Opposition Leader Tony Abbott was confronted by a pair of refugee activists in West Perth this morning after he unveiled a new Liberal Party billboard tallying the number of suspected asylum seeker boat arrivals on Federal Labor's watch.
The billboard on Sutherland Street has long been used by the Liberals to promote various candidates but with the Federal election less than five months away, party strategists have flicked the switch to the politically contentious asylum seeker issue.
The billboard reprises a previous mobile billboard the Liberals had deployed three years ago. Mr Abbott, flanked by shadow justice, customs and border protection minister Michael Keenan and the Liberals' Federal candidate for Perth Darryl Moore, this morning updated the tally of what the billboard describes as "illegal boats" arriving in Australian waters from 112 to 639 in a stage-managed picture opportunity.
A press conference following the picture opportunity was briefly interrupted by Mark Goudkamp, a Sydney schoolteacher and activist for the Refugee Action Coalition, who objected to Mr Abbott's description of the "illegal arrival problem".
"They're not illegal – that's a lie. You know it's a lie," Mr Goudkamp interjected.
Mr Abbott replied: "You can say your piece in a sec. Let me say my piece and then you can say yours, sir."
Mr Abbott pledged to restore temporary protection visas, "rigorous offshore processing in places like Nauru", a preparedness to turn boats back "where it is safe to do so" and much better relations with Indonesia.
"It doesn't matter what this Government says, the situation is just getting worse and worse and worse," Mr Abbott told reporters.
"As with everything this Government does, they make a bad situation worse."
Mr Abbott said Labor's failure to staunch the flow of boats was not just a "border protection problem" but also a problem for the Federal Budget.
"We've certainly got a big budgetary problem ... because this is a Government which can't keep its spending under control," Mr Abbott said.
"One way to get expenditure under control is to stop the boats because that's $6.5 billion of unnecessary spending because this Government wasn't able to leave well enough alone."
Asked about WA's argument for a greater slice of the national GST pool, which Mr Abbott described as "small beer" at the weekend despite Premier Colin Barnett nominating it as the no.1 challenge facing State finances, Mr Abbott said it was an issue for the States.
"Look, I applaud the way Premier Barnett has stood up for Western Australia, I do, I do.
"And I'm very confident that an incoming coalition government can do the right thing by the people of WA by abolishing the carbon tax, abolishing the mining tax (and) by ... swiftly restoring the Australian Building and Construction Commission.
"This will massively improve the economy of WA."
But of the GST argument, he said: "This is an issue for the States."
"I am very keen to see it resolve in the national interest, but it won't be resolved in the national interest if we victimise South Australia and Tasmania. Now I'm very happy to see what the big four States come up with but what I would never want to see is anything that disadvantages South Australia or Tasmania."