By Piers Akerman

PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd deserves some sort of an award for his histrionic and hypocritical outburst over serious concerns raised about the now-rushed process of checking the credentials of those who use people smugglers to thwart the authorities and seek asylum. Perhaps there is a Nobel Prize for theatricality.

Terrorist organisations, particularly the Tamil Tigers, do use boats to seek safe havens for their members, as the Canadian government has discovered. Forty-four boats have reached Australia since Rudd weakened border controls, 17 in the past eight weeks, three since Wednesday, with more reportedly on the way. Clearly the Rudd government has lost control of the flow of people-smuggling vessels making their way to Australian waters, no matter how it attempts to manipulate statistics.

It’s also clear asylum seekers regard Australia as a soft touch, a view that has been enhanced by the Rudd government’s softening of laws originally designed by the Keating Labor government to deter people from risking their lives and enriching people smugglers by undertaking the hazardous voyage.

Further, the Indonesian solution initiated by Rudd himself condemns asylum seekers to conditions behind barbed wire that are worse than anything offered under the Howard government’s Pacific solution. For Rudd to hide behind the notion that “push” factors, in the form of wars in Iraq, Afghanistan or, recently, Sri Lanka, outweigh “pull” factors is wishful thinking.

Those with a half a mind to short-circuit the immigration process and avoid the UN-sanctioned, internationally-organised refugee process know the Rudd government has made it easier for would-be asylum seekers to access all the benefits available to Australians should they reach Australian territory. What has disappeared in the argument is the notion that Australia still attempts to maintain an orderly migration policy through careful selection of its new citizens.

People smugglers now determine who will come to Australia.

One of the greatest retreats from the effective policy of previous governments was the reversal of the onus of proof from the asylum seeker to the Department of Immigration. This effectively placed upon departmental officers the responsibility to prove why would-be asylum seekers should not be released into the community on arrival rather than being kept in detention until all checks had been completed.

As an embarrassing number of people-smuggler vessels breach Australia’s maritime borders, Rudd’s new deal with Indonesia merely sub-contracts Australian border protection to Indonesia, a nation not known for its human rights record. The last time the spotlight was focused on Indonesian efforts in this field, Labor was deeply suspicious of our nearest neighbour’s ability to effectively deter people smuggling or disrupt efforts of asylum seekers to reach Australia.

Then Senator John Faulkner, now Defence Minister, went as far as writing his own minority report into such concerns as an appendix to the Senate Select Committee’s October 2002 report into a certain maritime incident. He insisted in his report that the Howard government answer a number of questions about Indonesian engagement, including possible limits to the disruption policy, whether any disruption activities were undertaken at the request or even broad authorisation of the Australian government, whether any Australian ministers had any knowledge of any such activities, had authorised them or knew of any outcomes, and whether mechanisms were in place to ensure there was no breach of any laws.

Now the Rudd government has engaged the Indonesians in precisely the same role, but has not been prepared to release any of the sort of information that was sought by Faulkner. Rudd can’t blame anyone else this time. He asked Indonesia to act against those who would attempt the perilous trip to Australia and he has promised to bankroll the operation. Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor won’t say how much the Indonesian solution will cost, and he probably doesn’t know. Like so much of what passes for policy under the Rudd government, this strategy is being made up by Rudd along the way.

To distract public attention from this knee-jerk plan, the Prime Minister behaved like a spoilt superstar footballer over Liberal backbencher Wilson Tuckey’s fairly straightforward concerns that possible terrorists could slip into the nation among the asylum seekers the RAN is busily ferrying to our shores. Yet Tuckey’s remarks were much the same as those made by Melbourne Labor MP Michael Danby in June when he warned of the need to ensure criminals and potential terrorists did not slip through the security net.

Those who want to see Australia throw open its doors to all comers regardless of culture or education laugh at the notion that criminals and potential terrorists would come by boat when aircraft are available, though there is no evidence to support their belief that asylum seekers represent the innocent of the world.

Indeed, the British experience would indicate a healthy degree of criminality among those who claim asylum. A Home Office study reported by the BBC found that of those arrested under anti-terrorism laws from 2001 to 2005 almost a quarter – 232 out of 963 – had previously applied for asylum.

Australians have long supported a healthy and orderly migration program, but the Rudd government has wilfully removed the order from that program. Recognising this is neither racist nor divisive.