Is the number of asylum seekers arriving by plane almost double the number who came by boat over the past five years?

By Tiffanie Turnbull, Louise Evans and James Lane

The Statement

“In the past four years the number of ‘airplane people’ seeking protection visas has soared to over 81,000 - far exceeding the 44,581 protection visa applications for boat arrivals over the previous five years.”

Opposition Home Affairs spokeswoman, Senator Kristina Keneally. June 3, 2019.

The Analysis

Newly appointed Labor spokeswoman for Home Affairs Kristina Keneally attacked her coalition counterpart Peter Dutton over his record as minister, claiming he was “incompetent” and had lost control of his department, visa and citizenship processing and Australia’s borders due to $300 million in budget cuts. [1]

AAP FactCheck examined Senator Keneally’s claim that over the past four years more than 81,000 asylum seekers have come to Australia by plane seeking protection visas compared with 44,581 applications from boat arrivals over the previous five years.

Senator Keneally’s office told AAP FactCheck the source of her 81,000 figure for “airplane people” seeking protection visa came from a February Senate estimates hearing and statistics provided by the Department of Home Affairs.

The Home Affairs department said in a written response to a question from Victorian Senator Kim Carr that from July 1, 2014 to January 31, 2019 “81,596 protection visa applications were lodged by persons who entered Australia lawfully by air”. [2]

This figure of 81,596 is higher than a statistic quoted in February, 2019 by Labor’s then immigration spokesman Shayne Neumann who accused Mr Dutton of losing control of Australia’s borders, saying the government has taken its eye off the skies due to its obsession with boat arrivals. Mr Neumann quoted a figure of 64,000 plane arrivals.

“In the past four years on Dutton’s watch, 64,000 people have arrived by plane claiming asylum, with many of those claims being found to be unmeritorious. Why has Peter Dutton lost control of our borders?” Mr Neumann said. [3]

A spokesperson for Ms Keneally said the source for her claim about 44,581 protection visa applications from boat arrivals over the previous five years referred to the 2009 - 2014 financial years and came from a New Daily media story from December 2018.

The New Daily reported there were 44,581 applications from boat arrivals over the previous five years. While it did not cite the exact source of this figure, department of Home Affairs statistics were referenced. [4]

The number of illegal maritime arrival refugee status determination requests received by the then Department of Immigration and Citizenship are listed in annual asylum seeker statistics reports from 2011-2014, mostly under a Labor government, available on the Home Affairs website. [5]

With the exception of 2013/2014, each report contains statistics dating back 10 years. The 2013/2014 report only contains the number of refugee status requests for that year. However there are discrepancies in the yearly totals of each report. AAP FactCheck used the figures from the 2012/2013 report and the June 2014 report to test Senator Keneally's claim.

Across those five financial years, the department figures ranged from a total of 44,309 to 45,188. [6] [7]

Based on this evidence AAP FactCheck found Ms Keneally’s claim that in the past four years the number of "airplane people" seeking protection visas had soared to over 81,000 to be true. Her figure of 44,581 people requesting protection visas after arriving by boat was mostly true as it was supported by a media report and was within the range of supporting department statistics which varied year on year.

The Verdict

  • Mostly True - Mostly accurate, but there is a minor error or problem.

The References

1: ‘Kristina Keneally and Peter Dutton have their say on border protection’. The Courier Mail. June 3, 2019:

2: ‘Question on notice no. 109. Portfolio question number: AE19/109 2018-19 Additional estimates’. Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Home Affairs Portfolio. February 18, 2019:

3: ‘More asylum seekers come to Australia by plane than boat’, by Gareth Hutchens and Sarah Martin. The West Australian. February 18, 2019:

4: ‘Irony: Record number of asylum seekers arrive on Dutton’s watch’, by Michael Pascoe. The New Daily. December 9, 2018:

5: ‘Visa Statistics - Humanitarian program’. Department of Home Affairs. Australian Government:

6: ‘Asylum Trends - Australia, 2012-13 Annual Publication’. Department of Immigration and Border Protection. Australian Government (Page 4) :

7: ‘Asylum Statistics - Australia, June Quarter 2014’. Department of Immigration and Border Protection. Australian Government (Page 5):

  • First published June 4, 2019 18:10 AEST