Australians may never know how many asylum-seeker boats arrive under a Coalition government, with opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison refusing to release details about boat arrivals without the approval of a three-star general.
The Coalition has previously said it would appoint a three-star military officer to command a joint taskforce, which will include some 12 government agencies.
During a National Press Club debate between Mr Morrison and Immigration Minister Tony Burke on Tuesday, Mr Morrison said any decision to release information about the number of asylum-seeker boats bound for Australia, how many were on board or their interception, would be a matter for Defence. ”That will be an operational decision, as part of Operation Sovereign Borders, for the three-star military officer,” Mr Morrison said.
”I don’t think those decisions should be put in the hands of politicians … I think those decisions should be made by implementation officers and I’m quite happy to trust a three-star military officer of our armed forces.”
Under Labor, details about boat arrivals, including the number of asylum seekers and crew on board, and whether the boat was in distress when intercepted or rescued, are released as a matter of course.
Mr Burke said his natural inclination was to ”have strong views in favour of scrutiny” but said if the Coalition took power on Saturday, it may never be known when the first asylum-seeker boat had arrived under that government.
Mr Morrison signalled the Coalition could pull Australia out of the Refugee Convention if it felt it was in a refugee ”emergency”.
”On the issue of the Refugee Convention, the Menzies government signed it, John Howard stopped the boats without having to walk away from it and we’ve certainly not stated any intention to change that arrangement but in emergency measures we always leave all options on the table,” he said.
Mr Morrison was also challenged on his use of the term ”illegal arrivals” to describe asylum seekers arriving by boat. The Coalition has long described asylum seekers who arrive by boat as ”illegal arrivals”, relying on its use in the Refugee Convention.
But the convention states: ”States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened … or are present in their territory without authorisation, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.”
Mr Burke suggested the Coalition used the term due to a ”willingness to politicise and, dare I say it, demonise” asylum seekers.
”The motivation behind the language I think matters, too.”
But Mr Morrison said, ”The problem’s not the debate, the problem’s the policy failure.
”This issue goes away when the problem’s been fixed, and the only way this will be a non-issue is when the boats stop. That’s how we end this.”Source: Sydney Morning Herald – Number of arrivals may be a secret
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