Prime Minister John Howard in June 1999 announced an A$124 million program to fight people-smuggling. About 860 people have been caught trying to enter Australia in 1998-99 by boat, compared with 200 during 1997-98.
Legislation is pending in the Australian Parliament that will increase sentences on persons caught smuggling illegal immigrants into Australia. The penalty for smuggling individuals will increase to 10 years and a fine of up to $A110,000, and for five or more persons to 20 years in jail and a fine of up to $220,000. Police would be able to obtain warrants to tap the phones of people under investigation for suspected people-trafficking.
Immigration minister Philip Ruddock believes that deporting illegal arrivals as soon as possible will help discourage smuggling. When 2,000 Africans boarding ships in Somalia for Australia learned from radio reports that the Australian government was not going to allow their entry, the passengers turned on the smugglers and the $4 million scheme was thwarted.
Some three to 3.5 million overseas visitors travel to Australia each year. Some do not depart. Australia estimates its illegal foreign resident population by estimating the non-return rate, which is comprised of people who are in Australia illegally, usually overstayers. The overall non-return rate is 2.1 percent, but is 25 percent for Tongans.
The government has developed a list of countries that it considers sources of illegal immigration, and has asked its consular officers in these countries to more closely monitor the granting of visas in such countries. Countries on the list include Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Laos, Lithuania, Russia and Nepal.
During harvests in Spring 1999, illegal foreign workers were discovered working in agriculture. The government launched a discussion of employer sanctions, but the National Farmers Federation in June 1999 rejected sanctions: NFF Executive Director Wendy Craik said the government should punish smugglers, not employers.
"Australia should expect more illegal immigrants," Australian Broadcasting Corporation, June 15, 1999. "Ten countries added to Immigration's visa hit list," AAP, June 15, 1999. "Farmers should not be punished for employing illegal workers," Australian Broadcasting Corporation, June 14, 1999. Andrea Mayes and Debra Way, "Detention center overcrowded as boats arrive," AAP, June 14, 1999. Janelle Miles, "Suspected illegal immigrants hiding on Christmas Island," AAP, June 12, 1999. Fiona Carruthers, "Escape at any price," Time, June 7, 1999.