Labor to turn back boats

EXCLUSIVE Nick Butterly Canberra

Labor is likely to promise to turn back asylum seeker boats for the next election as Opposition Leader Bill Shorten admits the Rudd and Gillard governments erred in handling the issue.

The West Australian understands Labor is preparing to harden its stance on asylum seekers significantly amid fears the coalition is gearing up to paint the Opposition as soft on border security for the poll.

Though Labor has attacked the Government for using the navy to turn asylum boats back to Indonesia, the Opposition will now likely adopt the template.

But while the Opposition has already committed to processing asylum seekers offshore on Manus Island or Nauru, Labor will most likely draw the line at the Government’s policy of temporary protection visas.

Any move for boat turn-backs will infuriate Labor’s Left.

Addressing caucus yesterday, Mr Shorten declared the Opposition was preparing to fight the Government on the asylum seekers issue, though he conceded his party’s record on the issue was poor.

Almost 50,000 asylum seekers arrived in Australia on boats under the Rudd and Gillard governments after Kevin Rudd dismantled the Howard government’s hardline asylum regime.

Labor usually baulks at fighting the coalition on border security, seeing it as a fight it cannot win. Mr Shorten continued to attack Tony Abbott yesterday amid claims the Government paid people smugglers to turn boats back to Java.

He said previous Labor governments never paid people smugglers to turn boats back on the high seas, though he left open the possibility Labor had authorised payments to people smugglers for information.

“I am informed that Labor did not pay people smugglers to turn around boats,” Mr Shorten said.

But he refused to comment on whether Labor made other payments to smugglers. He said it was inappropriate to comment on spy agency the Australian Secret Intelligence Service.

Peppered with questions, the Prime Minister again refused to say whether people smugglers were paid to turn boats around.

“We will do whatever is necessary, within the law, consistent with our standards as a decent and humane society, to stop the boats,” Mr Abbott said.