Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Opinion Piece: From Europe to Exmouth - border breaches remain

The chaos of uncontrolled migration across porous borders has left an indelible mark on Europe - its nations and its cities.

This mass movement of people into Europe continues today and although the numbers have fallen from peaks of recent years, they remain significant.

Europe will be dealing with this flood of people from across the Mediterranean for many years to come, just as Australia continues to pay for the consequences of a loss of border security between 2008 and 2013.

While the flood of illegal arrivals into Australia during that period is small in number in comparison to the European experience, in the Australian context it was a full blown crisis. It started as a trickle of boats and people in 2008 and culminated in 300 boats carrying 20,000 by 2013. In total, there were over 50,000 illegal arrivals on over 800 boats.

All these people, including over 8000 children, were put in immigration detention. The numbers in detention increased so quickly that Labor was forced to open 17 new detention centres.

Sadly, over 1200 people also died at sea trying to make this dangerous sea voyage.

The Australian people passed their judgement on the abject failure of Rudd and Gillard Labor Governments to maintain control of the nation's borders at the 2013 election – backing the Coalition's clear and firm policies to stem illegal arrivals via Operation Sovereign Borders.

In a few short months – July – it will be four years since the last successful people smuggling venture. In that very same month, Labor will debate whether to turn its back on Operation Sovereign Borders and return to the policies which created this chaos.

It was only by the barest of margins at the last Labor conference in 2015 that the party decided it would support the Coalition's boat turn-back policy.

Three years later, there are clear indications – candidate after candidate giving mealy-mouth answers on border protection – that the Left-dominated conference will implement another Labor boats policy which will be a "green light" to people smugglers.

There are three key pillars to  Operation Sovereign Borders – turning boats back when it's safe to do so, regional processing which denies illegal arrivals access to Australia and for those already here, issuance of a Temporary Protection Visa.

Labor has already publicly declared it will abolish Temporary Protection Visas if returned to office – in other words, under Labor, future illegal arrivals will gain permanent residency in Australia. That one policy change alone will see an armada of boats heading to Christmas Island under Labor.

As reported by News Ltd in February, Labor's Left faction, jostling for control of the policy agenda, have flagged their intention to abandon the second pillar of Operation Sovereign Borders – regional processing – and bring those on Nauru and Papua New Guinea to Australia.

Make no mistake, there are high level internal rumblings that the Left faction will also seek to remove Labor's support for turn-backs.

Operation Sovereign Borders cannot operate without its three key pillars. By removing any of them, Labor risks putting our border security back into the hands of the people-smugglers.

Despite the Government's warnings, Bill Shorten has learned nothing from the past and appears intent on repeating Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard's border protection mistakes.

Intelligence tells us the scourge of people-smuggling has not disappeared. Operation Sovereign Borders has successfully halted the boats for now, but we cannot allow ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of security by this success. There are at least 14,000 people in Indonesia who would board a vessel tomorrow if they believed they could get to Australia and not be sent to a regional processing centre.

Criminal people smuggling networks continue to market Australia as a destination as evidenced by the 32 boats with 800 people on board that have been intercepted by Operation Sovereign Borders. These criminals will stop at nothing to line their pockets while putting vulnerable people on dangerous sea-voyages. This is why the Government has been steadfast in maintaining its strong and consistent border protection policies.

Labor have always been soft on border security, consistently seeking the easy way out or convenient caveats to tough, necessary border protection policies.

The weakness of Bill Shorten will be on full display in July if he cannot stand up to the loonie Left and end this dangerous debate.

If Labor removes any one of the key pillars of Operation Sovereign Borders, the people smugglers will return in record numbers under a Shorten government. The chaos of children in detention will return. The deaths at sea will return.

For the safety and security of the nation, Bill Shorten cannot fail this test. Labor must support every limb of Operation Sovereign Borders in July.

**published in The Courier Mail**