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The Rudd government is claiming victory over the people smugglers with its hardline policy to stop the boats, following the lowest number of boat arrivals in six months.
”I have absolutely no doubt now that the policy is having the impact that we hoped,” Immigration Minister Tony Burke has said.
”There will still be a few more operations that are able to get away, but the truth is the smugglers continue to want to run boats – and people are no longer wanting to get on them,” he said on Sunday.
Mr Burke’s declaration came as Tony Abbott signalled that he would discuss his plan to stop the boats face to face with the Indonesian President as soon as it could be organised if he won Saturday’s election.
The Opposition Leader plans to ”hit the ground running” if he becomes prime minister and would issue instructions to set up his Operation Sovereign Borders on the first day in office.
”It would be inappropriate for an opposition leader to try to call the Indonesians and organise something like this but, if there is a change of government, well, on day one, there will be feelers out to Jakarta to see when it would be appropriate to have a visit,” Mr Abbott said in an exclusive interview with Fairfax Media. ”The sooner I can pay my respects in Jakarta the better.”
While stopping the boats is one of Mr Abbott’s core promises, Mr Burke says it is already happening under the policy Mr Rudd announced on July 19 for all asylum seeker applications to be processed offshore, and those found to be refugees settled in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
After 4236 asylum seekers arrived on 48 boats in July, the number for August dropped to 1585 on 25 boats. The number of arrivals in the last week of August was 71, the lowest weekly figure since February, according to a department official.
Mr Burke predicted large numbers of asylum seekers transiting in Indonesia would seek to return to their home countries in the next few weeks.
”What’s happening now is people are watching the first to go back and, each time we get people going back, we then get a multiplied interest from others,” he said.
”It will be a few weeks before you see very significant numbers of people returned, but there will be significant returns over the next month or two.”
Mr Abbott stressed that his Indonesian visit if be became prime minister would be about the ”overall relationship”, but it would be the first chance for him to brief President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on his intention to turn back boats when safe and buy old fishing boats that could be used by people smugglers – a policy he concedes may not be introduced.
”It wouldn’t be specifically about boats because Indonesia is an incredibly important country to Australia given its proximity, its size and its potential. It is in some respects our most important relationship.
”I want it to be a convention that the first bilateral [visit] that an incoming Australian prime minister makes is to Indonesia. I want to do it as soon as I reasonably can, but I’m not just going to turn up unannounced as it were. That would be discourteous, but it will happen as soon as it reasonably can – at a time convenient for them.”
Pressed on the need for Indonesia to co-operate with his plans, Mr Abbott said: ”We’ll do what we have to do as a sovereign, independent nation, but obviously this whole problem would be much, much better managed if we had a strong, strong working relationship with Indonesia.”
With Bianca Hall
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.