the number of people coming into Indonesia has fallen from 1,638 people to 602.

1. Professor of Law Jane McAdam, director of the Centre for International Refugee Law at the University of NSW asserted that “Asylum seekers aren’t doing something that is illegal by a matter of international law”)

2. From 18th September to 15th November 2013 OBS has intercepted 13 boats carrying 707 Asylum Seekers. But these numbers do not account for: seven boats detected with 475 passengers and 16 crew on board (from September 8 to September 21). A boat intercepted on September 26 with 44 asylum seekers on board was returned to Indonesian authorities, as was another intercepted on September 27 with 31 asylum seekers on board. A boat capsized off Java on September 27 with 80 on board, of whom at least 31 died. These figures also don’t include the 30 crew members that were on board these boats.

3. Operation Sovereign Borders is a new initiative of the Abbott Government and is a:

military-led, border security operation supported and assisted by a wide range of federal government agencies. The OSB Joint Agency Taskforce (JATF) has been established to ensure a whole-of-government effort to combat people smuggling and protect Australia’s borders. The JATF is supported by three operational task groups:

– Disruption and Deterrence Task Group—led by the Australian Federal Police;

– Detection, Interception and Transfer Task Group—led by the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, which includes Border Protection Command (BPC)

– Offshore Detention and Returns Task Group—led by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP).

The very secretive approach of Morrison on arrivals of boats has been a point of contention since the election on 7th September. On the 11th of November a boat carrying Somalian asylum seekers arrived in Darwin. Journalists attempted to ask for information from Australian maritime safety authority, the holding facility Blaydin, Darwin port authorities but were directed to the office of immigration and border protection and calls to immigration minister Scott Morrison’s office went unreturned. On the 13th of November Opposition immigration spokesman Richard Marles told journalists that Morrison should rectify his “arrogant” treatment of the public by addressing the issue during Question Time in Parliament.

Information should be managed to the Australian people on a public interest basis. A needs-to-know basis for managing information is simply not good enough,

When during Question Time in Parliament, Mr Marles asked Morrison :

Can the minister provide details about a boat carrying Somalian asylum seekers arriving on Monday evening, in Darwin?

Normally in Australian Parliament, during question time, ministers are meant to be held to account but Morrison put himself above question time and refused to answer the question and instead responded with the following evasive and weak answer:

This government is not running a shipping news service for people smugglers.

To which Mr Burke responded with this pearl:

it is no secret that the boats arrived; we just want to be able to use question time to elicit an answer from a minister. That is the fundamental of why we are here. To give an answer that is simply saying that they have a media strategy to not do that completely undermines the importance of question time and ministerial responsibility.

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This entry was posted on November 15, 2013 by in Giving and tagged , , , , , , .
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