Tony Abbott a ‘coward’ on border protection: PM
Prime Minister Julia Gillard says Tony Abbott’s policy of turning back the boats would put navy officers’ lives at risk but the opposition leader insists the armed forces are meant to go into harm’s way “to help our country”.
PRIME MINISTER Julia Gillard says Tony Abbott’s policy of turning back the boats would put navy officers’ lives at risk but the opposition leader insists the armed forces are meant to go into harm’s way “to help our country”.
Ms Gillard on Sunday accused Mr Abbott of being a “coward” when it came to border protection as both sides of politics focused on the role of defence personnel in intercepting boats.
Mr Abbott last week said a coalition government would instruct the navy to board asylum seeker vessels, ensure they were seaworthy and then remove fuel so their only option was to return to Indonesia.
Former defence chief Chris Barrie expressed concern that such a policy would be dangerous, ineffective and stressful for the armed forces.
But Mr Abbott is standing by the coalition’s plan.
“I’m not saying this is particularly pleasant work,” he told ABC TV on Sunday.
“It is a very tough job. Yes, it’s dangerous work.
“But that’s why people join our armed forces. They go into harm’s way to help our country.”
The Liberal leader said turning boats back was “less dangerous” than having them take to sea in large numbers because if they kept coming there would be more tragedies.
Two boats capsized en route to Australia in late June with up to 100 people feared drowned.
Ms Gillard on Sunday said while in the past she had supported turning back boats, in government she’d received advice that doing so would put the lives of asylum seekers and navy officers at risk.
“Having received that advice, crystal clear, I am not prepared to risk the lives of navy personnel,” the prime minister told reporters in Brisbane.
Ms Gillard accused Mr Abbott of being a coward for apparently not raising the coalition’s policy of turning back the boats when he met Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono last week.
Mr Abbott on Sunday didn’t deny he failed to raise the issue but stated: “Indonesia knows exactly what our position is.”
The prime minister said: “He didn’t have the guts to raise it.
“He (Mr Abbott) confirmed he was too much of a coward to raise with the president of Indonesia his so-called plan to turn back boats.”
Greens leader Christine Milne mirrored the prime minister’s response.
Turning boats around would “guarantee” people drowned at sea and seriously undermine Canberra’s relationship with Jakarta, she told reporters in Adelaide.
“Tony Abbott didn’t even have the courage to raise the issue with the Indonesian president.
“He is saying he will ignore what the Indonesians want. He will turn back the boats, contrary to international law, contrary to what the navy wants to do and jeopardise more lives.”
The Greens want the government to invest more money in regional assessment of asylum claims and increase Australia’s humanitarian intake of refugees to stop people getting on boats.
Mr Abbott said it was “a bit rich” for the prime minister to call him a coward considering she didn’t raise the carbon tax with voters before the 2010 election.
Ms Gillard on Sunday insisted the government’s multi-party border protection committee would go ahead despite Mr Abbott appearing to finally rule out any coalition MPs participating. – AAP