SYDNEY: New policies targeting asylum-seekers taking boats to Australia had “broken the back” of the people-smuggling trade, Immigration Minister Tony Burke said on Monday, claiming victory on the sensitive election issue.
Burke said the ruling Labor party’s plan to send all asylum-seekers arriving by boat to Papua New Guinea and Nauru in the Pacific for permanent resettlement—taking life in Australia off the table as an incentive—was working.
In the first month of operations, the number of boat arrivals had more than halved from 4,236 in July to 1,585 in August, with just two vessels carrying a total of 58 passengers arriving in the past seven days, he said.
“While there will be a few more boats that will test our resolve and that will come, and a few more people that will take the risk, we have broken the back of the people-smuggling trade,” Burke told reporters.
“The people-smuggling trade no longer has a product to sell.”
When he first took the portfolio in June, Burke said boats were arriving almost daily and they were packed with between 100 and 200 passengers, making the latest arrivals, carrying 28 and 30 on board, a significant reduction.
“The people-smugglers have remained as desperate as ever to get boats off, and they have had increasing challenges in finding people that were willing to get on board, including people who had in fact already paid,” he said.
By contrast, he said the Liberal-National opposition’s plan to reintroduce temporary protection visas, force asylum-seekers arriving by boat onto welfare-for-work programs and deny them family reunion or appeal rights risked the flow of boats simply resuming.