A vessel carrying seven asylum seekers is intercepted off Ashmore Island in April.
A vessel carrying seven asylum seekers is intercepted off Ashmore Island in April.

600 people smugglers arrested in five years

A LIFTING of secrecy surrounding Operation Sovereign Borders reveals more than 600 criminals have been arrested for trying to smuggle 2500 people into Australia, as a barrage of asylum seeker appeals force federal courts to list trial dates out to 2021.

New details revealed today about the highly classified military operation highlights how Australia is targeted by a network of criminals, who have been arrested across six countries since 2013 for planning their misery missions.

It comes as the Home Affairs Department is preparing for a "heightened" number of asylum seeker cases to defend as court delays "incentivise" further litigation.

While it was known Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB) had turned back 33 boats carrying about 800 asylum seekers, for the first time it can be reported that Australian authorities and regional partners stopped at least 77 new boat arrivals and 2518 suspected asylum seekers.

The biggest source country - where most ventures were planned to leave from - was Indonesia. Authorities seized on intelligence that prevented more than 1750 asylum seekers on 51 boats coming to Australia.

More than 480 people linked to people smuggling operations to Australia have been arrested in Sri Lanka since 2013.

Law enforcement agencies working across the region now pounce early to disrupt illegal people smuggling while it still remains in planning stages.

Meanwhile, The Courier-Mail can reveal that federal courts have listed matters to hear asylum seeker appeals out to the year 2021. Some of the cases are a hangover from when asylum seekers flooded to Australia under Labor and they continue to file numerous appeals to buy time.

Just to defend appeals has cost taxpayers $11 million this financial year alone.

A Federal Court spokesman has told The Courier-Mail it was taking about four months for cases to be heard in the Federal Court and 10 months in the Federal Circuit Court.

"Matters are listed for trial as soon as a date becomes available, however, there has been considerable growth in the filing of migration applications over the past two-three years, placing pressure on resources to list matters earlier,'' the spokesman said.

"As at June 2018, 787 cases involving foreign national asylum seekers seeking to stay in Australia were pending before the Federal Court of Australia and 7114 were pending before the Federal Circuit Court."

The spokesman said about 16 judges were hearing migration matters.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton warned that Labor would water down its immigration policy.

"Labor will tell you that the people smugglers have gone away, but that's just not true,'' he said.

"OSB works because it is strong and consistent. Any weakening in any part of the policy would restart the boats.

"Mr Shorten will do anything to appease the left of his party and the first thing he would do if elected is put the people smugglers back in charge of the border.

"Labor promises in opposition to stop boats. Every time they are in government they change the policy and boats restart.

"About 1400 people have drowned on the Mediterranean so far this year and it could happen again here if Labor is re-elected."

Labor has denied the party is soft on immigration, but it is split on how long asylum seekers should remain in offshore detention centres and has said it will scrap temporary protection visas.

The Home Affairs Department said it expected more asylum seekers to appeal decisions on protection visas to buy more time in Australia.

"Judicial review applicants are typically granted a bridging visa to enable them to remain in Australia until their litigation proceedings are resolved,'' a Department submission reveals. "With the average time frame for resolution of proceedings currently approaching one year, this provides an incentive for some applicants to commence litigation proceedings to prolong their stay in Australia.

"As this time frame increases to several years, the Department expects the incentive to commence litigation proceedings to become heightened."

The Department said the number of applications for judicial review had risen significantly since 2011 but its success rate in hearings had remained stable.

"Between the 2010-11 and 2016-17 financial years, the Department maintained an average success rate before the courts in its migration caseload of 93 per cent.

"In 2017-18 financial year-to-date, the Department's success rate before the courts

in its migration caseload is 94 per cent. In accordance with the Directions, the Department only defends or appeals decisions where there is a reasonable prospect of success or it is otherwise justified in the public interest."

A boat carrying asylum seekers is intercepted in 2013 off Christmas Island. Picture: AFP
A boat carrying asylum seekers is intercepted in 2013 off Christmas Island. Picture: AFP

A Department of Social Services spokesman told The Courier-Mail asylum seekers on bridging visas may receive welfare payments if they were in financial hardship and had no other means of support.

"They may also receive Family Tax Benefit if they have dependent children,'' he said.

"Over the past five years there were fewer than 10 recipients per annum on a subclass 060 or 070 bridging visa receiving Family Tax Benefit.

"It is estimated the Family Tax Benefit entitlement paid over this period was less than $100,000 per annum.

"Holders of visa subclass 070 who are of workforce age and do not have disability have mutual obligation requirements, such as seeking work and undertaking activities to improve their employment prospects.

"Holders of visa subclass 060 do not have mutual obligation requirements, as holders are generally assisting the AFP prosecute traffickers and are under AFP protection."

It is understood the basic rate for "Special Benefit" is $545.80 a fortnight for a single person with no dependent children.



HE became rich from their misery. Notorious people smuggler Abraham Louhenapessy sent thousands of asylum seekers on unseaworthy boats to Australia and New Zealand.

Louhenapessy - known as "Captain Bram" - was sent to an Indonesian jail for people smuggling, but the money was too good - after two years behind bars he was again plying his evil trade. He maintained that he felt sorry for the asylum seekers, but took on more risky ventures the more money he was promised.

In one case, about 250 seasick and desperate Sri Lankans were trapped on a leaky boat for six months off ­Indonesia. They paid up to 8000 ($12,650) each to get to Australia. They were rescued after then-prime minister Kevin Rudd asked Indonesia to stop the vessel reaching Australia.

Indonesian courts also heard he was given about 1.5 billion rupiah ($140,000) to find a crew and a boat to send desperate asylum seekers to New Zealand in 2015.

It was intercepted by Australian authorities, with Louhenapessy and his crew claiming they were paid about $US32,000 to return to Indonesia, sparking a diplomatic row.

Last year, he was sentenced to six months' jail after he was found guilty of immigration offences. It has been alleged he helped smuggle more than 1000 people to Australia since 1999

Small win in breakthrough medicine for cancer patients

Premium Content Small win in breakthrough medicine for cancer patients

Patients deemed unsuitable for standard treatment will receive revolutionary...

Scholarship offered to research the health of Fitzroy Basin

Premium Content Scholarship offered to research the health of Fitzroy Basin

$2000 is being offered to attract a CQUniversity student to research the health of...

UPDATE: Lucky escape after driver ‘runs red light’

Premium Content UPDATE: Lucky escape after driver ‘runs red light’

Police reportedly stumbled upon the incident while travelling through the area.