Essential Report

Jun 7, 2010

Essential Report – our ignorance on asylum seeker numbers

This week’s Essential Report comes in with the primaries r

Possum Comitatus — Editor of Pollytics

Possum Comitatus

Editor of Pollytics

This week’s Essential Report comes in with the primaries running Coalition down 1 to 40, ALP down 2 to 37, washing out into a two party preferred of 52/48 to Labor – a one point Labor gain since last week. The Greens are on 12 (up 3) while the broad Others are steady on 10. This comes from a two week rolling sample of 1872, giving us an MoE that maxes out around the 2.3% mark.

This makes three pollsters showing a substantial jump in the Greens vote over the last fortnight – putting them somewhere around the 15% mark at the moment.

Essential asked additional questions this week on which party has the best leadership team, awareness of actual asylum seeker numbers (the results… ugh!), advertising credibility on the RSPT and approval of John Howard as head of the International Cricket Council! (if you can’t wait for that last question, just skip to the end of the post 😛  )

Thinking about the Government Ministers and the Opposition Shadow Ministers in Federal Parliament, who has the best leadership team – Kevin Rudd and the Labor Party or Tony Abbott and the Coalition?


On the cross-tabs, Essential tells us:

95% of Labor voters think the Labor team is better and 75% of Liberal/National voters prefer the Liberal team.

Greens voters prefer the Labor team over the Liberal team (by 55% to 13%), as do other party and independent voters (45% to 24%).

People aged under 35 prefer the Labor team 47% to 18%.

A rather chunky difference there between Labor and Liberal supporters and the perceptions of their respective teams leadership.

From what you have read and heard, what percentage of Australia’s annual immigration intake are asylum seekers arriving by boat?


Looking at the reality – in 2008/9 there was a total of 1033 asylum seekers that arrived by boat (give or take a handful where definitions get tricky) and settler arrivals of 158,021. So in the 2008/9 year it came to around 0.7% as a percentage.

In the 2009/10 year there have been 4916 people arrive by boat as of the 26th of May. There’s still a month left, so let’s be generous on the upside and say that it might go up to 5500 if a small flotilla arrives this month.

The planned migration intake this year is 182,450 – the migration intake of 168,700 + the 13,750 in the humanitarian program.

This would make the proportion of boat people 3%.

So let us be generous (because we’re generous sorts around here) and say that those answering around 5% and those answering less than 1% are both in the ballpark – the former for what will probably be this year’s result and the latter for the last year the data has been completed.

Tabling up the results, we get:


When 44% of Coalition voters are off with the fairies on asylum seeker numbers, is it any wonder that Abbott and Morrison deliberately exploit that ignorance at every opportunity for their own base political advantage?


Thinking about the proposed resources super profits tax and the current advertising by the Government and the mining companies, who is more believable ‐ the Government or the mining companies?


On the cross-tabs, Essential tells us something very consistent with the gender gap we saw on the RSPT in today’s Nieslen:

There is a significant difference in opinion by gender – men are more likely to believe the Government (Govt. 41%/Mining cos. 36%/Don’t know 24%) and women more likely to believe the mining companies or say they don’t know (26%/35%/38%).


Do you approve or disapprove of the former Prime Minister John Howard becoming head of the International Cricket Council?


On the cross-tabs we get:

57% of women and 60% of people aged under 35 have no opinion. Men approve 35% to 22%.


Leave a comment

30 thoughts on “Essential Report – our ignorance on asylum seeker numbers

  1. When it comes to immigrants, we don’t know, and we don’t want to know | Druid Circles

    […] Crikey reported in their essential report in June, while asylum seekers formed less than 1% of Australia’s total immigrants in 2008/09, […]

  2. Rod Hagen

    On average 46,000 people attend Melbourne’s Crown Casino EVERY DAY compared to the 5000 or so people arriving in leaky boats over THE LAST YEAR.

    I’m no wowser when it comes to gambling, but I know which of these figures frightens me more!

  3. Boats versus planes |

    […] Possum broke down some polling taken on people’s understanding of the number of asylum seekers as a proportion of our migration intake. It’s a great post and you should read it – he showed that 38% of Australian voters are way, way off on asylum seeker numbers. Another 30% simply don’t know at all. Just 33% of voters could give an answer that was vaguely in the right ballpark. […]

  4. Refugees are Welcome « how to be good

    […] Of Australia’s migrant intake 2009/10, only 3% were asylum seekers or boat people or whatever you want to call them. Hardly the hordes from the […]

  5. David Richards

    scott – you’re asking for a lot, aren’t you?

    All we get are useless mouthpieces who spout whatever their handlers tell them to, or raving nutters hell bent on their own bizarre agendas that are out of date and out of step with reality.

  6. scott73

    Yes James only if we can have a leader with forthright conscience instead of playing for votes. And all this crap about them being Christians, if Jesus see they way they are he will puke.

  7. James McDonald

    If politicians want to “turn back the boats” they can introduce a bill to exit from the Refugee Convention and repeal the laws that ratify it. If that’s what people want, then that’s what people want.

    But get the facts right, acknowledge the miniscule numbers involved, don’t continue this business of trying to break our own laws, and don’t even think about continuing to play the do-gooder, conscience-of-the-world act that some of our leaders like to affect. Personally, I think it would mean losing some of our best immigrants and I would oppose it for that reason alone.

  8. scott73

    Typo, above comment paragraph 3, ‘if we wouldn’t let the refugees in ourselves’

  9. scott73

    @nuytsia & Bogdanovist

    Nuytsia, I understand that you want refugees to come in orderly processed manner so we know whether someone is a real legitimate refugee or not but Bogdanovist is right that the politicians and the complicit media have fooled the public; they have twisted the issue to ‘border protection’ against ‘illegal boat arrivals’ or ‘illegal immigrant’ whereas the real issue is how to manage the flow of refugees. Our navy service men and women are doing a great job protecting our borders, there has not been any boat people breaking through the line and raided and pillaged any of our towns; I think it is an insult to them for politicians to say that we are failing at protecting our borders but that’s just the way of the world politicians will prey on ignorant and fear to manipulate and score votes.

    There used to be an Island in Indonesia set out exclusively for refugees where they can roam free, not in detention like Christmas Island but they had abolished long ago. What happened now is that all the refugees passing through Indonesia are scattered around, many have to live in squalor condition. There is very little resources that the UN has in order to cope with processing the refugees, many of them are caught in limbo for years and desperate to try to move on.

    Tony Abbott’s promise to turn the boats away defies basic logic. If we wouldn’t the refugees in ourselves then why would Indonesia try to retain them and try to co-operate to help stopping the people smugglers? What if Indonesia adopt the same policy as us closing there borders and tell the boats to keep on moving; and so they head towards Australia, some of them might run out of fuel and drown on the way, some of them might reach our water but then are turned away and drown at sea. Now are the coalition gonna feel sorry for them like they keep on attacking the Rudd’s government as being cruel to refugees enabling people smugglers causing refugees to be drowned at seas. Although the Rudd’s policy has not work but I think it was more expensive to pay I think Nauru it was to house the asylum seekers; and I do not think it is fair to dump it all on Indonesia and expect them to keep the refugees there while we turn the boats around.

    Also if we breach human rights we cannot criticize any other country. Especially as you know once in awhile some of our citizens got caught and detained overseas, there has often been reaction here that make sure their rights are not violate and be treated fairly. Any other country can then just say ‘shut up Australia look at your own human rights record’; once we lose our standing in the world.

  10. James McDonald

    Now if you argue that some extra security arrangements are required for identifying and assessing those who arrive without visas, no one has ever disputed that. It is equivalent to saying that anyone who arrives must either already have a visa or a passport, or apply for one upon arrival.

  11. James McDonald

    No nuytsia, bogdanovist was right, you are totally and utterly wrong about the legal status of unauthorized arrivals seeking asylum.
    [“The reason the two types of asylum seekers are treated so differently by the government and in the media is that boat-borne asylum seekers break the law by entering Australia illegally …”]
    Check the immigration department website on refugees seeking protection website before posting any more. You will find this:
    Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program offers protection to asylum seekers who have entered Australia, either without a visa or as temporary entrants, and who are found to be owed Australia’s protection under the United Nations 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees (the Refugees Convention) and relevant Australian laws.]

  12. nuytsia

    Myopic rant, Bogdanovist? One paragraph making a single clear distinction that had been ignored by all previous posters as well as the article itself? I think your emotion might be clouding your logic somewhat.

    Given the pigeonhole into which you have attempted to cram me, you will doubtless be surprised to learn that I do not argue that boat-borne asylum seekers should be turned away or diverted to another country. Nor do I argue that they should be locked up.

    I have merely noted that asylum seekers who have arrived by aeroplane, through a legally established port and its associated verification procedures, are closer to establishing their claims to asylum than asylum seekers who arrive by boat in contravention of the procedures established for legally entering the country.

    I do not dispute your statement that “under the UN Convention on Refugees…it is not illegal to claim asylum in Australia, regardless of whether you come by plane, boat or any other means”. My point is that illegal entry should be considered independently from the right to asylum. Australia does allow illegal immigrants to apply for asylum, which is only fair and I support that. However, it would be foolhardy to ignore the fact that boat-borne asylum seekers have generally subverted a range of perfectly reasonable safeguards in arriving on Australian soil. I am not suggesting that they should be punished or rejected for that, given their circumstances, but equally I do not believe that they should be freely admitted into Australian society before passing these safeguards.

    If you believe that Australian border security measures are unnecessary, or that they should not be applied to everyone (which is the same thing), then we are at an impasse.

  13. fitter

    yeh, I think Rudd’s personal views probably support a fairer notion of treatment to those arrving by boat. Unlike the apology to the stolen generation, public support was swinging in favour of this, he really had nothing to lose. Public support is in favour of tougher border protection unfortunately, probably due to the wider electorates ignorance on the real numbers. A true leader with integrity and conviction in his beliefs would educate and lead, not just bend to opinion polls. That being said, Abbott is far worse, and just says and does what ever may win votes on the day, as per his nickname the weather vein.

  14. James McDonald

    fitter, you’re right as far as it goes, but the figures in the article show a huge disconnect between perceived statistics and reality, despite nine years of almost continuous talk about it.

    Kevin Rudd could, if he wanted to, use government advertising funds to destroy that disconnect and put this beat-up to rest for the next ten years. Unlike the RSPT advertising, it would be genuine non-partisan information, a legitimate use of those advertising funds.

    At the same time, in parliament he could cash in on the yawing gap between these minute statistics and the Coalition’s use of them as a major policy plank. Abbott would probably be forced to follow suit, but it would be harder for him to do so. This is one of the issues causing Labor’s primary vote to be siphoned off to the Greens, and this time all bets are off about where their preferences will be going.

    Kevin Rudd started his PM term with a moving apology to the stolen generations. He could easily, if he so wished, end this term by setting the record straight on asylum seeker numbers and boat people. His term has been a bad one, but he could bookend it with important symbolic messages of calm and morality.

    It’s entirely up to him.

  15. fitter

    why bother even printing these stats. The election is always fought and often won on the same ignorant bullshit every 4 years, and its boring. If there was one politician that had the balls to “educate” the electorate about this issue, rather than pander to populist ignorance, they would have my vote. Rudd campaigned on fair treatment for asylum seekers, come election time his policies are the same as Abbotts, it comes down to the usual brinkmanship on who’s the toughest, predictable, blatantly false, and pandering to the ignorant….when will it ever stop?

  16. scott73

    Because of what happened to the Jews in Germany-the Jewish holocaust, international law was set up to allow refugees to cross borders freely to seek asylum regardless of by boat, foot or plane. It is actually illegal to turn them away.

    The number of boat arrivals increased in the past year is because of the Sri Lankan war which caused hundred of thousand of people displaced.

    Sending them to a Pacific Nation will not help because the boat people will find way to navigate there. Neither party actually are offering credible policy on the issue. What we need is a proper queuing system.

    If we turn the boats around it will be bad for hospitality and tourism and education industry because we are only a small nation and not the might of the US or China we cannot afford to lose our standing in the world community and will not be an attractive place for people to come. Our education institutions depends a lot on overseas student fees as federal funding is not enough. Some of us might not care about whether students and tourists from Asia will come or not, but we do get a lot of tourists and students from progressive countries like the Scandinavians and they most likely will be disgusted if we turn our backs on asylum seekers.

  17. Bogdanovist

    @nutysia, you are utterly and completely wrong. Under the UN Convention on refugees, which is also Australian law, it is not illegal to claim asylum in Australia, regardless of whether you come by plane, boat or any other means.

    The ‘important distinction’ you claim needs to be recognised is a fantasy concocted by politicians along with a complicit media using terminology which makes your erroneous inferance appear correct. But none the less, it is baseless.

    The whole point of off-shore processing and the excising of island from our migration zone is an attempt to get around this fact. It isn’t actually legally valid anyway, which is why legitimate asylum seekers end up being accepted after all the uneccessary expense (which is enormous) and isolation that off-shore processing entails.

    Thanks for you little myopic rant though, it proves the opposite of your point quite nicely.

  18. nuytsia

    I have heard statistics on proportion of asylum seekers arriving by boat before, and while often surprising in the first instance, they are essentially irrelevant. The reason the two types of asylum seekers are treated so differently by the government and in the media is that boat-borne asylum seekers break the law by entering Australia illegally, thereby bypassing important border security measures relating to terrorism but also, criminality, demography, finance and biosecurity. Conversely, aeroplane-borne asylum seekers are allowed into Australia on the basis of known and accepted risk, after which they may quite legally apply for asylum. This is an important distinction which needs to be recognised. Australia willingly accepts a large number of legitimate asylum seekers every year (and I would personally support an even higher number) but it quite reasonably applies greater scrutiny in the case of illegal and often unidentifiable immigrants.

  19. James McDonald

    Well done – you may have found the weak link in the “We will decide who comes …” etc mythology.

    Interesting that Kevin Rudd is willing to spend $38 million advertising a divisive mining tax which will not even be used to bring the budget to surplus, but is happy to leave all the asylum-seeker mythology in place.

    After all, Kim Beazley was planning to spend billions creating a Coast Guard, specifically to guard against this shrieking horde of child-overboard-throwers, adding to the housing affordability crisis by taking up more homes than an Indigenous Housing program could build in three years.

  20. hr001

    Oooh, PollyTrend – looking ominous for the government. 3 nasty blue dots…

  21. Broggly

    Jack, the net permanent immigration was only 77,000 in that FY. Where does that 300,000 figure come from?

  22. IS RUDD TOO ETHICAL FOR POLITICS? | The Daily Bludge – Independent News

    […] the world. It is also true that their numbers as a percentage of total immigrants is extremely low (between 0.7 – 3%). The processing of refugees in the Pacific Islands was a political “solution” to people coming […]

  23. Jack Strocchi

    The headline of this article should be our essential ignorance of immigration numbers, not asylum seeker numbers. They might be irate about asylum seekers washing up on our girt by sea shores. But they would hit the roof if they knew about the scale of net immigration.

    The problem with the public’s ignorance is not with exaggerating the size of the numerator (asylum seekers) its with the understating the size of the denominator (net immigration).

    The Commonwealth expected net immigration to be 300,000 for FY 2008/09. Its been scaled back a bit because of GFC and rorts. But it would boggle the mind of the average Aussie to know that each day, day in day out all year long, around 1,000 new residents are jetting into the country.

    Thats a new city the size of Geelong every year. Why doesnt Possum deploy some of his much vaunted numeric skill to the crunching of those numbers. He might learn something new.

    People can see and sense that the country is taking in a large number of different people by just taking a walk down the CBD. But they don’t hear about the massive net immigration program.

    They do hear about asylum seekers because both sides of politics play the issue up for their own purposes, and because it is an essentially dramatic story. So Joe Public reasons, not unreasonably, that the large foreign inflow must be sourced from boat people.

    I sympathise with immigrants wanting to make a better life for themselves. Most of our parents were in that boat. And I can see various moral and material benefits accruing to a country that welcomes a high net immigration.

    But the current scale of net immigration is pushing it way beyond the economic and ecologic carrying capacity of the land.

    Not sustainable.

    You would think that Greenies would be up in arms about that. But that would be underestimating the sanction powers of the Thought Police every time anyone questions the wisdom of the Open Borders policy.

  24. Andrew Norton » Blog Archive » Do Australians know how many migrants we take?

    […] Pollytics blog points out Essential Research polling showing that most Australians haven’t a clue what proportion of overall immigration is made up of boat arrivals: […]

  25. Mr Squiggle


    Great work, as always. Thought provoking….I only have one point I would disagree on.

    I see no reason to connect the number of migrants with the number of refugees. I know that many people do, but I, for one, am quite capable of thinking 180,000 people per year is an appallingly high number, at least twice as many as we need, and should be no comfort to anyone who is lamenting our approach to asylum seekers.

  26. imacca

    Interesting post Poss. Many thanks. Whew, at least i made it “into the ballpark”!:)

  27. jenauthor

    The whole question is laughable — if the average ‘working family’ understood that they were being manipulated into being worked up over such a minor thing, I’d think they’d be flabbergasted.

    Bring on the demythologising!

  28. Chris Owens

    Hang on, if all those boat people aren’t making up 50% of our immigration intake, then what are we all getting worked up about? I know. Perhaps its the fact that the people in these boats are all terrorists who are hell bent on taking away from us our affluent lifestyle. What’s that? You say they are just ordinary people looking for a better life for themselves and their families? Well then I’m out of ideas. Over to you Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott.

  29. Holden Back

    But THEY are coming to get us with a knife pointed at the throats of the profits of our mining companies, surely?

    And how about the international students drying up: “They come over here,they, create our jobs, and then they bugger off!”

Leave a comment

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details