tip off

Get Fact: were there really 50,000 boat arrivals a year under Labor?

Tony Abbott has claimed that before he “stopped the boats”, they were coming in at a rate of 50,000 a year. Is that true? David Tittensor, a research fellow to the UNESCO Chair, with Deakin’s Centre for Citizenship and Globalisation, checks the claim.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has consistently said that the number of asylum seekers arriving by boat (or “illegal maritime arrivals”, in the government’s parlance) reached a rate  of almost 50,000 a year by midway through last year. But did it?

Certainly, if true, these are arresting figures. In fact, the government reported only 17,202 asylum seekers in 2012 and a further 13,108 to the end of June 2013, totalling 30,310 arrivals over a year and a half — a long way from 50,000 arrivals per year. So where did the 50,000 figure come from? If you look at the Liberal Party’s own press release from the August 7, 2013, it appears to refer to the total number of people who had arrived by boat since Kevin Rudd won office in 2007.

To be fair, one could suggest that this is possibly just a slip of the tongue. This can happen in the course of public speaking, as you have to always be on your toes, and as a result one can make the occasional blunder. Abbott has definitely made a few. Unfortunately, in this instance the Abbott government has made the same this claim over and over and there has been little interrogation of the figure. For example, the claim was repeated by Abbott this year on January 9, and most recently on Today on July 9. At no time was the figure questioned. It was simply reported, giving it the weight of being an accepted fact.

In July last year there was a spike of 4236 arrivals. However, the following month only 1585 arrived — the lowest count for five months at that time. Further, just 3753 asylum seekers arriving by boat between July 19 and September 17, 2013. In other words, the statistic that Abbott keeps referring to simply does not add up.

What becomes clear is that there is a dual message being run by the Liberal Party. There is the understated, more sober analysis that is provided to the party faithful in press releases on the website, while a far more fantastical message is peddled to the public in a bid to get people to hit the panic button and garner support for a heartless policy that will return desperate people to the country they are fleeing with the prospect of further persecution. Such is the potential fate that awaits 153 Sri Lankans currently being held on an Australian Customs vessel outside of our territorial waters, who are now the subject of a High Court challenge.

Adding further detail, and perhaps insult, to the current debate around asylum seekers is the fact that Abbott, in response to a case of a group of mothers on Christmas Island attempting to self-harm after hearing their children would have more chance of making it to Australia without them, has sought to take the moral high ground. Abbott stated that while the situation is “harrowing”, he would not capitulate to what he described as “moral blackmail”.

This, it seems, is a bit rich coming from a man who has no compunction about routinely fudging the statistics for political capital, particularly when there are people’s lives at stake. As such I have to agree with Sarah Hanson-Young’s recent assessment of Abbott as the one who is “morally bankrupt”. Though more importantly, more than just fellow politicians need to call him out. Surely it’s time the PM was held to account for this kind of behaviour.

*David Tittensor is a research fellow to the UNESCO Chair with Deakin’s Centre for Citizenship and Globalisation

58
  • 1
    Bill Hilliger
    Posted Tuesday, 22 July 2014 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    …surely it’s time the PM was held to account for this kind of behaviour. What! with the MSM stenographer-typists-churnalists that would take such a long time that pigs and emus will evolve to fly and soar like eagles,

  • 2
    klewso
    Posted Tuesday, 22 July 2014 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    One more Toady lie?

  • 3
    Bob's Uncle
    Posted Tuesday, 22 July 2014 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Ah yes, lets take the worst month of 4,200, extrapolate to an annual figure of 50,000 and repeat until it becomes part of accepted wisdom.

    But why stop there? If a single boat arrives carrying 300 people, well that is 300 in just one day. Which means people are arriving at a rate of nearly 10,000 per month or well over 100,000 per year. All from a single boat!

    Even better if we extrapolate to other areas.

    In Budget night, the Coalition announced 2 new taxes (excluding co-payments) - this is a rate of over 700 new taxes per year and over 2000 during their first term.

    In October 2013 the media reported on 6 Coalition members who had to repay expenses after being found to have rorted them - this equates to a rate of 72 Coalition MP’s rorting their espense per annum.

    On 13 July Germany won the World Cup at a rate of 365 per year.

    This is a game we can all play!

  • 4
    tonysee
    Posted Tuesday, 22 July 2014 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    The other part of the repeat-it-often-enough-and-it-becomes-fact game is ‘illegal maritime arrivals’ as alluded to at the top of the article. ‘Asylum Seeker, as a term, may have it’s own problems but at least it suggests a process. If, by your terminology, you’ve already decided that ‘they’ are engaged in something illegal, then your halfway to leaving them on a boat in the middle of waters when you have no legal right to do so … oh yeh, they’ve done that.

  • 5
    Brendan King
    Posted Tuesday, 22 July 2014 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    this is exactly how feminists fabricate r.ape “statistics”

  • 6
    MAREE WHITTON
    Posted Tuesday, 22 July 2014 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Time to let go people, your chance will come around again at the next election. If the Abbott government fail then they will be voted out. No need to carry on with all the vitriol. That’s what democracy is all about.

  • 7
    Jaybuoy
    Posted Tuesday, 22 July 2014 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    He can only do what is “humanly possible”…(smack lips)
    The Berlusconi combover however could do with some divine intervention..Its breathtaking to hear Abbott and Bishop carry on about Putin and transparency when you consider the death of Berati and the coverup going on.. and the sanctity of the bodies when you consider their treatment of the relatives of Leo Seemanpillai

  • 8
    Andrew Davison
    Posted Tuesday, 22 July 2014 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Technically, and it pains me to say it, Abbott is correct: the July 2013 figure of 4236 arrivals is a “rate” of 50,000 per year. And like Bob’s Uncle, we can all play at that game. Unfortunately, doing so would be like mud wrestling a pig - you can never win, and the pig enjoys it. Once we start saying “it was only 20,000” we have lost the argument.

  • 9
    The Cleaning Lady
    Posted Tuesday, 22 July 2014 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    Take the worst month and multiply by 12, conveniently forgetting the effect of the hurricane season.

    Lies.

  • 10
    DaveinPerth
    Posted Tuesday, 22 July 2014 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    60 seconds to murder Reza Berati.
    60min x 24h x 365d =

    SCOTT MORRISON MURDERING ASYLUM SEEKERS
    AT A RATE OF 525,600 PER YEAR !

  • 11
    jaybeen
    Posted Tuesday, 22 July 2014 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    Straight out of the “Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics” game book - so easy when anything published and repeated becomes the perceived truth.

  • 12
    Steve777
    Posted Tuesday, 22 July 2014 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    And never forget that the Coaltion rejected the Malaysia solution because they didn’t want the boats to stop before they won office.

  • 13
    David Hand
    Posted Tuesday, 22 July 2014 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    I get the point that extrapolating 1 month’s arrivals to an annual rate is pretty crude spin but the breathless outrage in this article carries its own shovel load of spin as well.

    Last July marked the high point of asylum seeker arrivals as part of an alarming steady rise over the previous year apart from a lull in the monsoon season.

    It was 19 July 2013, in the middle of this record high month, that Kevin Rudd announced the PNG policy as part of his realisation that numbers would most likely keep rising unless drastic action was taken.

    Your omission of this major political intervention that stopped the rise in boats in its tracks is a fact (you guys do like facts, don’t you?) that is highly relevant to the fairly vacuous point this article is trying to make. When you say, “It was a spike” you represent it as an random event when there is a high probability that it was rendered as such by Rudd’s new policy.

    It’s like saying, “water was gushing from this tap in a spike from 3.30 but stopped at 4 o clock” without mentioning that you turned the tap on at 3.30 and 4 o clock happened to also be the moment you turned the tap off.

    In the context of the rapidly increasing tide of boat people last year, extrapolating the alarming trend to 50,000 is not as unreasonable as your article makes out.

    But go ahead, maintain the rage.

  • 14
    rhwombat
    Posted Tuesday, 22 July 2014 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    One Hand Clapping @#12: Gander, meet goose.

  • 15
    DaveinPerth
    Posted Tuesday, 22 July 2014 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Well, Mr Hand !

    (Just wanted to say it.)

  • 16
    Yclept
    Posted Tuesday, 22 July 2014 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    Well David, nothing like some breathless outrage to let Tony know we remember his obnoxious behaviour, and to remind him there are consequences for that inane behaviour and his never ending stream of lies. He is not fit to hold office. Keep reminding him folks.

  • 17
    bushby jane
    Posted Tuesday, 22 July 2014 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    Interesting how the 153 have grown to 157 today, Abbott and Morrison not being able to add up again?
    The other thing that seems to have gone missing in action lately is that there are far more (something like 80%) ‘illegal arrivals’ coming to Australia by plane, a lot on forged visas and passports. They get different treatment from boat arrivals.

  • 18
    Popeye
    Posted Tuesday, 22 July 2014 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    A slip of the tongue? Bullshit.

  • 19
    Scott Grant
    Posted Tuesday, 22 July 2014 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    No mention of asylum seekers arriving by air. Last time I looked, the rate of arrival was fairly steady and matched the highest rate of arrivals of (as they were then known) “irregular maritime arrivals”.

    But of course, both figures are small compared to the overall rate of immigration, which I believe to be too high. I think we could (should?) increase our intake of asylum seekers and simultaneously reduce our overall immigration rate to levels that are historically more normal.

    There seems to be a consensus across the spectrum of politics to avoid any mention of this elephant in the room. I suspect the small number of asylum seekers represented by the boat arrivals are magnified precisely to distract from any discussion of population growth and the part that general immigration policy plays.

    Australia’s population is growing at roughly one new Canberra per year. The highest of any OECD country.

  • 20
    AR
    Posted Tuesday, 22 July 2014 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    As I pointed out repeatedly during the 3 years of ‘bop the stoats’ claims, the 50K since the Krudd interregnum began in 2007 should be compared, in the interests of crowding on the M4 and ERs & schools, to our annual immigration of 200K.

  • 21
    CML
    Posted Tuesday, 22 July 2014 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    @ Scott Grant. Reduction of immigration numbers will definitely NOT happen under this government. They have to look after their mates, you see!
    When the LNP have increased the number of people looking for work to (say) 50 for every job vacancy, then they will be able to do all kinds of ‘necessary’ things. Like reducing the minimum wage to $10/hour, dispensing with the need for OH&S regulations, etc. etc. Why people might be so desperate (no dole for 6 months/year) they could even embrace Work Choices Mk2!!
    Brilliant from those with diabolically twisted minds like this current government!!!

  • 22
    tonyfunnywalker
    Posted Tuesday, 22 July 2014 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    Like most of what Abbott claims - rubbish

  • 23
    fractious
    Posted Tuesday, 22 July 2014 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    Hello MAREE WHITTON (are you hard of hearing?)

    Thank you for educating me - I never knew democracy meant that, regardless of where I put my vote, I must stfu until whenever the next time is. Most enlightening.

    In your next lecture, could you please explain why the Liberal/ National Coalition and its supporters never shut their harping, whining gobs for a second (even to have a dump) when the Gillard-Independent-Green minority government was in power, and how because “democracy” they were perfectly entitled to do so. Oh and if you could throw in something about left-wing bias in the media as well that would be grate.

  • 24
    David Hand
    Posted Tuesday, 22 July 2014 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    Plenty of continual, unrelenting whining about the Abbott government on Crikey fractious.

    Of course you can carry on whining but it would be great if the whining and harping was a bit clever. You know, well thought out. Maybe occasionally witty. Or possibly based on fact.

  • 25
    John Taylor
    Posted Tuesday, 22 July 2014 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

    OK - we apparently dont feed trolls, but # Brendan - what are the real statistics on r.ape - or are you one of those cave dwellers who says there is no such thing?

    And David Hand - what say you to the statistics? Never mind the puppies and squirrels - what of the stats?

  • 26
    drsmithy
    Posted Tuesday, 22 July 2014 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    That’s what democracy is all about.

    No, it’s not.

    In a proper Democracy, the people would have a way to stop politicians implementing policy counter to their pre-election commitments without having to wait three years.

    Australia has an elective dictatorship, not a Democracy.

  • 27
    David Hand
    Posted Tuesday, 22 July 2014 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

    John,
    I looked in vain for about half an hour for monthly stats on asylum seeker arrivals and the best I could do was a picture on ABC fact check.

    Copy and paste this address into your browser or google asylum seekers statistics by monthly and look at the images.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-12-10/scott-morrison-not-telling-full-story-asylum-seeker-arrivals/5119380

    I haven’t been able to source the numbers themselves but looking at the graph, they ran at about 500 per month from March 2009 to March 2012 then rose sharply.
    Apr 1000
    May 1200
    Jun 1800
    Jul 1850
    Aug 1950
    Sep 2280
    Oct 2250
    Nov 2600
    Dec 1000
    Jan 0500
    Feb 0900
    Mar 2400
    Apr 3380
    May 3350
    Jun 2650
    Jul 4200
    Aug 1500
    Sep 0900
    Oct 0350
    Nov 0200

    The huge lift over the 12 months to July 13 was compelling evidence that a move was on and that more and more people were convinced that a boat trip to Australia without documentation was a viable option. There was no sign at all that the blow out in boat arrivals which hit over 4200 in July 2013 was the peak. Extrapolating the trend, it could have easily gone to 8,000 a month by November making Abbott’s claim quite realistic.

    Rudd and the ALP government were confronted with the utter failure of their borders policy and were facing electoral annihilation in the September election unless they did something. There has been a procession of ALP insiders since the election admitting that the dismantling of the pacific solution was a total policy disaster.

    Which brings me to this article. It’s a pretty average effort to attack Tony Abbott, fitting in with this publication’s campaigning style. The story is not helped by rehashing the now discredited story of the mothers on Christmas Island self harming in an effort to get their kids to the mainland. But there’s plenty of “heartless”, “persecution” and “morally bankrupt”.

    Actually I think Tittensor has been a bit cloistered and is behind the times. He failed to use that beautiful new pejorative term the refugee crowd has just thought up - “refoulment”.

    Abbott has stopped the boats. Dang awkward, that. All the inner urban latte sipping elites hate him for it but he can claim real success.

  • 28
    drsmithy
    Posted Wednesday, 23 July 2014 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    Actually I think Tittensor has been a bit cloistered and is behind the times. He failed to use that beautiful new pejorative term the refugee crowd has just thought up - “refoulment”.

    Oh, yes, very new.

    The principle of “refoulement” was officially enshrined in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and is also contained in the 1967 Protocol and Art 3 of the 1984 UN Torture Convention.”

    Abbott has stopped the boats. Dang awkward, that. All the inner urban latte sipping elites hate him for it but he can claim real success.

    Indeed. He has succeeded in enforcing a policy driven by naked fear and racism. Go Australia !

  • 29
    Chris Hartwell
    Posted Wednesday, 23 July 2014 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Seriously David, what’s your gripe with folks who live in the CBD? Does it honestly not occur to you that suburban-living and rural-raised folks like myself would not support the idea of sending folks fleeing torture back to their torturers? That we wouldn’t support the more economically rational (and incidentally, humane) method of determining asylum seeking status accurately and rapidly without the long detention?

    Is your world that black and white?

  • 30
    Brian Melbourne
    Posted Wednesday, 23 July 2014 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    At the end of the day it’s the press who should be challenging these porkys. The only TV journalist who seems to do thorough research is Sarah Ferguson. She’s, normally straight on to them. Emma Alberici, by contrast regurgitates the conservatives factoids as an interviewing technique.

  • 31
    klewso
    Posted Wednesday, 23 July 2014 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    We have nothing to fear but fearmongering itself.

  • 32
    klewso
    Posted Wednesday, 23 July 2014 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Brian - and when Sales comes back, 7:30 will be conservative op-ed business as usual.

  • 33
    David Hand
    Posted Wednesday, 23 July 2014 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Hey Chris,

    Inner urban elites is of course a generalisation and a handy one for some smart-arsed point scoring.

    Inner urban demographics concentrate younger, better educated, generally childless professional, media, internet, fashion and arty elites. And of course, it is the inner urban electorates that are most likely to send Green politicians to parliament.

    Funny thing that. The most artificial, most concrete, the least rural and the areas most reliant on transport and pipelines for their sustenance are where everyone who wants to save the planet lives. We should call them the “Greys” not the “Greens”.

    Rural and suburban folks are quite capable of sharing the same utopian green extreme left anti-business view that is concentrated in the CBD but it will be a long time before a rural electorate returns a Green MP.

  • 34
    MAREE WHITTON
    Posted Wednesday, 23 July 2014 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    Hello Fractious, I am very pleased to hear I am helping you to become educated and that you have the good manners to thank me

  • 35
    Yclept
    Posted Wednesday, 23 July 2014 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Maree, you forgot to address the points in F’s second paragraph, or maybe you can’t find a way to justify your hypocrisy.

  • 36
    mikeb
    Posted Wednesday, 23 July 2014 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    @david hand. You got one thing right. “smart-arsed” is a good description for your generalisations. ….and since when did being better educated, younger and professional begin to be a bad thing? I am two of the above, but live in a rural area with kids & I drink black coffee & beer without a latte in sight. Presumably I’m only half an arty, leftie elite.

  • 37
    David Hand
    Posted Wednesday, 23 July 2014 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Hey Mike,
    Inner urban elites is not an exclusive club. A rural based black coffee drinking father can absolutely be a member. Of course there’s nothing wrong with being better educated, younger and professional.

    Whenever I refer to inner urban elites I’ll think of you as well.

  • 38
    Yclept
    Posted Wednesday, 23 July 2014 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    Hey David, you don’t sound very elitist yourself. Not!

  • 39
    fractious
    Posted Wednesday, 23 July 2014 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    David Hand @ 23 July 2014 at 10:56 am
    Re:

    Inner urban elites … (blah) … artificial… (blah) utopian green extreme.. (blah blah)

    As the great Hand once wrote: “it would be great if the whining and harping was a bit clever. You know, well thought out. Maybe occasionally witty. Or possibly based on fact.”

    No need to thank me.

  • 40
    DaveinPerth
    Posted Thursday, 24 July 2014 at 12:03 am | Permalink

    Mr.Hand.
    Are you saying that I TOO can be an ‘Inner urban elite’, even though I live in the burbs, run a small business,don’t have a degree and drink Nescafe Blend 43 voluntarily?

    If so, that’s a BIG relief, given that every time I hear TA speak, I hear word games, obfuscation, and flat out lies. I think I really should be an ‘Inner urban elite’, even if I don’t measure up to the obvious criteria.

    I wonder what the ‘secret criteria’ are then?
    Facts?
    Reality?
    An unwillingness to parrot Ruperts party line?
    Maybe it’s a sense of morality?

  • 41
    David Hand
    Posted Thursday, 24 July 2014 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Well, the criteria for inner urban elites is not very secret. They tend to vote Green, Dave. They also have an unshakeable belief in their own righteousness and the conviction that those of a different political persuasion, such as Tony Abbott, are evil. I don’t know if you vote Green but you certainly live on the moral high ground.

    I think you are too unkind to Tony Abbott. He promised to stop the boats and he has. He promised to axe the tax and he has. He promised to pay off Labor’s debt and he is being thwarted by the senate.

    He certainly isn’t making up policy via western Sydney focus groups. And he is refreshingly not populist.

    Or popular.

  • 42
    Yclept
    Posted Thursday, 24 July 2014 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    Correct David, he isn’t popular, or smart or credible or Christian or likely to show empathy to anyone who isn’t from the big end of town.

    So when will he stop the “illegal airway arrivals”, you know, the real problem?

  • 43
    AR
    Posted Thursday, 24 July 2014 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Yclept - accurate figures on the number of “illegals” (anyone remember “illegitimate’ kids?)who arrive by air are impossible to collate because
    a)only about 5% declare themselves asylum seekers at the airport and their handler has ALL their docs as part of the deal because then they cannot be immediately deported on they carrier wot brung them
    b)overstayers, who make up over 95% of ALL immigration defaulters are not even always made detainees,
    and, most importantly,
    c) it wouldn’t fit the RWNJ agenda for those irritating little things called FACTS to be widely known.

  • 44
    drsmithy
    Posted Thursday, 24 July 2014 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    They also have an unshakeable belief in their own righteousness and the conviction that those of a different political persuasion, such as Tony Abbott, are evil.

    Wait a minute, that sounds like conservative right-wingers. I thought we were talking about “Inner-Urban Elites” ?

    I think you are too unkind to Tony Abbott. He promised to stop the boats and he has. He promised to axe the tax and he has. He promised to pay off Labor’s debt and he is being thwarted by the senate.

    Succeeding at bad policy is not a reason to be kind to someone. It’s a reason to be even more unkind.

    And he is refreshingly not populist.

    Just above you posted two “successed” - “stop the boats” and “axe the tax” which are about as “populist” and “western sydney focus group” policies as you can get.

  • 45
    drsmithy
    Posted Thursday, 24 July 2014 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    So when will he stop the “illegal airway arrivals”, you know, the real problem?

    The real problem isn’t “illegals” of any sort.

    The real problem is the flood of perfectly legal immigrants being used primarily to suppress wages and prop up the real estate bubble.

  • 46
    Yclept
    Posted Thursday, 24 July 2014 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    The real problem is the flood of perfectly legal immigrants being used primarily to suppress wages and prop up the real estate bubble.

    BINGO! The words that should not be spoken, as they reveal what is really going on. You won’t find that in the Murdoch press.

  • 47
    David Hand
    Posted Thursday, 24 July 2014 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    You make a very good point Doctor. Western Sydney is where most of the asylum seekers will end up should they make it into Australia and so focus groups there would almost certainly not be happy with the numbers. After all, you’re not going to see many asylum seekers setting up home in Paddington or Carlton. Inner urban elites can take annual bus tours of Mount Druitt and Dandenong to “get involved”

    50,000 boat people a year was not an unreasonable extrapolation.

    Just saying.

  • 48
    drsmithy
    Posted Thursday, 24 July 2014 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    50,000 boat people a year was not an unreasonable extrapolation.

    Any extrapolation from a single data point is implicitly unreasonable (and absurd).

    As anyone with a high-school education in statistics should know.

  • 49
    David Hand
    Posted Thursday, 24 July 2014 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Maintain the rage, doctor

  • 50
    DaveinPerth
    Posted Thursday, 24 July 2014 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Mr Hand
    We likely all assume that we are operating on moral high ground.
    Therefore, your determining characteristic for an ‘inner urban elite’ = “They tend to vote Green, Dave.”

    Therefore, the term is just an insult for Green voters, not a genuine demographic.

    Much sadness. I don’t qualify.

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