KEVIN Rudd has today announced that any asylum seeker that arrives in Australia illegally via boat would have no chance of being resettled in Australia after a deal was reached with the Papua New Guinean government this week.
The Australian Prime Minister announced the significant changes to the government’s immigration policy in a joint press conference with Papua New Guinean Prime Minister Peter O’Neill in Brisbane. Mr Rudd said that the arrangement was a “very hard-line decision”, however he felt it was necessary to combat people smuggling in the region.
The newly-written Regional Settlement Agreement will ensure that any individual discovered attempting to enter Australia illegally would be taken to Papua New Guinea for processing. If their claims of refugee status are found to be genuine, they will then be given the opportunity to settle in Papua New Guinea rather than Australia.
Mr Rudd said: “Australians have had enough of seeing people drowning in the waters to our north. Our country has had enough of people smugglers exploiting asylum seekers and seeing them to drown on the high seas.”
Mr Rudd said that the agreement was not intended as a permanent policy shift, and would be subject to annual review in order to determine whether the program is working effectively. The agreement does not stipulate how many asylum seekers could feasibly be processed and resettled in Papua New Guinea.
Mr Rudd said: “Our expectation … is as this regional resettlement arrangement is implemented, and the message is sent loud and clear back up the pipeline, the number of boats will decline over time as asylum seekers then make recourse to other, more normal UNHCR processes to have their claims assessed.”
Last August former Prime Minister Julia Gillard revisited the Howard government policy of off-shore processing in centres based on Nauru and Manus Island. Despite the Manus Island facility coming under criticism by the United Nations, Mr Rudd asserted that Papua New Guinea would continue to use the processing centre to assess claims of asylum.
Mr Rudd said: “What we’re seeking to do … is to send a message to people smugglers around the world that the business model is basically undermined. This is a clear change in strategic direction.”
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott welcomed Mr Rudd’s announcement, however claimed that the plan would not work under a Labor government’s administration. He expressed concerns regarding the Rudd government’s record on immigration policy, and asked voters to decide which party they trusted more to resolve the issue of illegal immigration.
Mr Abbott said: “Who do you trust on this subject? Who do you trust to stop the boats? Do you trust the political party that started it up again? Do you trust the political party that closed down Manus Island? Or do you trust the party that is the original and the best when it comes to stopping the boats.”
Greens leader Christine Milne, on the other hand, condemned Mr Rudd’s plan as “absolutely immoral” and described the policy shift as a “lurch to the right” for the Australian Labor Party. She said that transferring asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea was an example of an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality and said that the processing centre on Manus Island would be “Australia’s gulag in PNG.”