Boat arrivals herald return to asylum issue

The interception of two more boatloads of asylum seekers in Australian waters has brought the issue back onto the election campaign agenda.

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The federal government announced the first boat of the campaign had been intercepted yesterday morning.

Later in the evening there was another one on the radar. Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison’s focus was on stopping the boat arrivals and Labor’s failure to do so.

“While Julia Gillard talks about her never-never solution in East Timor, Labor’s failed policies continue to provide people smugglers with a product to sell,” Mr Morrison told ABC Radio.

Opposition border protection spokesman Michael Keenan backed him up.

“Clearly the people smugglers are not taking her (Ms Gillard) seriously.

“This is the second boat in 24 hours and sixth boat to arrive since the prime minister announced her so-called plan to stop the boats.”

Ms Gillard said of the first election boat arrival there was “no quick fix” and Labor would persevere with its regional processing centre plans.

Former Labor leader Mark Latham gave the coalition a free kick, labelling Prime Minister Julia Gillard “a fraud” for her stance on population growth.

Mr Latham said the government must cut immigration levels if it is serious about not wanting an unsustainable, “big Australia”.

The prime minister has said she won’t specify a population target until she has more information from newly-anointed Sustainable Population Minister Tony Burke on the issue.

Mr Burke did not rule out cutting the immigration intake in a radio interview.

“Well if the targeting led to that being something that was appropriate then that’s what would happen,” he told ABC Radio in Brisbane on Thursday.

In an earlier interview Mr Burke was candid about the failures of governments of both persuasions to address the issue of population.

“And I’ve got to say governments from both sides of politics have been pretty slow to take up the issue,” Mr Burke told Radio 2SM. Financial Services Minister Chris Bowen said the government wanted more information before a decision was made on immigration levels.

“Immigration levels are set on an annual basis based on the information that is available tous,” Mr Bowen said.

“We want more information about what is sustainable, where people live, what infrastructure can be provided to support people in different communities.”

Opposition families spokesman Kevin Andrews, a coalition government immigration minister, said the former government ran a good workable population and immigration policy.

“It worked because it was a recognition of the economic needs of Australia but it also recognised that immigration has to maintain public confidence,” he told ABC Television.