09 July 2010

What is border protection?

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and his excitable immigration spokesman Scott Morrison would have us believe, on the basis of the trickle of refugees arriving in our maritime zone, that the situation is “out of control” and that we are the subject of a silent invasion.

When in 2005 the Howard Government established a joint agency combining the resources, expertise and assets of Customs, Defence, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) and the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS), it chose a nice emotive title for it – Border Protection Command. The general public normally hears about it only in connection with the apprehension of asylum seeker boats, so the impression is left that this is a Defence Force Command that we have had to establish in order to “protect” our borders from what might be termed “the invasion of the boat people”.

If you consult the homepage of Border Protection Command here, you will find that the Command is responsible for coordinating and controlling operations to protect Australia's national interests against the following maritime security threats:

-  Illegal exploitation of natural resources
-  Illegal activity in protected areas
-  Irregular maritime arrivals
-  Prohibited imports/exports
-  Maritime Terrorism
-  Piracy
-  Compromise to Bio-security
-  Marine pollution.

When one considers that Australia’s maritime territory is of the order of twice the size of our land area, it will be seen that we have a vast amount of territory to oversight and that apprehension of “irregular maritime arrivals” is only a small part of Border Protection Command’s remit.

Regarding the proposition that a rising number of boat arrivals shows that the Government has “lost control of our borders”, I would have thought that the very fact that we detect and apprehend all arrivals demonstrates that our borders are very much under control.  Where is the evidence that people are slipping into the country by boat without Australian authorities exercising control?

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