people smugglers

The People Smugglers Are Back in Business

17 April 2024

2.7 MINS

The arrival of three groups of illegal boat arrivals off the far north-west coast of Western Australia indicates that the people smugglers, whose business was shut down by the Abbott government in 2013, are back in business.

While it is not entirely clear why human trafficking to Australia has resumed at this time, there are some obvious considerations.

The first is the weather. This is the monsoon season in northern Australia, making it more difficult for Australian patrol boats and aircraft to monitor the Indian Ocean between Australia and Indonesia, from where the boat people come.

Additionally, the Albanese Government’s decision to release people who had been in indefinite detention, following a High Court judgement last November, clearly changed perceptions of the Commonwealth’s willingness to stop illegal immigrants.

On November 6, 2023, the High Court ruled that a stateless Rohingya man, who faced the prospect of detention for life because no country had agreed to resettle him due to a criminal conviction for sexual intercourse with a 10-year-old minor, could not be held in indefinite detention.

Community Risk

One hundred and forty people, many of whom had committed serious crimes since arriving in Australia, were immediately released, over strong objections from the Opposition, which argued that they were a danger to the community.

And finally, last December the Commonwealth Government agreed to pay $27 million to a group of about 100 Indonesian people smugglers who were crew on people-smuggling boats which arrived in Australia between 2007 and 2013.

Each of the Indonesians, now aged in their 20s and 30s, will receive an average of around $100,000 each.

Again, the message to people smugglers is that human trafficking with Australia is now possible.

People smuggling around the world is a massive industry, as millions of desperate people seek a better life in Western Europe, North America and Australia, and are prepared to pay thousands of dollars to people smugglers to illegally cross borders.

It is utterly naive to believe that Australia is immune from this business.

After the recent boat arrivals in Western Australia, The Australian editorialised:

“Australia’s long experience repelling people-smugglers has shown they are keenly attuned to any development that could persuade desperate people to part with thousands of dollars each to risk their lives on treacherous sea journeys to our shores.

“The decision by the High Court in November that indefinite detention was unlawful, and the Albanese Government’s flat-footed response to the situation, would be useful ‘pull factors’ or ‘sugar on the table’ for people smugglers to exploit, with increasing numbers of would-be asylum seekers on the move and eager to access Australia from Pakistan, Bangladesh and other countries.”

The Australian Financial Review’s foreign affairs correspondent, Andrew Tillett, reported on December 1 last year:

“People smugglers are luring desperate asylum seekers by twisting the High Court’s recent ruling that put an end to indefinite detention, border officials warn, as they brace for a potential influx of boats.”

At the time, the head of Operation Sovereign Borders, Rear Admiral Justin Jones, told the AFR he had been prepared for people smugglers to twist the High Court’s ruling, but that intelligence indicated that the ruling had not yet encouraged people to get on a boat.

Changed Tactics

The situation now appears to have changed. Sky News’ Peta Credlin said:

“After those 39 asylum seekers were discovered in Western Australia late last week, Australian Border Force officials fear that people smugglers are getting ready for a new assault on our coastline.”

The Australian’s Denis Shanahan told Sky News that there is evidence that the people smugglers are changing their tactics, using faster boats which are capable of landing people on the beach, and then escaping quickly from Australian waters.

He said the same tactic was being employed to land people from Mexico onto the beaches of California, in addition to crossing the Rio Grande in the south.

The Albanese Government’s response to the boat arrivals was to send them to Nauru, but it is unclear what their future will be.

When Opposition Leader Peter Dutton accused the Government of presiding over a “catastrophic scandal” that threatened Australia’s border security, the Prime Minister responded by saying Mr Dutton’s “irresponsible comments” about Labor’s handling of people smugglers only encouraged it further. Enhancing border security would have been a more appropriate response.


Originally published by News Weekly. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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