Tuesday, 10 December 2013

ABC AM:10/12 Fact Check shows Govt not disclosing full story on boat arrivals

Fact Check shows Govt not disclosing full story on boat arrivals

Tony Eastley reported this story on Tuesday, December 10, 2013 08:09:00

TONY EASTLEY: The ABC's Fact Check unit has obtained figures which show that the Immigration Minister Scott Morrison's claims about boat arrivals don't tell the full story.

Mr Morrison claims that there's been an 80 per cent reduction in boat arrivals since the Coalition Government's Sovereign Borders policy came into effect.

John Barron is from the Fact Check Unit.

John Barron, good morning. That 80 per cent claim on asylum seeker arrivals - have they dropped off by that much? 

JOHN BARRON: Good morning Tony. Yes, indeed they have. So on the face of it, Scott Morrison's claims that asylum seeker arrivals are down 80 per cent does check out. But it gets interesting if you drill down into the numbers. Because it all comes down to how you measure the number of arrivals, the percentage that that represents. 

Back in July when Kevin Rudd first announced the regional resettlement program basically that asylum seekers would not ever be able to come to Australia, so that's where PNG and Nauru came back into the equation, there was a discernable drop-off from that point in July 19th right through until the time of the election and Operation Sovereign Borders coming in with the new government. 

There was about a 60 per cent decline in that two month period. Since then, that decline has continued. But what's important about this is that Scott Morrison is claiming that it's Operation Sovereign Borders that has created this decline whereas the data and the analysis that we have done, says that in fact this decline, this trend, began in July, under the regional resettlement program. It has continued since then along that track. But Scott Morrison's claim of credit doesn't quite check out. 

TONY EASTLEY: Can Labor then claim credit for the drop-off in boat arrivals? 

JOHN BARRON: If only it was that simple as well, Tony. As it turns out, yes Labor can claim some credit in terms of, it was on their watch that a decline began. But why did it begin? The UNHCR says that yes, factors such a telling people that they will never resettle in Australia, that does have an impact, to be sure. 

But also, at about that same time in July, perhaps just as importantly, Indonesia changed the way in which it administered visas, particularly to Iranians arriving in Indonesia, using Indonesia as a transit point to Australia. So an administrative change such as that can also make a significant difference. 

And we are talking about a significant difference. There was more than 430 asylum seekers arriving in Australia every week back in July and August. That declined quite quickly. It's now down to around 70. 

But of course when you're dealing with relatively small numbers as well, percentage declines like 80 per cent become problematic, because one boat can suddenly change that whole picture. So in a statistical sense, to be making claims of success or failure and claiming credit and so on from here, is very problematic. 

TONY EASTLEY: So sheeting home cause and effect is a very grey area in this case? 

JOHN BARRON: It is. We'll just have to wait and see and be a bit patient to see how these policies turn out, because we have seen big spikes and big declines in the number of asylum seeker arrivals in the past. 

Just last year we saw a similar peak and trough as well. So there could be seasonal factors, there could be other factors as well. 

TONY EASTLEY: The ABC Fact Check unit's John Barron.

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