Australian PM’s Immigration Vows

Australian PM's immigration vows

July 3, 2010

SYDNEY Australia's new Prime Minister Julia Gillard Sunday vowed not to let “political correctness” get in the way of tackling immigration, signalling a tough line on the issue.

Gillard, who ruthlessly deposed former leader Kevin Rudd and solved the mining tax row that weakened him a week later, said people should not be called racist for raising concerns about asylum seekers.

“I certainly dismiss labels like intolerant or racist because people raise concerns about border security, but we've also got to be very alive to the complexity of this and that there's no quick fix,” Gillard told the Sunday Telegraph.

“There's a temptation for people to use these labels and names to try and close down debate and I'm very opposed to that. People need to be able to have honest discussions.

“So any sort of political correctness, or niceties that get in the way, I think, need to be swept out of the way.”

The Welsh-born Gillard, whose parents emigrated to Australia in 1966, has made it a top priority to slow the steady flow of asylum seeker boats that plagued the Rudd government.

She also defended former conservative leader John Howard, whose tough immigration policies were scrapped by Rudd, after he was dubbed a “closet racist” in Indian media over his failed bid to lead world cricket's governing body.

“The suggestion John Howard should be labelled a racist, what a load of nonsense. He's most certainly someone who's not,” she said.

The new prime minister is due to make an announcement before a three-month freeze on processing Afghan and Sri Lankan asylum-seekers — which was criticised by the United Nations — ends on Thursday.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Australia wanted to “work not just with the source countries like Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, but also transit countries through our region — Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand”.

“We want to … redouble our efforts to see whether there's more that we can do,” he told the Ten Network TV station.

Another boat carrying 34 asylum-seekers was intercepted Sunday, underlining a problem that arouses strong passions in voters and is likely to be a major factor at elections expected within the coming months.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott, who served in Howard's cabinet, has promised a return to the tough but effective “Pacific Solution” of turning back some boats and detaining and processing asylum seekers in remote foreign islands.

Gillard Friday announced a compromise deal on the mining tax, which had drawn strong protests from the powerful resources industry and cost Rudd vital support.