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Aug 16, 2017


Some days in this place you can only sit back and watch as a large number of normally rational, intelligent people collectively lose their senses and embark on an ordeal of self-humiliation that leaves you gasping. March 21, 2013 was like that, when Simon Crean blew the Labor leadership wide open by calling on Kevin Rudd to move to replace Julia Gillard and Rudd bottled it, leading to an exodus of his supporters from cabinet.

Yesterday was just as bad. Clearly the government needed a distraction from Barnaby Joyce’s monumental citizenship stuff-up — which is his fault entirely — but the idea of the Great Aotearoa Conspiracy should have never have made it onto the whiteboard, let alone off it and into action. Whoever suggested it should have been quietly told to take some time off as, clearly, they were working too hard. By the time Julie Bishop — who has now shredded whatever belief there was that she represented a “safe pair of hands” if the party decided to remove Turnbull — had finished, she had not merely interfered in New Zealand domestic politics but in effect called the NZ Interior Minister a liar for pointing out that it was media inquiries that sparked the New Zealand government’s interest in Barnaby Joyce, not any questions by New Zealand Labour.

[Hysterical government lashes out at Shorten, New Zealand, reality]

It got worse. Too late to abandon the conspiracy theory, the government had to double down and make it the theme of question time, to the open derision and mockery of Labor MPs. Tony Burke made that very rare thing, a genuinely funny parliamentary joke, when he asked if Bishop couldn’t work with New Zealanders how could she work with Joyce. And when Bill Shorten quoted Joyce’s own words back at him about how straightforward section 44 of the constitution was — uttered in the halcyon days when this was just a problem for some Greens senators — Malcolm Turnbull’s defence was to mock Joyce as a hopeless constitutional lawyer. This is the Prime Minister talking about his Deputy Prime Minister:

“The Deputy Prime Minister does not claim to be a constitutional expert … what the Deputy Prime Minister said in that interview was not a correct interpretation or description of the way the law operates … You can laugh as much as you like. But the constitution is interpreted by the High Court of Australia …”

“You can laugh as much as you like.” And how they did, Prime Minister, how they did.

After that, we learnt the government had done a deal with the literally fascist One Nation to attack the ABC as punishment for embarrassing Pauline Hanson and James Ashby, in order to get its media ownership changes through. An attack that we now know Nick Xenophon, whose support is crucial, won’t back. Then, to cap it off, last night the government managed to lose a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives, as if to shine a light on what might happen if Joyce goes down and Bob Katter makes good on his idle musing yesterday that he might back Labor to form a government.

[If Barnaby Joyce goes (and he could well be going), the government could fall]

When losing a vote on the floor of the House is only the least worst thing that happens to you, it’s a truly shocking day.

What’s clear is that this isn’t just a rattled government dealing with circumstances beyond its control, like Barnaby Joyce’s appalling laziness or Tony Abbott’s bloodyminded treachery toward the Prime Minister. It’s been rattled ever since election night when Malcolm Turnbull strode belatedly into the Liberal party election function to rail angrily at Labor. This is a crippling attack of collective misjudgment, confusion and hysteria, a government that is under attack from within and without and flailing at all of its foes — real and imagined — all at once, with poor tactics and no strategy. 

Tips and rumours

Apr 19, 2017


From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Finance grads do the numbers. The Department of Finance graduate recruitment video that became the laughing stock of Canberra cost just $4000, a document released to a Senate committee shows. The YouTube video, which featured awkward acting from Finance graduates and senior public servants, is probably best known for giving us the knowledge of the existence of Paleo pear and banana bread. Reporting at the time, including in Crikey, mentioned that the contract for the advertising campaign was worth $40,000. An answer to Senate estimates released last week reveals the video itself was just $4000. For the amount of laughs that were had at the video, that seems like a bargain.

Where are all the ladies? Last year, Ms Tips pointed out that new tech sector industry body TechSydney has a small problem with women. As in, the small, almost non-existent, representation of women in its ranks. For a sector with as profound a problem with women as the tech industry, the picture of a pack of white bros with just one woman appeared to confirm that the sausage fest was as sizzling as ever. And while major companies continue to drag the chain (we’re still waiting for Brolassian to update its female employment figures), it’s a pleasure to report some good news. TechSydney, presumably chastened by the savaging it received at its launch, has issued a mea culpa and devoted an extensive part of its site to understanding and addressing diversity as well as providing links to resources to help companies that want to make themselves more representative of the markets they serve. One article that caught our eye included data on how the widespread tech sector practice of “technical interviewing” appears completely broken — a result that should be of interest well beyond the tech bros.

Cashless welfare card push. Mining magnate Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest is campaigning again for the expansion of the government’s cashless welfare card, which is currently being trialled in remote communities in South Australia and Western Australia under the auspice of his philanthropic organisation, the Minderoo Foundation. A website was launched late last month, promoting the benefits of the system, which quarantines 80% of a welfare recipient’s payment onto the card, leaving just 20% that can be used as cash. It is designed to address problems with drinking and gambling by those on welfare. Forrest has promoted the idea for such cards for years, but now the promotion is done by the smokescreen of the Minderoo Foundation. The website does say that it is owned by the Minderoo Foundation, and it references the Forrest Review commissioned by then-prime minister Tony Abbott — but it doesn’t mention Forrest himself.

Finance’s rainbow flag ‘within guidelines’. The results of the “flag inquiry” launched by the Department of Finance after right-wing backbench Senator Eric Abetz complained about a rainbow flag being flown in the department’s Canberra office are in, and it’s all above board.

In a Senate estimates hearing earlier this year, the Christian conservative Senator raised concern that the rainbow flag being flown in Finance’s Canberra office might be a political flag because of its association with the marriage equality movement he so deeply opposes. In a response tabled this week, Finance said that the flying of the flag was within the protocols set by the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet, and the flag was part of Finance’s LGBTI staff network for all network events:

“As an inclusive employer and consistent with its diversity action plan, the executive board has agreed to support a number of staff networks across the department, including their preferred way to be acknowledged as important contributors to the department.”

So the flag isn’t going anywhere, but other staff groups will be allowed to fly their own flags if they want. Abetz has previously suggested that “pro traditional marriage” supporters in the department also be allowed to fly their own flag or banner. We wait with bated breath for that glorious creation.

Going for the pity vote. Politics, as we all know, is a rough old trade. But somewhere along the way, clearly, a line was crossed as far as Tony Burke is concerned. The sponsored content promoting his Facebook page now shows a picture of the manager of opposition business being comforted in Parliament by his colleagues in question time. The accompanying text is a simple plea: “Malcolm Turnbull was mean to me. Please like me.”

The photo he uses was taken by The Guardian‘s Mike Bowers on March 23, but having searched Hansard, Ms Tips has not been able to find the exact content of this sledge. We’re not sure using the internet equivalent of “please clap” is really the way to win over hearts and minds.

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Tips and rumours

Sep 14, 2016


While parliament is not boring at all at the moment, senior members of the Labor party are trying their best to leave us mystified, by promising a musical performance in Leader of Opposition Business Tony Burke’s office tonight. Burke, along with shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh and shadow assistant minister for family violence Terri Butler are doing their best to support Labor candidate in the ACT election (and staffer to Andrew Leigh) Taimus Werner-Gibbings through the power of song. They’ll be singing INXS’ Don’t Change, obviously a message to stick with the Labor party at next month’s ACT election. Maybe the Liberals could do a performance battle to plug their “New Sensation”?
Labor INXS

Update: Since publishing this, we hear that the performance has been cancelled — because of too much interest. The number of people who said they would attend wouldn’t fit in Burke’s office. We hope this is not the last we hear of the plan.

Tips and rumours

May 3, 2016


Tips and rumours

Feb 4, 2016


War on punctuation. The government has announced that its biannual party of red tape reduction is no more, with assistant minister for productivity Peter Hendy saying that most of the work has already been done in repealing laws with unnecessary red tape. Labor finance spokesman Tony Burke used the announcement to send out a press release saying that hyphens and semi-colons have been given a reprieve:

On the first Repeal Day, the Defence Act 1904, which related to the definition of naval officers and state navies, was repealed.

The states haven’t had navies since 1913, but just in case Queensland or Western Australia got any ideas, this Government was on to them.

Owners of mules and bullocks were also given a reprieve, with the repeal of laws requiring the animals be registered for military purposes.

The Government has also claimed red tape reductions in the updating of spelling, grammar and punctuation on the statute books.

Such pressing updates include changing the word ‘e-mail’ to ‘email’ and ‘facsimile’ to ‘fax’ across numerous pieces of legislation.

In a series of Statute Law Revision bills, the Government removed 40 hyphens, one comma and one inverted comma; changed two full stops to semi-colons, one semi-colon to a full stop; and inserted two commas, one full stop, one colon and one hyphen.”

So now the war against red tape is over, we hope the red tape that goes with it is also done.

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to or use our guaranteed anonymous form

Tips and rumours

Feb 4, 2016


From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

War on punctuation. The government has announced that its biannual party of red tape reduction is no more, with assistant minister for productivity Peter Hendy saying that most of the work has already been done in repealing laws with unnecessary red tape. Labor finance spokesman Tony Burke used the announcement to send out a press release saying that hyphens and semi-colons have been given a reprieve:

“On the first Repeal Day, the Defence Act 1904, which related to the definition of naval officers and state navies, was repealed.

The states haven’t had navies since 1913, but just in case Queensland or Western Australia got any ideas, this Government was on to them.

Owners of mules and bullocks were also given a reprieve, with the repeal of laws requiring the animals be registered for military purposes.

The Government has also claimed red tape reductions in the updating of spelling, grammar and punctuation on the statute books.

Such pressing updates include changing the word ‘e-mail’ to ’email’ and ‘facsimile’ to ‘fax’ across numerous pieces of legislation.

In a series of Statute Law Revision bills, the Government removed 40 hyphens, one comma and one inverted comma; changed two full stops to semi-colons, one semi-colon to a full stop; and inserted two commas, one full stop, one colon and one hyphen.”

So now the war against red tape is over, we hope the red tape that goes with it is also done.

Coming down the stairs. The ABC held its annual Canberra showcase last night, filling Parliament House with its best and brightest, giving pollies the chance to mingle with the famous faces and voices of the national broadcaster. While the likes of Fran Kelly, Myf Warhurst and Mark Scott were there to give pollies a brush with fame, the real stars of the night were the Bananas in Pyjamas, with many MPs uploading their pics with the children’s television icons.

tanya plibersek bananas

nick mckim and larissa waters

And it wasn’t even Tuesday, but it looks like Anthony Albanese and Annabel Crabb were caught unawares by this banana:

anthony albanese

The lobbying drinks for Commercial Radio Australia were also in Canberra last night, but Hamish and Andy, Alan Jones and the like weren’t brought out to impress the MPs. Ms Tips hears that the cocktail event came a definite second to the ABC event, and the most famous face there was MC Ray Hadley (we wonder if he found that bible for Scott Morrison?). The attendees were mostly government ministers, who Hadley encouraged to mingle with the execs in the room — but that just can’t compete with Aunty’s stars.

LGBTI Health Alliance in trouble. What’s going on at Australia’s LGBTI Health Alliance? A letter from the organisation’s Executive Director Rebecca Reynolds has told members that its government funding will run out on June 30:

“Dear Members of the Alliance —

After a lengthy process of engaging with the Department of Health, the Alliance learnt late yesterday afternoon that it was not successful in its application for ongoing funding within the Department’s Peak Health and Advisory Body program.

This decision is a disappointing one for the only National Health organisation working across the LGBTI health sector, as the grant enabled a far greater cohesion of issues across a diverse range of policy areas where we would otherwise be working in only those projects that we are funded to deliver. It enabled members to engage in a national policy space where they would not have otherwise been able to and it is of deep concern that we now need to look at a reduction in our ability to engage on issues that are not part of funded projects.

The Alliance made a commitment to ensure that all staff roles would be continued at their current level to the end of the 15-16 Financial Year with the view and advice from the Department and the Health Minister that other funding opportunities would be established in 2016 as a part of the consolidation of Health’s Flexible Funds. The Alliance and its team will continue to work on seeking new funding sources to continue its important work in the national policy health space.

I thank you for your ongoing commitment to working for the health and wellbeing of LGBTI people throughout Australia.”

Crikey understands that it had been expected that the government would move away from core funding to project funding in grants, and the Alliance was $87,297 in deficit at the end of the last financial year. Watch this space.

Ten-hut! The militarisation of the Immigration Department and its new name Border Force has already led to events like Operation Fortitude, where officers were supposed to be stopping people in the streets asking for their papers. We heard from a tipster that this pattern had continued, with employees required to salute Border Force senior officers at level EL1 and above — but, after enquiries, Border Force quashed the rumour. Now we worry we’ve given them ideas.

Hold the front page. The Labor Herald sent out its weekly newsletter to supporters last night, promising the “weekly news round-up of the latest news in Australian politics”. But the biggest story of the day, and the week, was ignored — no mention of the High Court case that ruled that it is legal for the Australian government to keep asylum seekers on Nauru. Maybe the news is limited then.

You said what? Yesterday in the Senate, independent Senator Jacqui Lambie railed against the government’s proposed changes to pathology services funding, arguing that the changes would force pathologists to start charging for Pap smears — or smap smears, as she called them, but she got it right the first time:

jacqui lambie video

Play it again, Sam. And at The Sydney Morning Herald this morning, a story so good they wrote it twice:

SMH sport

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Tips and rumours

Jun 2, 2014


From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

DFAT axes postings … Following up on a tip from the public, we’ve confirmed that DFAT has just axed 65 overseas postings — and it seems aid staff will be missing out. A mole told us this:

“Have it on good authority that DFAT canned 65 postings last week at very short notice. People were ready to go in about three weeks. Also, all of the cuts were former AusAID staff.”

Some background; the government’s overseas aid agency, AusAID, used to be separate but the Coalition merged it with DFAT late last year. Against a backdrop of cuts to DFAT and AusAID, that’s led to plenty of redundancies (and complaining from staff).

We put the tip to DFAT, who told us:

“All staff were advised on 28 May that over the course of two years, 2013-14 and 2014-15, there will be a reduction of 65 positions at posts. 797 positions overseas will continue. Decisions on the timing of reductions are being made in consultation with relevant posts.”

The DFAT flunkey didn’t answer our question of whether former AusAID staff had been targeted in the cuts. And it’s not clear if our mole is correct that those postings had already been allotted and people were ready to head to the airport.

We talked to the Community and Public Sector Union, which said about 500 jobs in total were going from DFAT, and there was unhappiness at the news of the overseas postings being cut back. “We are opposed to the cuts; they’re going to make it harder for DFAT to do its job properly,” a CPSU spokesman told us. “We’re seeking more details as to exactly what those positions are.”

So if you plan on stealing a bar mat in Thailand, don’t expect DFAT staff to race to your prison cell. DFAT insiders can fill us in on departmental goss here.

… but this don gets a nice trip. We’ve also heard that DFAT “recently sent one of its senior executives to Oxford for management training”. Sounds like the budget scalpel is not slicing uniformly.

Turnbull v Blot. The Twitterverse is abuzz with Mal Turnbull’s beautiful spray against blogger Andrew Bolt today. Media Watch host Paul Barry wasn’t shy to take sides …

Bolt has fired back, going the message, not the man: “I now look forward to Turnbull disproving me not with this showy abuse but with a vigorous public defence of the most controversial Budget measures …” Ten points to Turnbull.

State by state. With the Victorian state election in November looming as the next key event on the political calendar, Essential Research has released state-based polling taken over the course of May. In Victoria, Labor has pushed out to a clear lead over the government, 53-47% on a two-party preferred basis, based on a 40% Labor primary vote; the Coalition is on 38%, and the Greens are on 10%. That’s up from 50-50 in March.

In NSW the Coalition’s solid lead has ebbed away in the wake of the ICAC scandals, and the government now leads Labor 51-49, down from 54-46 in March before the resignation of Barry O’Farrell. The Coalition’s primary vote is 42%; Labor is on 38%, and the Greens are on 9%. In Queensland (which has a smaller sample size of 700 compared to 1200 in NSW and 1000 in Victoria), the Newman government’s lead of 53-47% has remained intact. The LNP is on 41%, Labor is on 36%, and the Palmer United Party is on 12%.

Muggles and metaphors. In MP Tony Burke’s weekly email to Labor supporters, the Leader of Opposition Business felt the need to explain to the muggles why Speaker Bronwyn Bishop is like Professor Umbridge, one of Harry Potter’s foes. The analogy, first used when Bishop was named Speaker, was brought up again in Parliament last week and seems to have missed its mark. Burke laid out the similarities for the uninitiated, but metaphors are most effective when they need no explanation. To use a Gen Y reference, stop trying to make fetch happen.

“On the Speaker, there’s been a bit of commentary lately over a reference I made to a character in the Harry Potter novels on the day Bronwyn Bishop became Speaker. Some people who are unfamiliar with the novels and films have simplified the reference to the fact that Dolores Umbridge is a witch. Anyone who knows the stories knows that almost every character whether a hero or a villain is either a witch or a wizard. The significance of Dolores Umbridge is this: small stature, impeccably dressed, perfect manners, extremely powerful, and truly terrifying to her enemies. If only she’d compel the Prime Minister to undertake the same punishment given in Order of the Phoenix and write repeatedly “I must not tell lies”.”

#Museumdanceoff. Yes, really. The museums of the world are holding an online dance-off, and you have just a few hours to vote for the lone Aussie entry, from those crazy cats at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra. We love this blend of daggy dancing and librarians cutting loose. They’re in a sudden death dance-off with those duds at NZ’s Otago Museum, so be sure to vote here once you’ve watched the vid. The two museums are neck-and-neck in the voting as of Monday morning, so team Crikey could make all the difference!

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Mar 28, 2014


How does Bronwyn Bishop compare as Speaker in terms of bias, given the opposition motion of no confidence yesterday?

Well, the problem is that the last three speakers — Harry Jenkins, Peter Slipper and Anna Burke — have all, to varying degrees, displayed an unusual level of independence. Jenkins wasn’t averse to turfing out Labor members, on occasion dispatching both government and opposition MPs for sniping at each other, and was notoriously indulgent of Christopher Pyne. Slipper tried to be genuinely independent, since that was the only card he had to left to play at the end of a long and undignified political career, and even booted then-treasurer Wayne Swan out for invoking the Three Stooges one too many times. Burke was more traditional, but still inclined to tell the likes of Julia Gillard and Swan if they weren’t answering questions.

Bishop is from an earlier tradition. The tradition of New South Wales Labor mediocrity Leo McLeay, who let Paul Keating get away with murder — most of Keating’s famous barbs at John Hewson were delivered in an atmosphere of complete indulgence by McLeay, whose lasting legacy turned out to be an unfortunate association with bikes. The tradition of the Howard-era non-entity Neil Andrew, the subject of repeated Labor criticism and a motion of no confidence in 2002. The tradition of Ian Sinclair, the subject of a dissent motion in virtually his first hour in the job.

Read John Hewson’s motion against McLeay in 1992, and it reads very similarly to that of manager of opposition business Tony Burke yesterday — the complaint of bias, the comparison of the number of times opposition MPs are disciplined versus government MPs (that was in the days before standing order 94A allowed a sin-binning for an hour), the accusation of taking direction from the Prime Minister; the difference of course is that Keating was PM — whatever else Labor might throw at Abbott, it’s difficult to see them saying anything like “[h]e stands up here on a daily basis and flouts every conceivable sense of propriety in this Parliament, and you allow him to get away with it” about him.

That’s not say Bishop isn’t particularly biased — she is, and so much so she’s occasionally had to be rescued from her own rulings by Abbott and Pyne. She has none of the indulgence for Burke that Jenkins showed for Pyne, routinely criticising him and denying him points of order before he has made them; when she booted Labor MP Julie Collins out on Wednesday, complaining about Labor’s tactic of “infectious laughter” (Collins had got the giggles and was unable to stop, and kept laughing as she left the chamber), she looked downright spiteful. But she’d still comfortably fit within the older tradition.

But one of Bishop’s problems is she isn’t presiding in 1992. There was more mainstream media coverage of politics back then, but there was no social media allowing political tragics across the country to tune into and comment on #qt even if they’re not watching it. Every word from Bishop is instantly scrutinised in a vast echo chamber occupied by journalists and observers; everything she does is instantly examined in a way that Leaping Leo or Neil Andrew were never subjected to.

That, and the higher expectations created by the previous three speakers, mean Bishop is becoming a problem for the government, because exactly as she did yesterday, she enables Labor to distract from the government’s agenda. This week was supposed to be about using the last week of Parliament before the WA Senate election to beat up Labor over the carbon price, the mining tax and its fiscal legacy. Instead Labor, and various government stumbles like knights and dames and George Brandis’ comments on bigots, ensured the focus was on racism, Tony Abbott’s absurd obsession with anachronism and Bishop. Things reached a nadir for Abbott on Wednesday when he grumpily complained to Bishop that Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was humming Rule, Britannia across the table at him. “I knew you’d recognise it!” yelled Shorten. It takes a lot to make Shorten, still occasionally wooden in his public delivery, look witty.

And after yesterday’s attempt to move no confidence, Bishop appeared anxious not to kick any more Labor MPs out, her 98-0 record of expulsions having been noted by Burke. She eventually ejected Labor MP Nick Champion, but it’s an unusual question time that doesn’t include him being booted, so that’s par for the course. But she instead issued warning after warning, all of which were ignored by Labor backbenchers, who continued interjecting and talking loudly among themselves whenever ministers were on their feet.

Regardless of yesterday’s motion it’s unlikely Labor wants Bishop to stay anywhere other than right where she is, where she will continue to cause distractions for a government that keeps finding ways to go off-message.


Jul 31, 2013


Prime Minister Kevin Rudd continues his return to populism but is yet to return us an election date. As his options begin to dwindle, commentators (most who pencilled in late August) are now predicting September 7 or 21. And while his media coverage numbers dropped for the fifth straight week, Rudd’s overall total is still extremely prime ministerial; he remains firmly in the spotlight, having overturned ALP policy on asylum, climate change and party governance in his first month back in the job.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has regained a little ground compared with last week, staying on message against Rudd — while ignoring social media mentions favourable to Malcolm Turnbull as potential opposition leader. The most talked-about policy issue remains asylum seekers, leaving Immigration Minister Tony Burke and his opposite number Scott Morrison in the headlines. Treasurer Chris Bowen also features, talking spending cuts while accusing the Coalition of ducking its policy costing obligations after shadow treasurer Joe Hockey admitted the Coalition would not rely on Treasury numbers for its election funding promises.

State premiers are back in the conversation too, with NSW’s Barry O’Farrell on an Independent Commission Against Corruption enquiry and recent bikie war shootings, while WA leader Colin Barnett garnered coverage over his plan for state councils, his refusal to sign up to the Better Schools program and for warning of budget pain in the face of pressure from Federal Defence Minister Stephen Smith to spend more money on roads infrastructure.

Crikey Political Index: July 25-31

Julia Gillard’s exit from the political conversation is the slowest of all in the print media and on talkback radio. She would be significantly lower on our main chart this week were it not for newspaper mentions.

Talkback top five

iSentia Index

Education Minister Bill Shorten features on Twitter this week having suggested that young job seekers could undertake army-style boot camps to qualify for the dole.

Social media top five

iSentia index

Essendon coach and club golden boy James Hird is about the only club official left standing in the peptides affair, with chairman David Evans having stepped aside this week.

Comparisons on media mentions

iSentia index


Jul 11, 2013


Judging by the rhetoric politicians on both sides have been regurgitating this week, most asylum seekers who come by boat are turning up with no documents, burning their passports and/or refusing to help authorities identify them.

“People who have destroyed their papers, people who refuse to co-operate in getting access to papers will find themselves at the back of the processing queue,” said new Immigration Minister Tony Burke, in one of several press conferences about the topic.

It was a policy directive the Liberals were quick to point out had been theirs all along. Opposition immigration spokesperson Scott Morrison discussed it on ABC Radio National on Monday:

Kelly: Scott Morrison, what percentage of asylum seekers arriving by boat destroy their documents and papers?

Morrison: Well, we know that more than 90% who turn up don’t have any documents. The ultimate percentage of those that have been thrown away is not able to be determined at this point. But what we do know is that the vast majority of people, more than 90%, go through airports in either Jakarta or other ports within Indonesia or Malaysia. And whether those documents are false or whether those documents are genuine to get them on to that plane is an issue. But we do know that those documents aren’t there when people turn up in Australia.

Kelly: So 90% of the people arriving on the boats to Australia have no documentation?

Morrison: Not just no passports, I’ve got to stress, no documentation.

Except that “over 90%” claim — one that Ben Packham has also written in The Australian — doesn’t quite hold up.

First of all, the most recent in-depth data comes from a budget Estimates committee in May 2011, when the Department of Immigration answered a question by Liberal Senator Michaela Cash on the percentage of irregular maritime arrivals (the government jargon term for asylum seekers arriving by boat) landing in Australia without documentation in the last three financial years.

The department says the average number of IMAs arriving without official documentation between 2008-2011 was 81.21%. This is the most current data the department has on the situation, although Morrison’s office assures Crikey his “over 90%” figure came from Immigration (we asked to see the precise figures, but Morrison’s office didn’t return our emails or calls).

Part of the difficulty is there’s no clear-cut definition of exactly what the government uses to classify someone as “documented”. In practise it means an asylum seeker who can provide a verifiable official identity document that includes a biometric photo, with a passport being the preferred option. Other forms, such as a national identity card that includes a photo or a UNHCR card, may be valid, depending on the strength of the document and its country of origin.

Burke’s office tells Crikey that a birth certificate or driver’s license can be used as initial identifying documentation, while the Department of Immigration says that’s unlikely, although several documents together may help. Most asylum seekers arrive with birth certificates, drivers licences, school certificates, letters from local priests, photocopies of identity cards, etc, however they are officially classified as “undocumented” if they can’t produce reputable state-issued photo identification upon arrival. The other forms of ID are used to help identify them and process their claims at a later stage.

“People may not have passports, but there’s also very good reasons for that,” Ian Rintoul, an activist from the Refugee Action Coalition, told Crikey. People smugglers often create fake passports to allow asylum seekers to enter ports in Indonesia or Malaysia and then remove the passports from asylum seekers before they board boats to Australia, often so they can re-use the fake names and passports. Many people smugglers also often demand that asylum seekers give up their mobile phones and genuine passports before embarking on the boat voyage.

Asylum seekers do occasionally destroy their passports but there is no data on how many do this. Sometimes it’s because Indonesia and Australia are more likely to deport asylum seekers found with a valid travel document. “I would tell any asylum seeker to arrive here without their passport, because if they’ve got a valid passport it’s far easier for the government to deport them,” said Rintoul.

Plus, it depends where they come from. Feili Kurds are stateless and not issued identification by Iran, despite spending decades there; Tamils often struggle to get passports issued by Sri Lanka; Afghans coming via Pakistan may not have a passport, but often have Pakistani drivers licences and school certificates.

The closest Crikey can find to Morrison’s “over 90%” claim is when Senator Cash asked a supplementary budget Estimates hearing question on October 15 last year about how many IMAs flew in to Indonesia but then arrived by boat to Australia passport-less (therefore assuming they must have destroyed it in between). This data comes entirely from entry interviews with asylum seekers, meaning it only represents those IMAs that willingly admit they flew in to Indonesia. In 2011-2012, 87% (1673 people) of those that flew in to Indonesia arrived in Australia undocumented. Between June 30, 2012 and October 31, 2012 (the most recent time period available), 78% (1551 people) were undocumented.

Regardless, those numbers show only a small percentage of the total IMAs. In 2011, Australia received 4565 asylum seekers by boat, while 17,202 asylum seekers arrived by boat in 2012 (the Department of Immigration has calendar year figures while the Senate has financial year figures, just to make the whole thing more confusing).

Therefore we judge Morrison’s “over 90%” claim as mostly rubbish.

Want more recent data on how many asylum seekers are undocumented? According to the Department of Immigration, our best bet would be more questions asked at Estimates. Over to you, Senator Cash …