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Jul 22, 2014

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

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57 comments

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

  1. Bill Hilliger

    …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

    One more Toady lie?

  3. Bob's Uncle

    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

    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

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

  6. MAREE WHITTON

    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

    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

    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

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

    Lies.

  10. DaveinPerth

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

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

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