Australia’s new Prime Minister Julia Gillard has vowed not to let “political correctness” get in the way of tackling immigration, signalling a tough line on the issue.
Gillard, who ruthlessly deposed former leader Kevin Rudd and solved the mining tax row that weakened him a week later, said people should not be called racist for raising concerns about asylum seekers.
“I certainly dismiss labels like intolerant or racist because people raise concerns about border security, but we’ve also got to be very alive to the complexity of this and that there’s no quick fix,” Gillard told the Sunday Telegraph.
“There’s a temptation for people to use these labels and names to try and close down debate and I’m very opposed to that. People need to be able to have honest discussions.
“So any sort of political correctness, or niceties that get in the way, I think, need to be swept out of the way.”
Asylum seekers ‘top priority’
The Welsh-born Gillard, whose parents emigrated to Australia in 1966, has made it a top priority to slow the steady flow of asylum seeker boats that plagued the Rudd government.
She also defended former conservative leader John Howard, whose tough immigration policies were scrapped by Rudd, after he was dubbed a “closet racist” in Indian media over his failed bid to lead world cricket’s governing body.
“The suggestion John Howard should be labelled a racist, what a load of nonsense. He’s most certainly someone who’s not,” she said.
The new prime minister is due to make an announcement before a three-month freeze on processing Afghan and Sri Lankan asylum-seekers – which was criticised by the United Nations – ends on Thursday.
Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Australia wanted to “work not just with the source countries like Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, but also transit countries through our region – Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand”.
“We want to … redouble our efforts to see whether there’s more that we can do,” he told the Ten Network TV station.
Major election factor
Another boat carrying 34 asylum-seekers was intercepted Sunday, underlining a problem that arouses strong passions in voters and is likely to be a major factor at elections expected within the coming months.
Opposition leader Tony Abbott, who served in Howard’s cabinet, has promised a return to the tough but effective “Pacific Solution” of turning back some boats and detaining and processing asylum seekers in remote foreign islands.
Mr Abbott has called for the reinstatement of temporary protection visas, which the former Rudd government scrapped in August 2008.
But Sustainable Population Minister Tony Burke has indicated this is unlikely.
“Certainly, the experience of temporary protection visas was that when they were introduced, the number of asylum seekers went up so in terms of what the evidence would point to, here’s some reasons why we went for the policies we went for there,” he told Sky News.