Deaths Blamed On ‘Soft’ Border Policy

Deaths blamed on 'soft' border policy

Phillip Coorey Chief Political Correspondent
Sydney Morning Herald
April 17, 2009

THE Opposition has blamed the Rudd Government for yesterday's asylum seeker deaths, with one frontbencher directly linking the loss of life to Labor's softening of border protection policy.

The Government demanded the frontbencher, Sharman Stone, retract the comments but her sentiment was backed by colleagues, including the Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull.

Boat blast – the rows begin

Even before the victims of the refugee boat blast had arrived in Australia the political blame game had begun.

“We do no service to anybody by being seen to be more accommodating or more receptive to people smuggling,” he said.

“We can see it puts the lives of many people at risk, not just those in these often very unseaworthy vessels but the lives of brave Australians who are doing their duty in our service, wearing our uniform, under our flag on the open seas.”

The boat which exploded and sank yesterday morning was apprehended on Ashmore Reef on Wednesday afternoon. It was the sixth such vessel to arrive in Australia waters this year, the fourth in the past fortnight, and the 13th since September when the Government announced its changes to asylum-seeker policy.

The Government retained the policy of mandatory detention, using the centre at Christmas Island. It closed down the “Pacific solution” detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island and also abolished temporary protection visas.

The number of asylum seekers has surged worldwide since 2007, and the greater number coming to Australia has been part of that trend.

But the Opposition says the changes in policy have been the cause of increased efforts to make it to Australia.

Dr Stone, the Opposition's spokeswoman for immigration and citizenship, told Sky News yesterday the Government's “soft policy” had created a “dangerous situation”.

“You can't announce a softer policy and then not expect people to lose their lives through people smuggling,” she said.

She accused the Government of cutting the budget for border protection, but a Government spokesman dismissed this as nonsense. The only savings were those made by shutting down the “Pacific solution” detention centres, he said.

The Home Affairs Minister, Bob Debus, said Dr Stone should withdraw her comments.

“This is not the time to be making that kind of allegation,” he said. “I do assure that the Rudd Government is not going to be playing politics out of these kind of incidents. We are going to give you the truth and we are going to report to you accurately what is going on. We are not going to speculate and certainly we are not going to play that political card.”

Mr Debus had just returned from a people smuggling conference in Bali. He said Indonesia, the staging point for boats, needed to tighten its laws concerning people smugglers.