September 20, 2013
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s office has clamped down on information about asylum-seekers issued by his department and border protection agencies.
Previously, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service has issued statements whenever an asylum-seeker boat arrived and the Immigration Department provided collated figures each month, which they made publicly available.
But inquiries to both the department and border protection service on boat arrivals are now being directed to the minister’s office. Mr Morrison’s spokesman is declining to provide any information.
During the election campaign, Mr Morrison flagged the possibility that boat arrivals would no longer be reported if the Coalition won government. He said at the time this would be an “operational matter” for the three-star head of the Coalition’s new Operation Sovereign Borders taskforce.
Mr Morrison’s spokesman reaffirmed on Friday that it would be up to the newly appointed military head of Operation Sovereign Borders, Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell.
It is unclear whether General Campbell has yet issued a directive. As of Friday afternoon, sources on Christmas Island – to which asylum-seekers on intercepted boats are initially taken – were saying there had been no boats in recent days.
When Fairfax Media asked on Friday for information from the Immigration Department on recent boat arrivals and the number of people asylum-seekers living in the community on bridging visas, a spokeswoman initially said she would locate the information.
But she called back and said inquiries were now being dealt with by the minister’s office.
Mr Morrison’s spokesman did not respond directly to the inquiries but said the “decision to release information on Operation Sovereign Borders will be a matter for the Operational Commander. Further information on Operation Sovereign Borders will be released soon.”
During a National Press Club debate between Mr Morrison and then immigration minister Tony Burke during the election campaign, Mr Morrison said publishing information about boat arrivals would be “an operational decision, as part of Operation Sovereign Borders, for the three-star military officer”.
Mr Morrison has declined all interview requests this week from Fairfax Media. Tony Abbott vowed when he was sworn in as Prime Minister on Wednesday to get to work on Operation Sovereign Borders immediately, with the goal of stopping asylum-seeker boats as soon as possible.
Mr Morrison held the first meeting with General Campbell and the new Operation Sovereign Borders taskforce on Thursday.
Mr Abbott has vowed “more forthright” interdictions of asylum-seeker vessels in the seas to Australia’s north.
“Do I think that the boats will stop dead on day one of an incoming government? I wish, but it may not happen,” Mr Abbott said on Monday.
“But from day one the people smugglers and their customers will start to notice a very significant difference. Interdiction operations in the seas to our north will change and become more forthright.”