Operational Sovereign Borders: New questions, same old answers.

Another Friday, another Operation Sovereign Borders “press conference”.

What did we learn today? Less cooperation from Indonesia, less boats and less people than at any time in the last five years. General Campbell also said boarding boats in the coming season would “invite tragedy”. Presumably this is also why some people are leaving wherever they came from however that was not mentioned.

We still do not know the composition or demographics of people seeking asylum. We still do not know the capacity of detention centres, despite the claim they will be doubled within 100 days of September 7. How this is to be verified is yet to announced. Instead, we get bogus comparisons from Morrison talking about arrival numbers under Operation Sovereign Borders and past ALP periods of government. Throw in a gratuitous negative reference to the latest UNHRC reports criticising these policies and you have a wrap.

What do the papers think of this performance?

The SMH highlighted the Indonesian cooperation angle with the headline “Indonesia leaves Scott Morrison in dark on detention centres”. This is because Indonesia is “planning to close its police detention centres and release all the asylum seekers that had been arrested for trying to get on boats to Australia”. This contrasts sharply with what Minister Morrison said last week about how a withdrawal of cooperation by Indonesia would not harm Operation Sovereign Borders. The claim Australia’s asylum seeker policy framework will be workable without Indonesian cooperation is contemptible and should be called out for what it is: a bald faced lie.

The Australian has run the AAP copy with the headline “Boat arrivals continue to slow”. This is an empirical fact but it also obscures the causation of the slowdown with Morrison’s actions under Sovereign Borders whereas the primary determinant factor is likely to be the PNG policy. I see no strong counter argument against this emerging narrative and this sets the scene 2014 littered with references to how Morrison stopped the boats.

One important note in the Australian story, absent from the SMH story, is the Australian government request for formal powers for security staff to search migrants at the Manus Island detention centre. This occurred in talks between the PNG Prime Minister, Minister Morrison and General Campbell this week. I do not know if this is a common request however I imagine this type of request by a foreign government to the Australian government would have trouble gaining approval. Thank you the Australian and AAP for highlighting this fact.

This demonstrates the dilemma of policy such as the PNG solution. The Australian government is heavily reliant on the PNG government to grant these types of powers for the safety of staff members however the PNG government is under no obligation to accept a change in their sovereignty. Over time, the longer this policy survives, the price of cooperation will continue to rise as PNG extracts an increasing amount of resources for payment. Despite these issues, on the whole, it seems to be effective at the goal, deterring people seeking asylum in Australia.

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