Fewer boats since border freeze but the jury's still out
By Phillip Coorey
The Sydney Morning Herald, April 27, 2010
The flow of asylum seekers arriving by boat has slowed since the Rudd government toughened its approach to Sri Lankans and Afghans but nobody is prepared to say whether the effect will be lasting.
An analysis by the Herald shows that since April 9, when the government announced the policy change, seven boats had been intercepted in Australian waters.
Of these, three were already en route when the policy change was announced, meaning four boatloads of asylum seekers knowingly set sail since the announcement.
In the equivalent period leading to the announcement, authorities intercepted 16 boats in Australian waters, four times the number.
In an effort to discourage Afghan Hazaras and Sri Lankan Tamils, both of whom constituted the vast majority of arrivals, the government suspended the processing of new arrivals for six months and three months respectively.
When the government announced the changes, the Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, said he did not expect there to be an immediate effect on the number of boat arrivals.
Yesterday, a spokesman for the Home Affairs Minister, Brendan O'Connor, said it was too early to draw any conclusions. ''We'll be looking at the trend after more time,'' he said.
The opposition immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, concurred but said the government was damned either way.
If it were found that the boats had slowed because of the policy change, he said it ''puts paid'' to the government's previous claims about ''pull factors'' not being responsible for the steady increase in arrivals.
The latest arrival on Sunday of a boat carrying 49 passengers and two crew was the 118th arrival since the election of the Rudd government, and the 46th this year.
Mr Morrison noted that the number of arrivals for the financial year 2009-10 was now a record 4200. He said the May 11 budget must detail how much the government's ''failed policies''' have cost taxpayers. The budget last year based costs on an estimate of 200 arrivals for this financial year.
In the midyear economic outlook released in November, it increased the estimate to 1400 arrivals, at a budgetary cost of $134 million.
''With this year's arrivals now at 4200, we can expect an additional bill of more than $200 million, based on the figures previously provided by the Immigration Department,'' Mr Morrison said.
He also demanded the government come clean on the health of asylum seekers being transferred to the mainland from Christmas Island.
Yesterday 2UE reported that of 60 asylum seekers transferred to the mainland, 11 were wearing masks.