Coalition launches Operation Sovereign Borders


Tony Abbott has long promised to make a difference to asylum seeker boat arrivals from day one in the top job and that day has finally come.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has long promised to make a difference to asylum seeker boat arrivals from day one in the top job.

That day has finally come and the Coalition has started implementing what it has dubbed Operation Sovereign Borders.

Click on the audio tab above to hear the SBS Radio news report.

Watch the video above for the TV report.

However, opposition to the plan continues.

"We are determined to honour our commitments to scrap the carbon tax, to stop the boats."

The Coalition says Operation Sovereign Borders will involve using the Navy to turn asylum seeker boats back to Indonesia when it's safe to do so.

It has also promised to pay Indonesians for intelligence on people-smuggling operations, and to buy Indonesian fishing boats likely to be used to transport asylum seekers.

The Operation will see Deputy Chief of Army Angus Campbell co-ordinate more than a dozen federal government departments and agencies involved in border protection.

He's being promoted to a three-star general, and given powers to by-pass normal Defence Force command structures, reporting directly to Immigration Minister Scott Morrison.

Major General Campbell, a former commander of Australian military operations in the Middle East, has also served as deputy national security adviser.

Executive director of the Australia Defence Association, Neil James, says it's important that General Campbell has had experience in both the military and the public service.

But he says the new government still needs to explain how a military officer will head up border control, which is a civilian law enforcement role.

"When this was announced six weeks ago we criticised this aspect of this and said it had to be clarified. It has never been clarified and I suggest General Campbell is going to have some difficulties until what the government actually wants in this regard is clarified."

Daniel Webb from the Melbourne-based Human Rights Law Centre is one voice of resistance to Operation Sovereign Borders.

"It militarises what is fundamentally a humanitarian issue. The other deceit is that it implies that it is Australia and our sovereignty and our borders that need protection from asylum seekers, But the truth is that it's asylum seekers that need protection from persecution."

Another critic of Operation of Sovereign Borders is former Defence Force chief Admiral Chris Barrie.

Mr Barrie says it will result in people smugglers sabotaging their own boats, and asylum seekers throwing themselves into the sea, rather than be turned back to Indonesia.

He has told the ABC it will inevitably mean that Australians will be forced to risk their own lives to save those of asylum seekers.

"Our people are going to jump into the sea to save their lives. They're going to do extraordinary things because they're so compassionate about it. I hope that no-one from our Navy or from the Customs Service will lose their lives but it puts people at risk and therefore it's pretty poor policy in my view."

Indonesia too is making its opposition to Operation Sovereign Borders known.

Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa recently called the policy a "problem" that Indonesia had to manage.

Australia's new Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says she will be speaking to Dr Natalegawa at upcoming United Nations meetings in New York.

She says the Coalition is not asking for Indonesia's permission to carry out the plan: it's asking for Indonesia's understanding.

It's an attitude interim Labor leader Chris Bowen says could severely damage Australia's relationship with Indonesia.

"You have to work with them cooperatively and turning around boats on the high seas to a country which refuses to cooperate and which has made its views very, very clear is a counter-productive policy."

The launch of Operation Sovereign also sees the government order the Immigration Department to issue Temporary Protection Visas to asylum seekers who have already arrived by boat.

For more than 23,000 people who arrived since last August, that means they will never get permanent residency in Australia.

Daniel Webb from the Human Rights Law Centre is highly critical of the move.

"They go to bed every night with no certainty about their future. They have no way of knowing whether one day they will be uprooted and returned. That I think is fundamentally cruel."

Since the election, hundreds more asylum seekers have arrived on boats.

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