Tony Abbott warns millions of asylum-seekers could arrive by boat
By Joe Kelly
The Australian, May 4, 2010
Millions of people could be tempted to seek asylum in Australia by boat under current border protection rules if global conditions deteriorated, Tony Abbott warned today.
In the third of a series of 'headland' speeches, the Opposition leader argued Kevin Rudd had softened border protection, straining relations with Indonesia and undermining public confidence in the immigration program.
And he warned that the flow of boats could get worse if asylum-seekers thought there was a chance of winning a visa.
'If global conditions worsened, millions might be at least be tempted to swap their current existence for the opportunities of a new life in Australia if they thought that the perils of the boat trip would win them permanent residency,'' he said.
'Christmas Island isn't much further from Indonesia than Italy's southern most islands are from Libya and in 2008 35,000 asylum-seekers arrived in Italy mainly via that route''.
Mr Abbott told the Menzies Research Centre that the '117 boats and 5375 boat people who have arrived since the Rudd government announced that it was adopting a more 'compassionate' policy in July 2008 have cost more than $400 million to process and engaged very considerable naval and customs resources in detection and interception''.
Australians had been more 'relaxed and comfortable'' about immigration during the Howard government, Mr Abbott argued, despite the intake raising from under 100,000 to over 200,000.
He supported his claim by referring to an analysis of polling on immigration undertaken by Katherine Betts at the ANU which showed Australians had historically thought too many migrants were accepted, except during the years between 1998 and 2004.
'For most of the Howard era, Betts has noted, the percentage thinking that immigration numbers were about right rose from about one third to about two thirds,'' Mr Abbott said.
He also argued that in the aftermath of the Tampa incident boat arrivals 'all but stopped'' and said there was every reason to think the feat could be achieved again.
'From opposition, it's impossible to specify how a future Coalition government might work with the Indonesians and with other neighbours to stop people-smuggling but there's every reason to think that what happened before can happen again and that what was stopped before can be stopped again,'' he said.
Mr Abbott said a Coalition government would implement a number of measures to stem the flow of boats.
They included the return of temporary protection visas, offshore processing and a commitment to the last resort option of turning boats back around.
The Opposition leader also said the Global Hawk aircraft he had committed to obtain would aid the detection and interception of boat arrivals, arguing dozens of people had perished at sea in the last wave of arrivals.
The Rudd government has consistently argued the rise in boat people to Australia is part of a world wide trend for which 'push factors' such as the civil war and conflict in Sri Lanka, Iraq and Afghanistan are mainly responsible.
However, in April the government announced it was suspending new asylum claims from Sri Lanka for three months and claims from Afghanistan for six months because of changing circumstances in both countries.
Mr Evans justified the decision by citing the review of country conditions being conducted by the UNHCR.
'The combined effect of this suspension and the changing circumstances in these two countries will mean that it is likely that, in the future, more asylum claims from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan will be refused,' Immigration Minister Chris Evans said on April 9.
'The Australian Government will take into consideration the outcomes of the UNHCR's review of country situations in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan'.
But the UNHCR regional head Richard Towle later told The Australian he thought that by suspending asylum claims from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, the Rudd government stood alone in the developed world.
The Australian Online is seeking comment from Senator Chris Evans, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship.
The Opposition leader accused Mr Rudd of running away from the concept of a 'big Australia'' by 2050, bundling it in with the government's backflip on an ETS last week.
'A 'big Australia' has joined an emissions trading system as something the Prime Minister wants but won't publicly talk about prior to an election,'' he said.
Mr Abbott referred to modelling by PricewaterhouseCoopers estimating that to sustain a population of 36 million people by 2050 would require three new public schools and 160 kilometres of road to be built every fortnight for 40 years.
'A 'big Australia' is not necessarily the same as a stronger and more prosperous Australia,'' Mr Abbott said.
Under a Coalition government decisions about the annual immigration intake would rely on the work of a re-branded Productivity and Sustainability Commission.
Abbott: public cooling on immigration
By Yuko Narushima
The Sydney Morning Herald, May 5, 2010