OTHER WORLD Asylum boats land in Australia before policy showdown

Government said people-smugglers were running a “closing down sale” before parliament meets this week

August 12, 2012

Sydney: A boat carrying 60 asylum-seekers, the third in two days, arrived on Sunday in Australia, as the government said people-smugglers were running a “closing down sale” before parliament meets this week.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the current political impasse over boatpeople had prompted the rush of boats making their way to Australia, and he hoped parliament could resolve the issue after it resumes on Tuesday.

“What we’re seeing is people smugglers working out what the Australian people worked out a long time ago, that the parliament needs to resolve this,” Bowen told ABC television.

“They are trying to get in, in front of the parliament, and they’re running, if you like, a closing down sale because they know offshore processing is a proper deterrent.”

The latest boat follows one carrying 87 people that was detected overnight and a third also apparently making its way from Indonesia to the remote Australian territory of Christmas Island, loaded with 32 people, on Saturday.

The Australian navy also rescued more than 200 people from a suspected asylum-seeker vessel in Indonesia search and rescue waters last week.

More than 100 boats carrying over 7,300 suspected asylum-seekers have arrived in Australia so far this year, after the government failed to pass legislation aimed at deterring people from making the dangerous voyage.

The so-called ‘Malaysia solution’ would have seen boatpeople arriving in Australia transferred to the Southeast Asian nation, with Canberra resettling thousands of that country’s registered refugees in return.

The proposal was scuttled by the opposition and the Greens, who refused to pass legislation that would have allowed off-shore processing.

The government then ordered former defence chief Angus Houston to head a panel reviewing policy options and make recommendations. He is due to report back Monday.

Bowen said he hoped the report’s recommendations could see the issue resolved.

“We will be progressing this through the parliament and taking the recommendations seriously because the Australian people have had a gutful of this and they want it sorted,” he said.

Some 300 asylum-seekers have died en route to Australia in the last seven months.

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