Rudd Slams Coalition Over Asylum Seekers

Rudd slams coalition over asylum seekers

October 21, 2009

Kevin Rudd has attacked the coalition as lacking “one skerrick of moral compass” as he continued to defend his own government's stance on asylum seekers.

The prime minister's stinging tirade came as another boat of asylum seekers was intercepted and reports emerged that a bureaucratic wrangle was delaying the passage of the Australian Customs vessel, the Oceanic Viking, carrying 78 asylum seekers to Indonesia.

Indonesian foreign affairs and immigration officials, as well as the Indonesian navy, have reportedly expressed disappointment over the decision to take the group to Merak in western Java.

But a spokesman for Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor rejected the report, saying Indonesian and Australian authorities were co-operating on arrival and disembarkation arrangements.

“It's all proceeding according to plan,” the spokesman said.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans said on Wednesday night that the Oceanic Viking was expected to dock in Merak by late Thursday.

“There are a couple of clearance issues about entering ports … and making sure of safe passage into the port,” he told ABC Television.

As the Oceanic Viking was steaming towards Merak, another boat of asylum seekers – the 34th to arrive in Australia this year – was intercepted northwest of Ashmore Island.

There are thought to be 22 passengers and two crew on board the boat. The group will be transferred to Christmas Island.

As the latest boat was intercepted, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said the “harmonisation” of Australia's and Indonesia's people smuggling laws was one of several reforms being considered as part of the joint effort to stamp out people smuggling.

“That makes it easier for extraditions, and the like,” Mr Smith said in Indonesia.

Mr Rudd, who maintains the surge is down to push factors, on Wednesday accused the coalition of running a fear campaign over asylum seekers.

“What we have … seen is the party of children overboard, the party of Cornelia Rau, the party of Vivian Alvarez, and, of course, the party of the forged email affair, at it again,” he said.

“Worst of all, this is a party without one skerrick of moral compass when it comes to people smuggling,” Mr Rudd said.

The prime minister said Australia and Indonesia would continue to work on collaborative strategy to resolve the asylum-seeker problem.

“The president of Indonesia and I have made no secret of the fact that we intend to continue to develop a framework for further co-operation on people smuggling. That is what we intend to do.”

The prime minister also defended his government's stance on border protection.

“This government makes no apology whatsoever for the fact that we have a tough line on asylum seekers when it comes to dealing with the challenges of people smugglers around the world – tough but humane.”

But Mr Rudd has also been accused of lacking a moral compass.

World Vision Australia chief executive Reverend Tim Costello has criticised the prime minister's use of the term “illegal immigrants” to describe asylum seekers.

“I do not want to go back to the ugly language of the Howard government,” Rev Costello said.

He also raised Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a people smuggler during World War II and a hero of Mr Rudd's.

Mr Rudd himself has praised Mr Bonhoeffer, writing in an essay in the October 2006 edition of The Monthly of his exploits in organising the secret evacuation of a number of German Jews.

“And on Bonhoeffer, let me just say, and I will say this to the prime minister if I have a chance, that where Dietrich Bonhoeffer got into real trouble wasn't attacking the Nazi government,” Rev Costello said.

“It was defending Jewish refugees.

“That's actually the real moral lesson from Bonhoeffer.”

Rev Costello said the federal government should increase its humanitarian intake of refugees to accommodate the push factors it blames for the surge in asylum seekers.

“The push factors are the real reason. I don't think the pull factors are the reason, and you see that in terms of the increase all around the world.”

Former immigration minister Philip Ruddock said that if push factors were in play the government should increase its humanitarian intake.

“The reason they are not doing it is because they don't believe it to be the case,” he said.