SYDNEY: Australia’s new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull Wednesday admitted he had concerns about asylum seekers being held in Pacific island camps, but gave no indication of immediate change to the hardline policy.
All asylum seekers coming by boat to Australia are sent to camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru and ultimately denied resettlement in Australia even if they are found to be genuine refugees.
Asked about the plight of hundreds of these people, some of whom have been in the much-criticized camps for two years, Turnbull admitted to having concerns.
“I understand the issue, I have the same concerns about it, about the situation of people on Manus and Nauru… as I would think almost all Australians do,” he said in an interview with Sky News.
“But what I am not going to do, is make changes to our border protection policy sitting here with you,” he told the interviewer.
“Our policies will change, all policies change. But when we do make changes, we will do so in a considered way and they will be made by the minister, myself, the cabinet.”
Australia’s immigration policies, hardened by the conservative government that took power in 2013 to include the physical turnback of boats, have long been criticized.
Rights groups and refugee advocates have claimed asylum seekers are subject to indefinite detention in inadequate conditions, with particular concerns about the safety of children.
Turnbull, who ousted Tony Abbott for the leadership of the Liberal Party and the government last week, said he would ensure decisions were made quickly but in a well-considered way.
“We are not going to make, not me nor any minister, we are not going to make policy changes… on the run,” he said.
Turnbull’s ascension has generated some bitterness within the Liberal Party, but the new prime minister said his government would work together as a team as he again ruled out a snap poll.
Asked whether he expected the government to serve its full three-year term and hold an election in 10 or 11 months, Turnbull said: “That’s certainly what I’m assuming.”
The multimillionaire former lawyer and entrepreneur said he hoped the change of leadership would inject confidence into the economy as the country transitions away from a mining boom.
He said this would be done in an orderly way and as quickly as possible.
“I don’t believe in spinning my wheels,” he said.
Turnbull gave little away about foreign policy in the interview, but said his first international meeting would likely be the G20 in Turkey.