Sunday, 03 February 2019
Asylum seeker children off Nauru - Opinion Piece
Very few people experience the near impossible choices a Border Protection Minister must make.
When Chris Bowen and Tony Burke had the responsibility when Labor was last in power, they received regular calls advising them that a people smugglers boat had sunk and women and kids had drowned or been mauled by sharks in open waters.
As a Minister it would be a terrible call to receive, not to speak of the lifelong anguish of our sailors responsible for recovering the bodies.
When I became Minister I resolved to keep our secure borders so as to never receive one of those calls and to date, thank God I haven't. I hope I never do. But to achieve that success and the incredible outcome of getting all of the kids out of detention is a wonderful milestone.
In this portfolio I do have to make tough decisions and those decisions are not always popular, but the success we have now achieved has been worth it.
The decisions to open 17 new detention centres to hold the illegal arrivals in the Labor years must have been tough ones for Chris Bowen and his colleagues. Knowing that children would be locked up and with no end date to their detention.
I have never put a single child on Nauru, but have helped get hundreds off and being able to close detention centres in Australia because the boats had stopped. It provided all the evidence I needed to know we had the policy settings of Operation Sovereign Borders absolutely right.
Millions of people want to come to Australia and we must have an orderly program or people die.
We are up against organised criminal people smuggling syndicates and they watch every word we say – looking for an opportunity to twist a word or massage a message to encourage people to pay to get on another boat.
When Labor was last elected to government in 2007 – there were no children in detention.
But then it dismantled John Howard's border protection matrix and the boats started again – over the next six years more than 800 of them would arrive illegally carrying over 50,000 people.
We know that at least 1,200 died at sea, but likely, there were many more.
Labor has walked away from Operation Sovereign Borders and it's not only Australians who have heard that message. Boats will restart if Bill Shorten is elected and new kids will be back in detention, because people smugglers have also heard the message.
Tragically people will drown at sea again.
As a father the thought of children in detention or an innocent child drowning at sea is a horrible one but strong resolve to keep our borders secure has to be matched by our compassionate treatment of people we bring in the right way.
Despite what the critics say our policies have saved lives and gotten kids out of detention. And of that I am very proud.
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Last update: Sunday, 03 February 2019