Abbott Wants Navy To Decide On Turning Boats Back

Abbott wants Navy to decide on turning boats back

Updated Thu Jul 8, 2010 12:55pm AEST

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says a Coalition government would give Royal Australian Navy commanders the discretion to turn back boats carrying asylum seekers.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has derided the Opposition's promises to “turn the boats back”, saying the boats would be scuttled and Navy and Customs personnel would end up having to risk their own lives to save asylum seekers from the water.

But Mr Abbott says Navy commanders who intercept boats need to assess the situation and be given the powers to turn the boats around when it is safe to do so.

“If we have suitable arrangements with other countries and if it is the judgement of the personnel on the spot that they can do it safely, well then they should be able to do it,” he said.

“It's not something that should be ruled out by Federal Government policy.”

The Coalition would increase the number of places for asylum seekers who apply from offshore under its new policy and has proposed a scheme for community groups to privately sponsor refugees.

But the policy presumes that an asylum seeker who deliberately destroys their identity documents is not a refugee and makes it tougher for asylum seekers who arrive by boat to be resettled in Australia.

Meanwhile, Immigration Minister Chris Evans says he is not surprised there are mixed reactions to Australia's plan to process asylum seekers in East Timor.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has discussed the plan with East Timorese president Jose Ramos-Horta, who gave some support to the idea.

But she is yet to speak with prime minister Xanana Gusmao, who will have the final say on the decision.

Dr Ramos-Horta and Mr Gusmao are meeting this afternoon to discuss the proposal.

Deputy prime minister Jose Luis Guterres says East Timor has its own problems and does not have the capacity for such a centre.

He says it is “very unlikely” the country will accept the proposal.

But Senator Evans says the talks are at an early stage.

“You'd expect a mixed reaction in East Timor as we've got in Australia and New Zealand,” he said.

“They're all democracies, they all have healthy political debate.”


Video: Gillard's East Timor plan hits troubled waters (The Midday Report)
Video: Concerns voiced over Timor asylum (ABC News Breakfast)
Audio: East Timor cool on asylum seeker plan (AM)
Audio: Another boat arrival as Julia Gillard says a carbon tax is well over the horizon (AM)
Related Story: Fourth Estate corrupting the political system
Related Story: Growing opposition to 'Timor Solution'
Related Story: Gillard yet to speak with Timor's Gusmao
Related Story: East Timor fires warning over asylum 'prison'