Abbott and Morrison have wasted no time putting the boot into asylum seekers.

The day after being sworn into office, Abbott directed the Immigration Department to only issue temporary protection visas to any asylum seeker found to be a refugee. As a result tens of thousands of refugees (and their families) have potentially been handed a life sentence: denied permanent residency, travel rights and family re-union.

But the immediate focus of the Coalition’s anti-refugee policies has been the media blackout imposed with the start of Operation Sovereign Borders.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s first move, to shut down information about asylum boat arrivals, has backfired badly

The blackout not only means no government announcement when an asylum boat arrives, but also that other associated authorities, such as the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, have been silenced. Any inquiries are referred to the Minister’s office.

The government is determined to prevent media or public scrutiny of its policies, including information about Australian actions regarding asylum boat rescues. One immediate result was that questions still surround the actions of Australian rescue authorities regarding a tragedy in which more than 50 people (including around 30 children) drowned in late September. Survivors say they contacted Australian authorities for more than 24 hours before the tragedy, while the government says the only notification they got was on the day of the tragedy itself. In any case, it seems, once again, there was no serious rescue effort mounted.

Predictably, Scott Morrison is playing the tough guy to the media. He has announced a turnaround time of 48 hours between asylum seekers arriving in Australia and being sent to PNG. But even on his own figures, only around half of those arriving are being sent off-shore and the media blackout means that his 48 hour claim is impossible to verify. But PNG says there is no fast-tracking of transferees and any “visitors” must be in good health.

Meanwhile tensions are rising in the offshore detention centres, with self-harm incidents and hunger strikes increasing. The first woman to attempt suicide in the family camp was reported from Nauru in early October.

Morrison is also stepping up the fear-mongering. He is handing the names and addresses of asylum seekers in the community to the police and intends to impose mandatory behavioural protocols and increase the cancellation of bridging visas for asylum seekers living in the community.

Behind the ruthless rhetoric, however, the Coalition policy remains under strain. In the face of Indonesian concern, Abbott has quietly dropped his proposal to tow boats back to sea. Abbott and Morrison can be stopped, but every increase in draconian policy needs to be met with action from the refugee movement.

By Ian Rintoul

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