Australia's Labor opposition says hard line on boatpeople not working

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 November, 2013, 5:46am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 November, 2013, 5:46am


Australia's Labor opposition has claimed the government's policy on boatpeople is in serious disarray after a high-seas stand-off with Indonesia.

Tony Abbott's government went into September elections vowing to turn back asylum-seeker boats to Indonesia, from where many depart, when safe to do so.

But Jakarta has received the policy coolly, and on Saturday Australia was forced to accept a group of about 60 people picked up by an Australian vessel south of Java on Thursday, after Indonesia refused to take them.

Reports said it was the third time since September that Indonesia had declined to have asylum seekers returned.

"There's no doubt in my mind that the coalition's boatperson policy is absolutely not working," Labor leader Bill Shorten told ABC television, despite the number of boat arrivals slowing dramatically in recent months.

Shorten also blasted the "pattern of secrecy" surrounding the government's asylum policies.

The conservative government has adopted a policy of only commenting on boat arrivals at a weekly briefing unless a serious incident occurs, in contrast to Labor, which informed the media regularly when it was in power.

The row over the would-be-refugees comes as relations between the two countries have been under pressure following a report that Australian missions across Asia, including the one in Jakarta, were involved in a US-led spying network.

Government frontbencher Christopher Pyne said he did not believe Indonesia's refusal to take back the asylum seekers was retaliation for these allegations.

The asylum seekers on the tug-of-war boat were being taken to the Australian territory of Christmas Island, ahead of a transfer to camps on Manus Island or Nauru for processing and resettlement, in line with Australia's hardline policy.