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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 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 🙂

  11. Ugliness

    OSB = “Operation Silly Bunt”

    With apologies to Monty Python.

  12. wally crusoe

    operation stupid berk

  13. Sharkie

    operation scare bogans

  14. Jeff Mueller

    Where are the rotating knives?

  15. john willoughby

    The last time we had a deterrence and disruption task force lead by the AFP and operating inside Indonesia we were sabotaging boats… this was just prior the SIEVX tragedy.. Do we really have to go down this path again.. In any case the Indonesians will surely not allow covert unilateral action inside their borders..Is it opposition policy to treat the Indos and PNG like Jaky jaky..

  16. Peter

    LOL, sucked into childish one-upmanship.

    Abbott and Morrison have jumped the shark well and truly.

    Even the right-wing luvvies down at my local shops were laughing about it when I just got my coffee.

  17. rhwombat

    “Charity” rides, hammering nails at a QLD community, “baking” pies in a fluoro vest, opening fire on boats with a .50 cal, while the real ADF seethe: all in a day’s photo op for action man. ” This’ll show that uppity PNG PM who’s Kiap”. I’d say he’s lost it, but he never had it. Can we please exile him back to 50’s UK, where he came from?

  18. Hunt Ian

    Dear, oh, dear. The old idea of a coastguard has surfaced again with a massive bureaucracy to go with it. But this coastguard dare not speak its name. Someone should ask why the Coalition wants us ape the US, with tbeir Tea Party agenda of small government, and recession inducing debt reduction, because no one should trust our triple AAA stable rating with all rating agencies because those agencies failed in the GFC and have apparently been allowed to go on with their corrupt ways ever since. The Coalition wants us to ape US business hostility to trade unions policy too. No wonder we will get no right of entry for union officials onto company premises, so that our business culture can ape the US too, with its scandalously high salaries for CEO’s and senior management, and can push unions out the door or get their own “no [measurable] disadvantage” agreements.

    And what will this coastguard do? We might think it will escort vessels filled with Mexican citizens back to Mexico, because the US coast guard does this. Our shadow deputy PM says we can escort Indonesian vessels back to Indonesia when filled with non-Indonesian refugees, because the vessels are Indonesian and have Indonesian crews. Presumably we can get away with sending vessels back half full of fish too, although some will think this piracy. It really helps the US coast guard that Mexican vessels are filled with Mexican economic refugees to avoid charges of piracy but, since we must ape them, we will have to put up with non-Indonesian refugees.

    Then we reapply the old temporary protection visas, which won’t work as well now, since people will get around their no family reunion condition by bringing their family with them.

    Since I do not think PNG is hell on earth, I do not think Rudd is getting unsettled because he wants to deter people from getting on boats by offering hell at the end of their journey, as Kitney seems to think (perhaps he is forgetting to sleep, like last time, and will soon waffle as he did before ). I think Rudd is being traduced simply because he says that people on boats will have no chance of resettlement in OZ. Potential asylum seekers are divided on whether this will discourage them. Some think that getting resettlement elsewhere than OZ will be OK, just so long as they can avoid the hell on earth of seeking asylum in Indonesia. Others won’t pay for a trip to somewhere other than OZ. Australia has big obligations to build up PNG capacity to host UNHCR, so it can assess refugees, and has big obligations to make sure that asylum seeker children get an education and that there are job opportunities for people who are resettled in PNG. The problem of people who are lumbered with being in PNG will be a problem, especially if they are detained for years. They should avoid that by making sure they are not detained for years but can get on with work or education as soon as possible.

  19. Sharkie

    “Operation sovereign borders” is the funniest line since Dean Wormer put Delta House on “double secret probation” in Animal House.
    Now if tony Abbott was a comedian he would be considered a genius.

  20. JacetheAce

    Have we reached the bottom yet? This reads more like a riff on Call of Duty (‘3 star commanders’, ‘national emergency!’) than an actual policy from a live human being.

  21. MJPC

    DAMN THE TORPEDO’S…FULL SPEED AHEAD! By the way, unless he is importing US Generals to command Op. Sovereign Balderdash, Australia doesn’t have “star” generals, ours follow the UK rank Identifier’s i.e Major General etc.

  22. zut alors

    Operation Sovereign Dills.

    Put Colonel Klink and Sgt Shultz in charge, surely it couldn’t be more farcical.

  23. CML

    Operation silly bug+ars!
    This lot sound as though they are still in kindergarten playing Cowboys and Indians. The mind boggles!!
    Thankx to those above for the comedy relief. If you didn’t laugh, you’d cry. Where’s the bloody war, for god’s sake?

  24. malcolm.grant1

    I just want to know where Tony the Tiny Tory is going to get a ‘three star ranking’ anything. We don’t have them.

    Similarly I’d be interested to know how the Navy will respond to be directed by a General. The Navy doesn’t have Generals, the ARMY does though.

  25. Paul

    They can use the boats they had built for the Torres Straights during the golden Howard years, oh sorry they were not seaworthy and many people drowned.
    Pink batts anyone.
    He insults, lies about and verbals Malaysia, Indonesia and then New Guinea, and now he is going to use the armed services illegally to stop a non existent emergency that he has created, by forcing the navy to commit acts of piracy on the high seas.
    Wow our neighbors must be wetting themselves in the expectation that this man may be the next PM.
    Never thought I would say it but he makes Barnaby look both intelligent and (more frighteningly) more sane.

  26. Ian

    It’s like a chess game. Rudd can you better this one? If not it’s check mate, maaate.

  27. Ian

    As recent events have made clear Rudd is no pushover. I’m sure he and his people are, as we speak, working on an even more outlandish plot to outdo even this audacious scheme hatched up by Tony Abyss. It’s a race to the bottom and it’s a race against time. E(lection)-day is looming. Can Rudd get in one last killer blow before then? What do the bookies say?

  28. John64

    The Coalition have pledged that they will always one-up Labor on boat people. Just wait until details for “Operation Shoot Them” come out!

  29. john willoughby

    Round the world Yachtsmen Tony Bullimore, Thierry Dubois and Raphael Dinelli rescued by the Navy at a combined cost of about $15 million…. How do you budget ten million for Operation Sovereign Borders…?

  30. wally crusoe

    “how much do you think it’ll cost?”

    “oh i dunno, about $10million or so maybe?”

    “sweet we’ll put that down”

  31. wally crusoe

    i remember in undergrad engineering i had to write in a fictitious costing for a project i had to create, it was funny putting down team members salary’s i thought “f*** it just put down whatever”,

    i got a distinction for the subject

  32. BSA Bob

    Prior to reading this I thought I must’ve missed something, that there’d been a new statement about what Abbott would actually DO. Thanks for making it clear I hadn’t.

  33. klewso

    “Operation Sod All Boarders”- and all handed over to “Major General Dr Strangelove” to make it work?

  34. drmick

    McAbbots Navy. So this is one of the detailed fully costed policies we have been waiting 6 years to hear about.

  35. Johny Swank

    People traffickers live in Indonesia, the boats are from Indonesia and crewed by Indonesians so why aren’t relevant international authorities and refugee groups demanding Indonesia be made accountable for these tragedies? No one would drown if Indonesia prevented the boats from leaving in the first place.
    Indonesia doesn’t want unilateral action from us but they continue to demonstrate they’re happy with their unilateral action towards us and don’t care about these people because they continue to ignore the boat departures and leave us to clean up the inevitable tragedy!

    If someone has payed for a (fake) passport and plane tickets to Indonesia, the money intended for a people trafficker could instead be used to buy a plane ticket from Jakarta to Australia, travel in safety and claim asylum on arrival at the airport – no one drowns.

  36. Margaret Ludowyk

    Another stunt from Abbott. What’s next? Will he appear in full military uniform as a three star general? He’s a bit scary really the way he seems to treat this humanitarian issue like a chess game

  37. Sharkie

    FFS Johny Swank. Go buy yourself an Atlas and have a look at a map of Indonesia. We can’t stop boats arriving on three tiny specks in the Indian Ocean. HTF are Indonesian authorities going to stop boats leaving from 17,000 islands?
    This is just one of many stupid arguments trotted out by shock jocks and political opportunists.

  38. @chrispydog

    If this was a movie, I’d give Abbott half a star.

  39. Johny Swank

    Thanks for the reply Sharkie but no need to get abusive, constructive discussion is much more useful.

    Sure, Indonesia is dotted with Islands but people smugglers are known to disembark from a few favourite locations, it wouldn’t take too much effort to stop boats leaving from those locatons and save lives.

    You didn’t make any comment about the suggestion for asylum seekers to use the money they would give to a people smuggler and take a plane to Australia instead. No one would drown and a plane ticket is probably a LOT cheaper than what a people smuggler wants.

    What are your thoughts on that?

  40. klewso

    Remember Dr Strangelove? Major characters were President Merkin Muffley, Dr Strangelove and Group Captain Lionel Mandrake?
    Looks like Abbott is remembering it and wants to do a remake with Abbott, Reith-Morrison and Molan, playing those parts?

  41. andrew kelly

    I hope they get the guy who won the War on Drugs and put him in charge.

  42. Gratton Wilson

    Indonesia has not accepted responsibility for giving refugees safe haven, Australia has. We should get on with it. Why are we carrying on about visas and how they pay for airline tickets – a refugee is a refugee. They have rights by international law that we recognise.

  43. Ian

    Johny, Do some research will you? See if you can come up with a reason why refugees don’t do the logical thing and just hop on a plane AND save some money? Why did none of them think of that?

  44. rhwombat

    “Operation Sovereign Borders”: No shark left unjumped.

  45. Michael McG

    Even Neil James from the Australian Defence Association, who routinely sinks the boot into Labor in government, couldn’t find anything sensible about Abbott and Bwana Morrison’s formation of a fourth defence force, Army, Air Force, Navy, and now… the Bwana Boats.

    He pointed out on yesterday afternoon’s ABC Capital Hill that the Coalition concept trips up on the nation’s civil constitution, throws a spanner into existing interagency relationship protocols between the public service and the military establishment, and introduces an imbalancing chain of command ruction in the military top echelons, creating an entirely new seventh ‘three star’ rank in Australia where the six existing ones are distinct and specific roles, not porridge across-all-forces and bureaucrats thrown in for ‘good measure’ czars like Abbott and Bwana have in mind.

    Has anyone in the “sandpit” considered that one odd angry shot towards Indonesia by personnel trained to militarily respond could lead to war, not started from the top, but at an unnecessarily hot border operational snafu boiled over by political grandstanding?

    Stinks like rancid testosterone… off a bicycle seat.

  46. klewso

    Blue and Khaki One-Upmanship.

  47. fred gggyuu

    Good start by the Libs with this policy. I am sick of Labor’s failed government with second rate ministers and policies. Goodbye Rudd the wrecker.

  48. Kinkajou

    Merely “the intervention” for AS

  49. Sharkie

    Swanky. Having spent a considerable amount of time in West Java, I can safely inform you that there are thousands of departure points in that province. Some are huge industrial ports with 1000s of ships using them on a daily basis. Others are tiny fishing villages. Even if the indo authorities could lock down the ports in West Java, that just leaves 30 odd other viable provinces to depart from.
    As for plane tickets. Go try jump on a plane for a country you don’t have a visa for.
    Sorry for getting abusive. I really shouldn’t get angry when debating idiots online.

  50. morphy richards toaster

    fred gggyuu – you’re sick of Labor’s “second rate ministers,” yet you’re about to vote in probably the worst front bench in post war Australian history.

    Makes sense.

  51. Rubio Diego

    If heaven forbid, Abbott wins the election, he and Morrison could suspend parliament for 12 months and head off to Sea for a Scott and Tony Gap Year ” Adventures on the High Seas “. They could sell it to the Networks to help pay for this Farce !

  52. Liamj

    Wish i’d backed Labor at the bookies 3 months ago.

    @ Iskandar – theres a good chance the LNPs latest war wont get off the ground, SFAIA this time they haven’t got the yanks instructing them.

  53. The Cleaning Lady

    “The Hollowmen” on Wednesday night covered the same territory as Mr Abbott and his team. Needing a big “Phase Two” announcement on which to spend big national security bucks, the boys snaffled an idea from a highschool student essay and announced a new “umbrella organisation”. Genius.

  54. beachcomber

    Operation Sanitary Napkin is more spin than substance.

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