One of the Abbott/Turnbull Governments’ greatest achievements in office under Immigration Ministers Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton is stopping the boats. The people smuggling trade and our processing centres being filled to the brim with asylum seekers as they were under the Rudd/Gillard Labor governments is now behind us. A successful unauthorised boat arrival has not arrived on our shores for over three years.
We know that the boats will return under a future Labor Government, their weakness on border protection has been constantly on display with their approach to the men on Manus Island and their backbenchers constantly going rogue on asylum seeker policy.
This approach of the Australian Labor Party would appear to have been replicated across the Tasman. New Zealand Labour’s new Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, a vocal social justice advocate has been eager to display her bleeding heart not just to New Zealanders but on the international stage.
She has gone out of her way to blast Australia over the closure of the Manus Island Detention Centre and restated New Zealand’s offer to take 150 of the men on the Island along with $3 million in humanitarian assistance stating, “I think it’s clear that we don’t see what’s happening there as acceptable, that’s why the offer’s there.”
The Australian government has rejected this offer given that allowing these men to settle in New Zealand who had come by boat to Australia would provide them with a back-door way to Australia and settlement in country very similar in culture and living standards to Australia.
The people smugglers are looking for any sign of weakness from our government on border protection to restart sending boats our way. And it would seem they have been listening to Ardern’s statements very closely as it was recently reported that four asylum seeker boats had been stopped by Australian authorities destined for New Zealand.
This report has not gone unnoticed in New Zealand with the media and the opposition pressing the government about the state of the nation’s border protection. The Ardern Government has responded along with senior public servants by doing its best to discredit the reports.
The Minister responsible for New Zealand’s intelligence agencies former Labor leader Andrew Little dismissed the possibility that these boats had the capacity to reach New Zealand “It’s simply not credible for someone in a rickety old boat – designed for at best two or three days at sea – to say they’re going to sail from Indonesia down to New Zealand”.
Jacinda Ardern stated she had been briefed on four boats that were bound for New Zealand but did not say if they were recent. The Deputy Secretary of New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Jeff Langley told the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs select committee that these four boats were historical incidents.
Langley also denied that New Zealand was at greater target for the people smugglers as a result of their offer to take the men on Manus Island “I wouldn’t say we’ve increased our risk. The chatter that we hear with respect to the possibility of mounting ventures to New Zealand has always been part of the people smugglers’ business model.”
Of course, the first stage in any government policy failure is denial that it is occurring. The four boats that have been stopped by Australian authorities would only be the start, as Australia found out from 2008 onwards when the boats slowly returned at first, but during the Gillard years one boat a day was arriving at our shores.
The people smugglers have demonstrated throughout their existence that safe travel to the country of destination for asylum seekers is not of concern to them. Andrew Little may be right that these boats not might not make it to New Zealand, but I’m sure he would not be happy to see these boats sink on the way to New Zealand that had been lured there thanks to his government’s actions.
The tyranny of distance may save New Zealand from Australia’s previous border protection disasters. New Zealand’s border policy should concern Australians as our authorities will likely be stopping these boats at our expense.
The Ardern Government’s action should also demonstrate to Australians and New Zealanders once again that soft rhetoric on border policy from our governments opens up the floodgates to an avalanche of boats and asylum seekers. For both our nations’ sake let us hope we will not see the boats return to either of our shores.