The debate over the asylum seeker medical evacuation legislation is another reminder that no area of public policy has been more tainted by deceit and political mendacity than immigration. Those characteristics have shaped government policy in grievous ways, leaving us with a home affairs portfolio that breaches well-founded principles of public service organisation.
Prominent in the saga leading up to last week’s vote were prime minister Scott Morrison’s claim that he “stopped the boats” and secured Australia’s borders from asylum seekers. These claims have been systematically debunked by a former immigration department head, John Menadue, and two former deputy secretaries, Abul Rizvi and Peter Hughes, on Menadue’s website, Pearls and Irritations. Their rebuttal has been ignored by the mainstream media to the point where the journalist Peter Hartcher recently told his readers that “Scott Morrison was the immigration minister who restored control of Australia’s borders.”
The truth is somewhat different. In September 2011, Morrison, opposition leader Tony Abbott and the Greens blocked Labor legislation that would have implemented the “Malaysian Solution.” In all likelihood, those new laws would have significantly deterred asylum seekers from attempting the dangerous journey by boat. Without the legislation, 591 boats brought 39,070 people to Australia from October 2011 to July 2013. Tony Abbott has since expressed some regret about his role in blocking the plan; as far as I can tell, Scott Morrison hasn’t joined him.
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