PM Kevin Rudd Backtracks On Mainland Processing Of Boat People

PM Kevin Rudd backtracks on mainland processing of boatpeople

By Mark Dodd
The Australian, March 17, 2010

Asylum seekers whose claims have not been finalised will be moved to the mainland, overturning the government's policy of insisting almost all claims be dealt with on Christmas Island.

The Australian understands asylum-seekers in the final stages of processing for refugee status could soon be moved from the island detention centre to Darwin for eventual resettlement.

There are now 1997 asylum-seekers on Christmas Island, leaving room for only 65 new arrivals.

But the government has ruled out any 'imminent plans to transfer hundreds of asylum-seekers to Darwin'.

Sources close to Border Protection Command also denied claims that two large boats carrying hundreds of asylum-seekers were about to arrive.

The new immigration ruling gives the government flexibility to continue offshore processing at the Christmas Island detention centre, which is now at bursting point.

Asylum-seeker policy dominated question time in federal parliament yesterday.

Under attack by Tony Abbott over his promise to take a 'very hard line on people-smuggling', Kevin Rudd replied that unauthorised boat arrivals had reached a peak under the Howard government.

'The highest number of boats arriving in Australia in any one year was, in fact, in the year 1999, when 3700 asylum-seekers arrived on 86 boats,' the Prime Minister said.

'The highest number of asylum-seekers arriving in Australia in any one year was in 2001 under the previous Howard government.

'This government will continue to implement a responsible policy – one which deals with the challenges that present themselves through global circumstances.

'We continue to maintain a policy which includes offshore processing, which includes mandatory detention, which includes stringent health, identity and security checks, which protects our national security and one in which we also act consistently with this country's international obligations.'

The opposition then moved for a debate on border protection failures, which was gagged by the government.

'They were super-sensitive to any criticism . . . it was a spirited, heated debate but it ended with the government using its numbers to shut it down,' opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison told The Australian.

In a related development, the government and the Australian Red Cross have signed an agreement formalising arrangements for the organisation to monitor immigration detention on Christmas Island.

The Red Cross would provide independent scrutiny to ensure people in detention were being treated fairly and reasonably and within the law, Immigration Minister Chris Evans said.