Home » Experts fear Australia's border control squabbles could entice people smugglers

Experts fear Australia's border control squabbles could entice people smugglers

Key Points
  • Border control has become a hot button political issue after at least 39 men arrived in Australia by boat last week.
  • Peter Dutton accused Anthony Albanese of failing to stop the boats.
  • Operation Sovereign Borders retains the support of the Albanese government, despite associations with the Coalition.
A boat from Indonesia carrying at least 39 men made landfall last week in Australia’s far north.
The passengers, believed to be from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, near a remote Indigenous community close to the former Western Australian church mission of Beagle Bay. By Sunday afternoon, all of them had been flown to an offshore immigration detention centre in Nauru.
The incident has over Australia’s border security, with Opposition leader Peter Dutton accusing Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of giving people smugglers a "green light".
"It's clear [the Labor government] don't have the same surveillance in place that we had when we were in government," Dutton told reporters on Monday.
"I understand how Operation Sovereign Borders works. When we came into government, people had been drowning at sea … We stopped the boats and we kept them stopped." Albanese accused Dutton of being "a cheer squad for things that undermine our borders" and reiterated earlier comments made by Rear Admiral Brett Sonter, Commander of the Joint Agency Task Force Operation Sovereign Borders, in which he warned that allegations of weak border security could embolden people smugglers further.

What is Operation Sovereign Borders?

In a statement released on Friday, Sonter stressed that "the mission of Operation Sovereign Borders remains the same today as it was when it was established in 2013: protect Australia’s borders, combat people smuggling in our region, and importantly, prevent people from risking their lives at sea".
"Any alternate narrative," he added, "will be exploited by criminal people smugglers to deceive potential irregular immigrants and convince them to risk their lives and travel to Australia by boat".
Established in 2013, Operation Sovereign Borders is a military-led border security operation that takes a hard-line, zero-tolerance stance towards unapproved sea arrivals.
Those suspected of attempting such arrivals into Australia are typically either intercepted and turned back or placed in mandatory offshore detention, in places such as Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.
Implemented shortly after the election of Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National government, the policy initiative is largely associated with the Coalition government.
Mary Crock, professor of Public Law at the University of Sydney’s Law School and an accredited specialist in immigration law, described its genesis as "a political response to trying to make our borders stronger, in the context of an election campaign fought on the basis that 'we will stop the boats'".
"It has to be seen in the context of a wider trend to securitise the whole migration process," Crock told SBS News.
"There were a raft of changes made at the same time, which over time have seen many, many more people being targeted for removal from the country, as well as a very effective campaign to exclude people."

Do the major parties differ?

since coming to power in 2022. And while each major party seems eager to criticise the other’s allegedly lax, dubious or problematic approach to border security, they share the same position on the policy.
Don Rothwell is a professor of international law at the Australian National University’s College of Law.
"As things currently stand, there is effectively no change or no difference between the two major parties," he told SBS News. "The Albanese government effectively adopted and endorsed Operation Sovereign Borders."
There are several possible reasons why politicians have leapt on this latest arrival and the perceived failures in border control that it allegedly represents.
Rothwell explained that the success of Operation Sovereign Borders is considered by many Liberal-National politicians as a legacy of recent Coalition governments.
"Any sign that those legacies are being dismantled, any weakening of the way in which Australia conducts Operation Sovereign Borders by a Labor government, is perhaps inevitably seized upon for political purposes," he said.
There are also historical reasons for Dutton to think such tactics might work. As Crock pointed out, the issue of who to trust with policing Australia’s borders all but won the Coalition the federal election in 2013.
"The interesting thing for me is whether you can do that twice," Crock said. "I suspect you can't."

How can political statements embolden people smugglers?

Regardless of whether his approach garners support, Dutton's criticisms of the government over perceived failures to stop boat arrivals could have serious repercussions, experts say.
Far from stopping the boats, such rhetoric could, as Rear Admiral Sonter suggested, incentivise people smugglers to leverage the perceived loopholes and send more vessels.
Crock has seen firsthand how this knock-on effect plays out on the ground.
"I've been in Indonesia, I've been in the homes of people smugglers there, I've been taken around and I know how they operate," she said.
"Everybody's on a mobile phone, everyone's got immediate communications, and the smugglers use the language that is coming out of the [Australian] politicians 100 per cent to sell their dangerous voyages."
Crock said she’s also spoken to asylum seekers who were issued with tickets that made it look as though they were boarding a proper ocean liner, only to be forced onto dinghies by the people smugglers and taken out to sea.
"[People smugglers] are not nice people," she said. "They're murderous, evil, horrible people, and they're absolutely using the politics. [Dutton] knows it so well and doesn't care."
Crock said she doesn’t see last week’s arrival of the men in Western Australia as indicative of a "long-term, big problem". As she pointed out, Australia’s border authorities, with the cooperation of counterparts overseas in countries such as Indonesia and Sri Lanka, have maintained a successful strategy of stopping, intercepting and turning back boat arrivals.
In rare cases where vessels do slip through the cracks and reach Australian shores without authorities knowing about it, she said, "there’s always a reason". This latest incident happened to coincide with a major event in Indonesia: namely, the world’s biggest one-day election.
"At a particular time when John Howard had his massive surge in boats, in 1999 through 2001, it coincided with East Timorese independence and relationships with Indonesia were never poorer," Crock said.
"I think this event probably relates to the disruption of the election in Indonesia."
What’s your Reaction?

Leave a Comment

To prove you're a person (not a spam script), type the security word shown in the picture.
You can enter the Tamil word or English word but not both
Anti-Spam Image