Australia adamant about effectiveness of its asylum-seeker policy
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who is trailing in the opinion polls to conservative rival Tony Abbott ahead of September 7 elections, has gambled his fortunes on a plan to send boatpeople to Papua New Guinea for processing and resettlement.
While it has slowed the flow of people-smuggling boats, nearly 3,000 asylum-seekers have arrived by sea since the so-called "PNG Solution" was announced on July 19.
Barely 300, all single men, have so far been transferred to the poverty-stricken Pacific nation.
More than 400 asylum-seekers aboard three boats have arrived since Sunday, while five people are presumed dead after another vessel foundered en route to Australia's Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island on Tuesday.
A major disaster was averted when Australian rescuers responded to the boat's call for help and plucked 106 people to safety.
Immigration Minister Tony Burke said further evidence the policy was working was being seen by increasing numbers of people transferred to Manus Island on PNG asking to return home.
Australia's opposition, tipped to win next month's election, promised on Friday to revive tough laws barring thousands of asylum seekers already in Australia from settling permanently in a pitch to voters concerned by immigration.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, whose conservatives lead Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's ruling Labor in surveys ahead of the Sept. 7 ballot, said he would also block access to court appeals for up to 30,000 asylum seekers if they are refused as refugees.
"This is our country and we determine who comes here," said Abbott in an echo of strongly nationalist border control sentiments championed by the country's last conservative leader, John Howard, before Labor swept him from power in 2007.
Around 15,000 asylum seekers have arrived this year, prompting Rudd in July to announce a deal to send all boat arrivals to detention in Papua New Guinea for processing and eventual settlement there if they are found to be refugees.
Internal Labor polling shows that with voters worried about immigration and competition for jobs in a slowing economy forecast to grow at 2.5 percent this fiscal year, as many as 10 seats hang in the balance, including several held by ministers.
Abbott has already promised to appoint a military commander to take charge of asylum issues in an operation dubbed "sovereign borders". He said if he won power, the 30,000 asylum seekers in Australia would only receive temporary protection visas if they are found to be refugees. That would mean they could be sent to their home country in the future.
Voice of Russia, AFP, Reuters