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May, 2019

FactCheck: Have more than 1000 asylum seekers died at sea?

By Sara Davies, Griffith University

“More than 1000 asylum seekers have perished at sea since Labor relaxed its policies in 2008 – a move it now concedes was a mistake.


” – The Australian, 18 July.

Asylum seekers drowning on their way to Australia was cited as one reason why the Rudd government announced its policy to send all those who arrive by boat to Papua New Guinea for assessment and resettlement if they are found to be refugees.

There were two more tragedies recently. A suspected asylum seeker boat capsized off Christmas Island last week, killing at least four people. It came a few days after nine people, including a baby boy, died on their way to Australia.

No official records are kept by any government agency as to how many people trying to reach our shores to seek asylum are dying en route. The most reliable open source data is kept by the Monash Australian Border Deaths Database which “maintains a record of all known deaths associated with Australia’s borders since 1 January 2000”. Deaths include those who perish at sea attempting to reach Australian shores, those who have committed suicide within Australian detention centres and those who have died of natural causes within detention. The database is assembled from “official sources, media reports and lists of deaths collated by non-governmental organizations”. It is one of the most comprehensive, independent databases.

Between 2000 and 2007 (the period which includes the introduction of the “Pacific Solution” for asylum seekers travelling by boat under the Coalition government), the database documents 746 reported deaths of asylum seekers. Of those, 363 asylum seekers died at sea while on their way to Australia. As well, 350 were presumed dead (their status is missing at sea with status unknown); 22 died in detention (the majority of those cases were suicide, but there were some deaths of natural causes); and 11 people were returned to Afghanistan and reportedly murdered for being “Australian spies”.

Between 2008 and July 2013 (under Labor), 877 asylum seekers have reportedly died. Of those, 15 committed suicide or died of natural causes in detention centres. So during this period, approximately 862 individuals died trying to reach Australia’s mainland to seek asylum.

During the 2000-2007 period of Coalition government, 363 died, with the status of additional 350 individuals unknown.

This is a tragedy that has occurred under both political parties, especially so since 90% of asylum seekers who arrive by boat have been found to be genuine refugees.


The 1000 deaths of asylum seekers at sea figure regularly cited by politicians and the media is broadly correct. The best official figure is just under 900, but there is no doubt that deaths at sea have occurred and have not been recorded.


Surprisingly, the government does not keep statistics on deaths related to claims for asylum in Australia as is noted in the article.

The article points to the best estimates we have outside official figures. On those figures to conclude that 1000 deaths is “broadly correct” when the best figure is 877 seems generous – it is more reasonable to round 877 up to 900.

Nonetheless, the inflation in the numbers in no way diminishes the tragedy of deaths occurring as a result of attempts to claim asylum in Australia. – Alex Reilly

The Conversation is fact checking political statements in the lead-up to this year’s federal election. Statements are checked by an academic with expertise in the area. A second academic expert reviews an anonymous copy of the article.

Request a check at [email protected] Please include the statement you would like us to check, the date it was made, and a link if possible.

Sara Davies receives funding from Australian Government (AusAID grant in partnership with University of Queensland) and has received funding from Australia Research Council.

Alex Reilly does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Flu \’may hit Australia in days\’

Health Minister Nicola Roxon has warned that confirmed cases of swine flu striking Australia are possible in coming days.


*No cases confirmed in Australia

*Five suspected cases in New South Wales

*Ten in Queensland

*Two in Tasmania.

Ms Roxon said Australia\’s health officials were meeting around the clock to respond to the health crisis.

“We want to make sure that if there are any cases identified – and of course this is at least possible, if not likely, over the coming days – that we can act immediately to help contain any outbreak here in Australia,” she told ABC TV.

Ms Roxon said she and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd were working closely with the nation\’s top doctor, chief medical officer Jim Bishop on the issue and cabinet would also be briefed later on Tuesday.

Ten Queenslanders were being tested for swine flu and one passenger has been detained after returning from Los Angeles displaying symptoms, while another five people may be infected in NSW.

Two people in Tasmania recently arrived from the swine flu affected Americas have been asked to remain in their homes after presenting with flu-like symptoms, the state\’s health minister says.

Queensland poised for first swine flu case

Queensland Health says it\’s inevitable a swine flu case will come through an Australian airport.

Premier Anna Bligh\’s activated the state\’s pandemic plan today which if escalated could see border screening and the cancellation of major public events.

Chief health officer Jeannette Young says Brisbane authorities are expecting to diagnose a case of the deadly flu. She says the biggest issue is planes because people can move so rapidly.

Mexico death toll reaches 149

So far the only swine flu deaths have been recorded in Mexico, where the estimated toll has risen to 149.

The United States has recorded the second highest rate of infection, with officials doubling the number of confirmed cases to 40 and declaring the outbreak a public health emergency.

WHO raises pandemic level

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has raised its flu pandemic alert level from three to four, signalling a “significant increase in risk of a pandemic.”

Ms Roxon says Australia will takes its cues on the matter from WHO. “Health advisers are meeting daily and through the night and are ready to change or upgrade our response any time there is new advice on the situation.”

“It is a changing situation so as we learn more, if we identify any cases in Australia our response will need to change over time.”

As of midnight (AEST), airlines servicing Australia from North or South America have been required to report any passengers with flu-like symptoms before being allowed to land.

Ms Roxon said there were also clinical staff stationed at the country\’s international airports to detect and treat anyone displaying symptoms.

“The important thing in this situation is to make sure that the community, particularly the travelling community, are aware of the risks (and) do know that they need to seek advice and treatment early if they experience any flu like symptoms,” she said.

“Because limiting who they then are in contact with in Australia is going to be vital to ensuring that we don\’t have an unnecessary spread of the disease if we have any identified cases in the future.”

Australia was well prepared to handle any outbreak, Ms Roxon said. “We are very well prepared and I am confident that we have plenty of (anti-viral drugs) Tamiflu and Relenza in our stockpile,” she said.

“We have very good communication systems, we have a strong health sector that can cope with changing circumstances and thye are at the ready.”

View Swine flu epidemic in a larger map

Land to house the people or to feed them?

Climate change, rising fuel costs, water shortages: now experts are warning Australia’s food producers have a new crisis to consider — Food Insecurity.


For the first time in the nation’s history, Australia is now importing more fruit and vegetables than it exports.

And with the Prime Minister predicting a population of 36 million by 2050, food growers and urban planners will be forced to compete even more for the very land we rely on to feed us.

SBS’ Peta-Jane Madam takes a look at how urbanisation has become one of the main issues driving the current agricultural revolution.

As Australia’s population continues to grow, where food comes from and how it is produced is undergoing dramatic change.

The Hawkesbury Region is the agricultural back bone of the Sydney Basin.

It’s also the battleground to a growing conflict: should this land be used to house people, or to feed them?

Lynne Saville is from the Sydney Food Fairness Alliance, an advocacy group pushing for food sustainability.

“They’re quantifying people, we quantify water, but we’re not quantifying the amount of food that’s going to be needed to feed these people,” Ms Saville told SBS.

The Sydney Basin once boasted more than 2000 farmers. That number has been halved.

She says by 2030, that number will be halved again, as housing developments spill onto arable land.

“If we increase our population and if we don’t protect our agricultural land and think of ways to grow food to feed our growing population – we will experience serious food shortages.”

Already 95 per cent of the food consumed by Sydney-siders comes from outside the Sydney basin, opening the gateway to imported food.

Imported food on the rise

For the first time, Australia is now importing more fruit and vegetables than it exports.

Last year, $826 million worth of food came into the country while $749 million worth went out.

Most comes from New Zealand, but increasingly garlic, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, beans and corn are being sourced from China.

Store Manager Abilio Paiva says his customers are wary of where their food comes from.

“When we say it’s from China or from America, they don’t want it.”

But imports are not the only issue.

Calls for new labelling system

When it comes to identifying what foods come from what country, the labelling can be confusing.

To be a Product of Australia it must be grown, processed and packaged in the country.

To be Made in Australia it simply needs to be processed here.

Otherwise, the ingredients can be entirely sourced from overseas.

There are also concerns about how imported food is grown – the use of chemicals and standards in storage.

These fears were raised, when the federal government moved to allow beef imports from countries previously hit by mad cow disease.

“We have the highest standards of food safety in the world but I can’t say that with confidence about the products sourced from many other countries,” CEO of AusVeg Richard Mulchay said.

Some argue that the safety of imported food wouldn’t be an issue, if our agricultural land was preserved in the first place.

“We’ve lost that connection between food consumption and where our food is produced, Sustainable agricultural expert at the University of Sydney Bill Billotti told SBS.

“In the long term it’s a very negative thing, because it means that our farmers are struggling to remain financially viable, and it means our policy and our planning is not protecting or preserving some of our best agricultural land.”

“If we continue to see this rise in imports, then we’re going to see a situation where the smaller farms, the Australian families working on those farms, are going to have to close down,” Professor Bellotti said.

Calls for national food framework

Agricultural experts have been monitoring this trend for years, and say the solution must begin with a national framework.

“The umbrella danger is, we don’t have a national food policy in Australia,” Senior Lecturer in Rural Systems and Development at the University of Western Sydney Dr Gavin Ramsay said.

Until one is developed, people can expect to see more imported food appearing on their plates.

Despite Australia’s landmass, it is estimated that only 10 percent of it is suitable for growing food.

Much of that land, with its rich soil and regular rainfall, lies on the fringe of our cities, with the very areas earmarked for development.

“We always talk about the Murray-Darling Basin as the food bowl of Australia. It’s not the food bowl of Australia, it’s one food bowl of Australia, town planner Ian Sinclair told SBS.

Government rejects call to use nuclear power

The Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering – representing engineers and scientists – released the report on climate change on Friday which calls the government to spend $6 billion on researching ways to slash the carbon emissions from electricity generation.


The academy\’s report says no single technology will solve climate change, and takes a look at everything from nuclear power to clean coal and renewable energy.

At the launch of the report in Melbourne, Mr Ferguson said the government was committed to meeting its greenhouse gas reduction targets without turning to nuclear power.

“It is the government\’s view that nuclear power is not needed as part of Australia\’s energy mix given our country\’s abundance and diversity of low-cost renewable energy sources,” he said.

“The government has a clear policy of prohibiting the development of an Australian nuclear power industry.”

Mr Ferguson said the report focused the Australian community\’s mind on technology and how it can help solve climate change.

“Technology created the problem and technology will be the solution to the problem. What we\’re about is encouraging a debate,” he said.

When asked by reporters whether the government would commit the $6 billion asked for in the report, Mr Ferguson said its policies would see major investment in research and development in the private and public sectors.

“The carbon pollution reduction scheme, putting a price on carbon in association with renewable energy targets, will facilitate investment by the private sector in association with ongoing investment, not only by the Australian government, but also state and territory governments,” he said.

The report\’s author Dr John Burgess said he believed Australia would need to put in a lot of work to reduce emissions by between five and 15 per cent by 2020.

“We think it is realistic and possible. But the point we\’re making in the report is that a lot of work will need to be done … it\’s only 11 years and a lot of work will need to be done to develop up the technologies to replace that carbon because of the growth in consumption that is happening,” he said.

He said he was not disappointed by the minister\’s comments on nuclear power.

“I guess what we\’re slightly concerned about is that without nuclear energy the other technologies have to work,” Dr Burgess said.

Climate policies under attack

The government is copping flak for linking up its two major climate change policies.


It says a scheme to massively boost renewable energy can’t start properly until its embattled emissions trading scheme (ETS) gets passed.

Combination a ‘poison pill’

Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt said the move was outrageous.

“The government is engaged in trying to hold renewable energy hostage,” he told ABC Radio on Thursday.

Tying up the two schemes amounted to a “poison pill” so that the renewable energy scheme would fail, Mr Hunt said.

Australian Greens leader Bob Brown said the move was “legislated blackmail”.

Matthew Warren, chief executive of the Clean Energy Council, called on politicians to stop playing games with clean energy jobs.

The scheme to have 20 per cent of energy from renewable sources, called the Renewable Energy Target (RET), will soon go before parliament.

But the government says assistance to industry under the RET will not go ahead until the ETS passes parliament.

The ETS is facing defeat in the Senate.

The government says linking up the two schemes is fair because industry only needs assistance with the RET if it is also facing higher costs under the ETS.

Green groups labels ETS a ‘dud’

Meanwhile, some green groups have called for emissions trading to be ditched in favour of direct, immediate action on climate change.

Groups representing 400,000 people say Australia is obsessed with emissions trading, but the government’s scheme is a dud.

They unveiled a “Plan B” on Thursday, which includes phasing out coal-fired power stations and overhauling public transport.

Millions of homes would get green make-overs and there would be mandatory fuel efficiency standards for cars under the plan.

There would be more cycle paths and car pooling, and an end to logging of old growth forests.

The groups include Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the Wilderness Society and state-based conservation councils, but some large green groups do not agree with the plan.

The Senate will have just four days to consider the ETS later this month, before parliament breaks for winter.