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Aussie PM asked to “hold the line”

October 14, 2009

The Canberra Times : Advocates call for Govt to stand firm on refugees
14 October 2009, By James Massola

Refugee groups are calling on the Rudd Government to ”hold the line” as the Opposition continues to press for tougher action to stem the flow of asylum-seekers. The calls came as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd confirmed he had spoken with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the weekend, though he denied he had personally requested Indonesian intervention to stop a boat load of 260 asylum-seekers arriving. The Indonesian Government has denied it was doing Australia’s bidding when it stopped the boat, but acting in the best interests of the region. Mr Rudd would not comment on the specifics of his conversation with Mr Yudhoyono. Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said the interception should be seen in the context of regional cooperation and information sharing.

Mr Rudd and refugee groups jointly condemned former immigration minister Philip Ruddock, who has called for a return to the tough policies of the former Howard government and warned that up to 10,000 people a year could soon be seeking asylum in Australia. Mr Rudd said Mr Ruddock had destroyed his own credibility on asylum-seekers during the ”children overboard” affair in 2001. ”Philip Ruddock was also that minister who said that asylum- seekers had thrown their kids overboard. I therefore place zero credibility on anything that Philip Ruddock says about anything since that time,” he said. ”[This is] a global problem, it’s a regional problem, it’s an Indonesian problem, it’s an Australian problem and I believe in taking a hard line,

using all the resources available to Australia in dealing with this challenge.”Refugee Council chief executive Paul Power accused the Opposition of manufacturing a crisis for political ends and dismissed Mr Ruddock’s predictions. ”While the numbers have changed statistically in the last year, it’s still a tiny fraction of 1 per cent of international flows of asylum- seekers,” he said. ”It’s impossible to know what flows there will be, but clearly the two biggest factors are the situations in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan which have worsened.” Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull said 41 boats and 2000 asylum-seekers had arrived since the Rudd Government had softened its policy on would-be refugees. ”Mr Rudd has made a lot of changes and they have certainly created the impression we know that as a fact that Australia is a much softer target,” he said. He refused to rule out a return to the former government’s policies of temporary protection visas and the so-called ”Pacific Solution”. A Just Australia national coordinator Zhi Yan said Mr Ruddock’s predictions were inaccurate and pointed to ”push factors” in war- torn countries such as Sri Lanka and Afghanistan as the reason for the rising number of boats arriving in Australian waters. She urged the Government not to be bullied by the Opposition employing the ”politics of fear” over asylum-seekers. The debate over the intercepted boat came as Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor confirmed a separate boat carrying 56 asylum- seekers, including two children, had been intercepted by the Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Albany at the weekend.

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