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Federal

Jul 25, 2013

Military reshuffle: Abbott’s ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’

The Coalition's "Operation Sovereign Borders" -- which aims to keep asylum seekers out -- sounds dramatic but will do little, besides establish a novel military system within the immigration portfolio.

Operation Sovereign Borders

The Coalition has today responded to Kevin Rudd’s PNG agreement on asylum seekers with its own announcement of “Operation Sovereign Borders”.

The dramatic-sounding announcement, by immigration spokesman Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, almost entirely relates to restructuring in Canberra, with a new three-star general appointed to lead a $10 million “taskforce” involving agencies already dealing with the asylum seeker issue.

Three-star generals are at the level of service chiefs; the Chief of the Defence Force, currently General David Hurley, is a four-star general. A new three-star general would thus effectively be the establishment of a new defence service, albeit with few resources beyond Canberra bureaucrats, and reporting directly to the immigration minister, rather than reporting to the Chief of the Defence Force.

This new military structure for immigration would mark a departure from existing Defence arrangements, in which service chiefs report to the Chief of the Defence Force, who reports to the defence minister as part of a “diarchy” structure with the secretary for defence.

The Coalition has committed, within 100 days of being elected, to:

  • Establish an “Operation Sovereign Borders” HQ and “Operation Sovereign Borders Joint Agency Taskforce”;
  • Finalise “protocols” for turning boats back “where it is safe to do so”;
  • Increase capacity at offshore processing centres (presumably beyond the increases already scheduled by the government; and
  • Lease vessels “to relieve patrol vessels of passenger transfers”.

Funding for the leasing of vessels appears to have been omitted from the $10 million costing, unless the Coalition plans to use small craft to replace the navy vessels currently used to intercept asylum seeker boats.

The Coalition provided an organisation chart for the taskforce (below). However, it is not clear who would control naval vessels charged with intercepting asylum seeker vessels — the Chief of the Defence Force and the Chief of Navy, reporting to the defence minister, or the new service chief, reporting to the immigration minister? According to the Coalition’s announcement, the Chief of the Defence Force will be asked to advise on a “command and control structure”. The taskforce also appears to replicate some of the functions of the Border Protection Command, which was established by the Howard government in 2005.

The Coalition announcement has the same cobbled-together, fix-it-later characteristics as Kevin Rudd’s PNG agreement announced last week (although at least the Coalition can claim it is in opposition). It has the clear intention of playing catch-up with Rudd’s dramatic declaration that no maritime arrival will ever be resettled here by offering a dramatic-sounding name and some reshuffling of the military brass to give the impression of significant change when the only significant change is a dramatic alteration of Australia’s well-established military chain-of-command. For the first time, a military service will be entirely responsible to a minister outside the Defence portfolio, and may even have control of military assets.

The establishment of a new service chief also raises the question of exactly what Australia’s defence force is failing to do at the moment that a new general would fix.

“The current multiplicity of agencies and reporting lines provides for conflicting strategies, disconnected systems, fractured accountability, inadequate information system, duplication, higher costs and turf wars,” the Coalition says. The new arrangements will send a message “to the people smugglers and their prospective passengers who must understand, from day one, that the rules have changed”.

Hopefully they read the Public Service Gazette.

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54 comments

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54 thoughts on “Military reshuffle: Abbott’s ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’

  1. morphy richards toaster

    “Hopefully they read the Public Service Gazette.”

    Exactly. These people have been frantically testing the resolve of the PNG solution this week; the notion that some internal restructure would deter them from selling spots on their boats is preposterous.

  2. davidbrewster

    Why don’t we just line the mainland and Christmas Island coasts with land-to-sea missiles and be done with it. Seems to be the way this ludicrous debate is heading.

    Has anyone considered that perhaps the high risk of drowning at sea is a fairly substantial disincentive to getting on a boat – perhaps even greater than anything either of these dumb leaders can dream up? Yet still they come. Such a lack of imagination, if saving lives is actually what they are concerned with.

  3. SusieQ

    I feel like I’m living in an episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, with the emphasis on ‘circus’.

    The new arrangements are purely aimed not at people smugglers, but us, the voting public in Australia – maybe somewhere in the country there is someone stupid enough to believe this drivel.

  4. Ian

    Who are the real bad guys? Those involved in attempting to transport refugees to a hoped for safe haven in Australia or those who go to every length to stop them?

    It’s shameful.

  5. Iskandar

    So the Libnats are now proposing another war to add to their list of failed wars: Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, the War on Drugs, The War on Terror. Now they pick an opportunistic soft target and propose a War on Asylum Seakers. Even the Defence Force must be getting fed up with being used as a political football, and history tells when happens when the military turns against their political leadership. What this country really needs is a War on Political Idiocy.

  6. Sharkie

    Abbott’s rhetoric about “national emergencies” “operation sovereign borders”, and “three star generals” is the really frightening thing here. It’s like he is priming the Australian public in preparation for some truly horrendous behaviour in our name on the high seas.
    If the average Aussie thinks there is a national emergency that needs a military response, perhaps that is what Abbott will do. It seems it’s only a matter of time until our military are ordered to draw guns on asylum seekers traveling in international waters to turn around or board unarmed Indonesian flagged vessels.
    International laws, who needs them?

  7. Saugoof

    davidbrewster #2 – exactly. Why would anyone think that if the very real risk of dying during the journey is no deterrent then us treating them like crap would be?

  8. cnewt27

    Gruesome, it’s true, but having watched Tony Abbott’s appalling behaviour for 3 yrs there is some small satisfaction to be had watching the awful trainwreck the Abbott operation is turning into. This man clearly will never be prime minister.He is flailing around desperately wishing the “witch” was still there for him to attack. Even so, the terrible influence he has had on national life is remarkable.

  9. @chrispydog

    Pauline Hanson must be so proud of Tony Abbott…oh, hang on….

  10. Jean

    Turning back the boats!
    How about a big ocean-going floating dock?
    Run the leaky asylum-seeker boat in, stabilise it and pump out the water, then run it safely up on to a beach in Indonesia.
    Maybe one of those Japanese whaling factory ships that get less and less use every season could be adapted.
    Register it in Liberia, and manage it through one of those companies that were used during the Melbourne waterside dispute. You can always find big fat guys who need the work, and are willing to wear balaclavas.
    Don’t thank me, Coalition, just send me a cheque. I’ll need your address and driver’s license number on the back, though 🙂

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