“Stop the boats”.
It was the catch-cry of Coalition MPs every day for three years. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott was barely seen in public without promising that his Government would stop the boats. Stop the boats and turn them back where safe to do so.
The current Government’s promise was that their policy would be unshakeable. They would be firm. Decisive. Authoritative. There would be no caveats. No special circumstances. The best way, nay the only way to stop the boats was to intercept them before they reach our shores and tow them back, they insisted.
They would decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come…
But fast forward 7 weeks? Turns out stopping the boats isn’t quite that simple.
Over the weekend, Australia agreed to bring 63 asylum seekers to Christmas Island after a three-day standoff with Indonesia about who would take the desperate people. The asylum seekers were rescued only 80km from Indonesia’s shores and yet the ‘turning the boats back’ promise failed to eventuate.
Want to know more? So do we.
But we’ve got little more to report. Because during the stand-off and in the days following, the Government has been decidedly silent about what’s going on. This comes on top of their earlier decision to cease issuing a press release whenever an unauthorised boat was intercepted and instead hold bi-weekly press conferences where limited information would be released.
Well, fair enough, you might be thinking to yourself. After all, there are a lot of considerations in situations like this and Governments may well NEED to keep some information to themselves for reasons of national security. And besides, the previous Government were in the papers for the WRONG reasons every day, it’s kind of nice having a bit of a break from politics. Right? RIGHT?
Well, take a read of this edited transcript of what went down at the Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s press conference last week. It paints a picture of a Government flat out refusing to share any information about what’s going on and the early failure of a policy which was key to their election victory:
Q: What’s become of that boat of asylum seekers?
Campbell: “I will not comment further in relation to on-water matters. Thank you.”
Q: Are they on their way to Christmas island now?
Morrison: “These matters continue to be dealt with in the practice we have been adopting for the last eight weeks under Operation Sovereign Borders and we’ll continue to do it the way we have been doing it.”
Q: Can you comment on reports that the boat is still in trouble?
Morrison: “Well, I just said all the people that were assisted have been accounted for.”
Q: What sort of assistance did you give them?
Morrison: “Well, again, we’re not going to go into the micro detail of these operational matters.”
Q: Can you tell us what assistance that was?
Morrison: “So we can go around this for a lot longer but that is the position.”
There were many reasons that Labor were voted out and the Coalition were successful in the last election. There is no question about that. But surely, surely, it is unquestionable that a major factor in deciding that outcome was the Coalition’s promise that they would stop the boats.
Since coming to Government, they’ve been doing things differently in this policy area. Fair enough, they were elected to do things differently. But they weren’t elected to hide the truth, to try and cover up policy failures and to starve the media – and through the media you, the public – of information.
Australians are rightly asking for answers. And it’s about time the Government started listening.