Army man to head Abbott’s drive to stop the boats

Tony Abbott has repeatedly promised to “stop the boats”. AAP/Alan Porritt

The deputy chief of the Army, Angus Campbell, is being appointed to oversee “Operation Sovereign Borders” which will spearhead the Abbott government’s effort to combat the people smuggling trade to Australia.

Major General Campbell, with wide military experience as well as previously having served as Deputy National Security Adviser, will have responsibility for co-ordinating all the elements of the Coalition effort to stop the boats. He will be promoted to three star general rank.

The new government will be sworn in this morning but Tony Abbott has declared Day 1 of his government not just a ceremonial occasion but “an action day”.

One priority would be to “send a message to the people smugglers that from today, their business model is coming to an end.

"From today the Immigration Department will immediately cease granting permanent protection visas to illegal boat arrivals and will start the process of reintroducing temporary protection visas which will deny permanent residency to those who have already arrived illegally by boat,” he said.

Meeting another election promise, Abbott said that as soon as he returned to Parliament House from the swearing-in ceremony, he would instruct the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to prepare the carbon tax repeal legislation.

“Reducing cost of living pressures is core business for this Government and scrapping the carbon tax will save the average family more than $550 a year from 2014-15.”

He said Treasurer Joe Hockey would instruct the board of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to suspend its operations and cease making payments. Treasury was instructed to prepare legislation to permanently shut down the corporation.

“We will deliver results for the Australian people from day one and live up to our pledge to have a safe, secure Australia and a strong, prosperous economy,” Abbott said.

Today the government will issue the new administrative arrangements and also reveal what changes there will be among heads of departments.

Announcing its Operation Sovereign Borders policy in July the Coalition said the commander would report directly to the immigration minister, who would have portfolio responsibility for the policy. It would be directed by a joint agency taskforce involving all agencies with direct involvement in border security.

The Coalition said that in the first 100 days, Operation Sovereign Borders would finalise and issue protocols for Operation Relex 11, to turn back boats where it was safe to do so; increase capacity at offshore processing centres; and lease and deploy additional vessels to relieve patrol vessels of passenger transfers.

The executive director of the Australia Defence Association Neil James said that “given the odd nature of the position” Campbell had the qualifications for it, having served at the senior levels of both the Australian Defence Force and the public service. The task was one of inter-agency co-ordination and he had worked for or with most of the agencies. But it “will be a pretty tough job”, with a major problem that the actual command and control aspect had not been thought through yet.

Abbott is expected to visit Indonesia late this month, with border protection policy one item high on the agenda. The Indonesians have been critical of aspects of the Coalition policy.