"You think Australia’s got problems, try a figure of as much as one thousand illegal immigrants entering my country per night". These are the words of one European country’s Ambassador to me some four weeks ago when we were discussing the question of the recent illegal boat arrivals.
The first thing that needs to be said is that while Australia’s illegal immigrant problem is as bad as it has been for many years and even worse than the period of the Vietnam boat arrivals, it nevertheless is a minor problem compared to that being experienced by many overseas countries.
The world is facing a huge refugee problem and being an international problem it follows that an international response has to be found.
Australia is fortunate because we are a country surrounded by vast stretches of ocean.
Most recently the transitional point for illegal immigrants has been Indonesia.
Why then, has Australia suddenly become a target for illegal immigrants often arriving as willing victims of organised people smuggling gangs?
To answer this question I believe we only need to look at events that occurred when the Australian public witnessed the spectacle of a large boat carrying boat people, beaching itself at Holloway’s Beach near Cairns in Far North Queensland, completely undetected. In fact, it was a newsagent who first spotted them walking along a North Queensland road who alerted the authorities.
Not long thereafter a similar occurrence saw a bowls green keeper alert authorities when another ship was seen off the coast of Nambucca Heads in Northern New South Wales.
These two incidents sparked a furore amongst the Australian public, resulting in the Prime Minister getting involved and ordering a second inquiry under Max Moore-Wilton. This inquiry superseded another inquiry set up by Philip Ruddock, then headed by Commissioner Allan Heggen.
The Prime Minister acted after he heard the public outcry most probably on his favourite radio talkback programs.
As a result of the Max Moore-Wilton inquiry the Prime Minister later announced a package of measures costing some $124M which he said would enhance our coastal surveillance capacity and led us to believe that this would stop the continual incursions and breaches of our borders.
Obviously the measures have not worked. Indeed, if the Government and the Australian public are searching for one major reason why Australia is seen as an easy target by the people smugglers it is that they think we are amateurs when it comes to securing the integrity of our national borders.
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