CANBERRA – Australia remained adamant Wednesday that its asylum seeker policy was working, despite another boat sinking and nearly 3,000 people arriving since the ruling Labor Party announced a new hard-line stance last month.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who is trailing conservative rival Tony Abbott in opinion polls ahead of Sept. 7 elections, has gambled his fortunes on a plan to send boat people to Papua New Guinea for resettlement.
While it has slowed the flow of people-smuggling boats, nearly 3,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Australia by sea since the so-called PNG Solution was announced July 19. Barely 300, all single men, have so far been transferred to the Pacific nation.
“There is no doubt that it is having an impact,” Immigration Minister Tony Burke, who has previously cited widespread evidence from Indonesia that asylum seekers were demanding their money back from people smugglers, told ABC television. “Week on week there has been a trajectory downward (in the number of boat people arriving).”
But he admitted people smugglers have recently put on renewed drive, saying, “In the last few days, some of the smuggling operations have tried to put together a bit of a surge and to see if they can overwhelm the current system.”
More than 400 asylum seekers aboard three boats have arrived since Sunday.
Burke said further evidence the policy was working could be seen in an increasing numbers of people transferred to Manus Island on PNG who are asking to return home.
“They are overwhelmingly but not exclusively Iranian,” he told reporters. “They’ve realized that coming by boat without a visa, after the announcement of the re-settlement arrangement, meant that they would not be settled in Australia and therefore the whole purpose of their original voyage turned out to be a waste of money and a waste of time.”