Hardline policies drew UN criticism and party votes

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 September, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 September, 2003, 12:00am

During his eight-year stint as immigration minister, Philip Ruddock oversaw the implementation of tough new laws designed to curb the number of refugees seeking asylum in Australia.

Under the policy of 'mandatory detention', men, women and children were locked up in detention centres - many of them in remote desert areas - while their asylum applications were considered.

Others were sent to an obscure island in Papua New Guinea and to Nauru, the once phosphate-rich South Pacific nation where revolving door politics and financial mismanagement have pushed the country to the brink of bankruptcy.

Australia's reputation overseas was damaged by a series of high-profile riots, hunger strikes and mass break-outs from the detention centres, and its policies were criticised by human rights groups and the United Nations. Last year, a highly critical UN report described conditions in the detention camps as inhuman and degrading.

To those who oppose the government's refugee policy, Mr Ruddock was public enemy No1, a target for demonstrations, denunciation and even hate mail. Critics say he helped to demonise refugees by labelling them 'illegals' and 'queue jumpers'.

But his policies proved to be a vote winner and helped secure the prime minister a third term in office. Mr Ruddock has recently been damaged by allegations that he intervened in immigration cases to grant visas to politically influential applicants in return for party donations, a charge he denies.