The policy marks a shift away from the previous Labor government’s Regional Resettlement Agreement – with an emphasis on foreign policy approach – to a military defence and border security approach.
Under the plan, the Deputy Chief of Army, Angus Campbell, will run the operation and report to the Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, rather than reporting to the Chief of the Defence Force who is under the responsibility of the defence minister.
Mr Campbell will be promoted to the rank of three star general and co-ordinate 16 government agencies dealing with asylum seeker boat arrivals.
Through the $10 million joint taskforce, asylum seeker boats will be turned back to source and transit countries – particularly Sri Lanka and Indonesia – where it is safe to do so. Additional vessels will also be leased to relieve patrol boats of passenger transfers.
The Liberal party claims the need for this taskforce is because 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 capacity of offshore processing centres on Manus Island and Nauru will also be increased and temporary protection visas (TPVs) restored.
TPVs holders do not have permanent residency and cannot re-enter the country if they decide to depart Australia. TPV recipients also have no right to work and no access to family reunion or welfare benefits.
Those asylum seekers who are thought to have deliberately discarded their identity documents will not be considered for refugee status at all under s91W of the Migration Act.
A commitment remains to regional cooperation on people smuggling through the Bali process. Similar to the Regional Resettlement Agreement, the Operation Sovereign Borders plan, claims it will send a message to people smugglers and their prospective passengers.
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”.
The government’s 21-page ‘Operation Sovereign Borders policy’ document can be viewed here.