Asylum seekers who attempt to land on Australian shores by boat will be turned away to Indonesia, effective today.
Tony Abbott is sworn in as Australia’s 28th prime minister this morning and has pledged to enforce Operation Sovereign Borders to combat people smuggling and the influx of ‘boat people’ arriving on Australia’s shores.
Abbott said the government of Australia has changed and will impose a conservative policy against asylum seekers with tighter border protection.
Operation Sovereign Borders sets out a military-led response to incoming asylum seeker boat arrivals led by a three-star commander. The new government will also enforce Operation Relex II, an operation to turn back asylum seekers’ boats “where it is safe to do so”. Op Relex II is the Australian Defence Force operation that detects, intercepts, and deters vessels transporting unauthorised arrivals from entering Australia through the North-West maritime approaches.
Deputy Chief of Army Angus Campbell has been picked to head Operation Sovereign Borders. News of the impending appointment came ahead of the new Prime Minister’s trip to Indonesia on September 30.
The Department of Immigration and Citizenship has also been changed to Department of Immigration and Border Protection to usher in the new era. Along with this, the Abbott government will stop granting permanent protection visas to undocumented boat arrivals and will reintroduce the processing of temporary protection visas which will deny permanent residency in Australia.
The Papua New Guinea Solution introduced by former PM Kevin Rudd has been criticized by human rights organizations as inhumane, and therefore not acceptable to provide a solution for displaced people.
Abbott earlier unveiled his plan to turn back asylum seekers who boarded boats from Indonesia. The $440 million scheme includes buying old Indonesian fishing boats, paying coastal village heads for information, and deploying Australian policemen to Indonesia to arrest people smugglers.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natelegawa said the policy is problematic and Indonesia is sure to reject it. He said Indonesia would have to differentiate between the political campaign Abbott was trying to win and what the reality would be once he is sworn in.
Australia’s new Foreign Affairs Minister, and Australia’s only female Cabinet member, Julie Bishop said the Coalition will negotiate with Indonesia on all aspects of its asylum seeker policy where possible. Bishop said Indonesia’s perception of the policy is immaterial and what is needed is ‘understanding’ on how Australia tries to work out a solution. It will be discussed during upcoming formal bilateral meetings with Indonesian officials.
In Indonesia, local observers were already displeased with the plan, saying Abbott insulted the country’s sovereignty. Local newspapers such as the Straits Times and the Jakarta Globe have quoted observers including Professor Hikmahanto Juwana, dean of Universitas Indonesia’s law faculty, who said in a statement, “Mr Abbott came up with these programmes as if Indonesia is a part of Australia, without sovereignty… He insults the government of Indonesia, making us mercenaries doing his dirty work for the sake of money.” Juwana called on the Indonesian government “to speak out against these plans lest it lose the trust of Indonesians.”
Mahfudz Siddiq, head of Parliament’s foreign affairs commission, also described the proposals as “degrading and offensive to the dignity of Indonesians”.
At home, prominent barrister and asylum seeker advocate Julian Burnside has proposed that the entire state of Tasmania be turned into an immigration detention centre.
He has rejected Rudd’s Papua New Guinea solution as well as the Coalition’s plan to process asylum claims in the Pacific.
“If politicians are obsessed with the idea that asylum seekers must be kept in detention then that could be legally satisfied by declaring the island of Tasmania a place of detention,” he said.
He said it would save Australia about $3 billion a year. He suggested the Federal Government can give the Tasmanian Government $1 billion a year as “a thank you”.
The response in Tasmania has not been positive. The We say NO to Declaring Tasmania an Immigration Detention Centre Facebook group has gained more than 11,000 members in just one week after Burnside’s comments. The other camp, We Say Yes to Asylum Seekers in Tasmania, had almost 1,000 fans at time of writing.