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FactCheck: did boat arrivals spike around the same time Australia suspended live cattle exports to Indonesia in 2011?

What does the data say on boat arrivals around the time of the 2011 live export ban? AAP/Tracey Nearmy

FactCheck: did boat arrivals spike around the same time Australia suspended live cattle exports to Indonesia in 2011?

Might I remind you that when we closed down the live animal export industry, it was around about the same time that we started seeing a lot of people arriving in boats in Australia. – Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, speaking at the Regional Leaders’ Debate in Goulburn, May 25, 2016.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce caused a ripple when he linked asylum-seeker arrivals to Australian shores with the previous government’s decision to ban live cattle exports over animal welfare concerns.

The day after the debate, Joyce sought to clarify his comments, saying:

What I’ve said is quite clear. That basically we already had 14,000 people that had come in through boats. Another 40,000 came in afterwards. But you don’t fix the problem of people coming in illegally by creating another problem, which was banning live cattle trade.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has quashed any suggestion of a connection between the two issues, saying:

Let me be quite clear about this: there is no link between the Indonesian government and people smuggling.

In any case, it is beyond the scope of FactCheck to say whether diplomatic problems between Indonesia and Australia led to an increase in boat arrivals. The factors driving migration are multifaceted and complex.

But what does the data say about the number of boat arrivals before and after the live export ban?

What happened after the 2011 live export suspension?

The previous Labor government announced a suspension of live animal exports to certain facilities in Indonesia on May 31, 2011, after an ABC Four Corners program about animal cruelty to Australian cattle exported to Indonesia.

In early June, 2011, the government suspended all live cattle exports to Indonesia.

The suspension was lifted around a month later in early July 2011 after new conditions were written into export permits.

The Conversation asked Joyce’s office for a source to support his assertion that more asylum seekers arrived “around about the same time” as the June 2011 ban on live animal exports to Indonesia. A spokesperson referred to Australian Parliamentary Library figures for calendar-year boat arrivals between 2009 and 2013:

Parliamentary Library figures on boat arrivals between 2009 and 2011. Parliamentary library

The numbers of people arriving by boat were fairly steady over the late 2000s, with the numbers increasing toward the end of 2011.

Parliamentary Library

In a submission to a Senate committee, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection said that between December 2007 and June 2011 (around the time the live export ban was introduced) about 11,500 asylum seekers arrived by boat.

The data show there wasn’t an immediate marked increase in arrivals after June 2011 (around the time of the live export suspension). The ban lasted little over a month and the number of arrivals remained relatively flat over that period.

The number of arrivals did increase markedly toward the last quarter of 2011, and dropped again in early 2012 during the monsoon season. The numbers increased in 2012 and 2013.

Did 14,000 people arrive by boat before mid-2011 and 40,000 after the live export ban?

Joyce didn’t specify what time period he was referring to when he contrasted the pre-live-export-ban arrival numbers with the post-ban figures.

Government statistics show that:

  • From the financial years July 2007 to June 2011, 11,607 people arrived by boat, including 565 crew (Rudd came to power in December 2007).
  • From financial years July 2011 to June 2013, an additional 33,769 people arrived by boat, including 613 crew. The peak was during the financial year 2012-2013 when just over 25,000 people arrived by boat.
  • From July 2013 to the end of August 2013, 5,736 people (excluding crew) arrived by boat.

It is possible Joyce calculated the pre-ban figure of 14,000 by adding up arrivals from the calendar years 2007 to 2011. However, this methodology would include boat arrivals from the second half of 2011 (after the ban).

It is an exaggeration to say that 14,000 people came prior to the banning of live cattle exports in May 2011. The figure is closer to 11,500, if you count arrivals from when Rudd took power in 2007 to June 2011 (when the live export ban was announced).

It is roughly correct to say 40,000 asylum seekers arrived by boat between July 2011 and September 2013. However, the significant increase in numbers came in the latter part of 2012.

Verdict

There was no immediate increase in the number of people arriving by boat “about the same time” as the cessation in live cattle exports. The ban lasted little over a month and the number of arrivals remained relatively flat over that period. An increased number of arrivals did commence toward the end of that year.

It is an exaggeration to say that 14,000 people came prior to the banning of live cattle exports in May 2011. The figure is closer to 11,500, if you count arrivals from late 2007 to June 2011 (when the live export ban was announced).

Joyce’s figure of 40,000 arrivals is roughly correct, if you count from July 2011 to September 2013. However, the most significant increase in arrivals occurred in the second part of 2012 – not immediately after June 2011. – Mary Anne Kenny


Review

This FactCheck has accurately set out the number of boat arrivals to Australia from 2007 based on Department of Immigration and Border Protection figures. In relation to Joyce’s comments, it is important to emphasise that although about 40,000 asylum seekers arrived between July 2011 and September 2013, the numbers were consistently below 500 from June to October 2011. The number of boat arrivals reached over 1000 for the first time in December 2011, and the most significant spike in numbers occurred from April 2012 to September 2013 – well after the live export ban was lifted. *– Alex Reilly *


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