Coalition may censor boat arrivals

Coalition may censor boat arrivals

An elected Coalition government may prevent media from reporting the arrivals of asylum seeker boats, saying the decision to report boat arrivals should not be left in the hands of politicians.

Opposition Immigration spokesman Scott Morrison made the claim yesterday at the National Press Club, saying he would leave the decision to announce boat arrivals up to the three-star general who would head up his ‘Operation Sovereign Borders' policy.

The Opposition has made much political mileage out of publicising boat arrivals over the last term of parliament, saying each boat arrival was a Labor policy failure.

As it stands, the Department of Home Affairs publishes the details of every boat arrival, including where the boat was found, the number of people on board and the asylum seekers' final destination.

Mr Morrison now says the release of boat arrival information would be an 'operational decision'.

"I don't think those decisions should be put in the hands of politicians to use as this Government has on occasions," Mr Morrison told the National Press Club yesterday during a debate with Immigration Minister Tony Burke.

"I think those decisions should be made by implementation officers and I'm happy to trust one of the three-star military officers of our defence forces and I'm surprised Tony Burke's not."

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has made it clear he intends to stop boat arrivals, but Mr Burke says Australians will remain in the dark on whether the Coalition has lived up to its promise.

"Because Scott's not guaranteeing to let the media know the way Labor has, (former Liberal Prime Minister) John Howard has. He's already taken that promise off the table,'' he said.

"It may well be Australians are no longer told because he refused to re-commit to the information and the disclosure even occurring.''


Mr Burke and his opposition counterpart Scott Morrison were asked during a debate on immigration policy if they had any regrets about the way their parties had handled the asylum seeker debate.

The minister reiterated "big regrets" about Labor's failure to shift its policies in 2009 after changes in the global movement of displaced people.

"At that point, there was a new path-line of people smuggling and we needed to change our policies immediately," he told the National Press Club in Canberra on Tuesday.

"We didn't, and I believe we should've and I deeply regret the consequences," Mr Burke said.

He also expressed regret over the government's failure to garner support in parliament for its Malaysia people-swap legislation after the High Court ruled it unlawful in 2011.

"I wished we'd done some of what might've been needed to be done to make sure that that legislation would've gone through smoothly," he said.

"It's deep regrets (and) deep consequences from them."

Mr Morrison turned the focus back on the government when asked the same question.

"My biggest regret is I don't think I've been convincing enough to get the government to move earlier on these matters," he said.

"They've resisted our arguments for a very long time."

He conceded the asylum seeker debate was "very difficult".

"Engaging in the debate in this area is like walking on a razor blade most days and you need to be very careful," Mr Morrison said.

"Occasionally I've misspoken and I've made apologies for that when I have."