First test for PNG deal after boat arrives

Home Affairs Ministers. Photo creditAAP
MORE than 80 boat people are facing transfer to Papua New Guinea under the government's tough new asylum seeker plan, after their vessel was intercepted off Christmas Island.
A boat with 81 passengers and two crew on board was stopped by HMAS Bathurst on Saturday morning, with the mostly Iranian asylum seekers transferred to Christmas Island for health checks.
Immigration Minister Tony Burke confirmed they would be the first processed under the government's hardline approach, which will see those seeking asylum sent to Manus Island with no chance of resettlement in Australia.
Mr Burke said the 81 on board Saturday's boat arrival were a mix of single-adult males and family groups, but he could not confirm if there were any unaccompanied children.
Families and kids would be spared immediate transfer to PNG, because of the inadequate state of facilities on Manus Island, he said.
"As soon as I believe we're able to have appropriate accommodation and services, then transfer to Papua New Guinea will occur," Mr Burke said.
Interception of the vessel came as the government launched a nation-wide newspaper, radio and television blitz with the message: "If you come here by boat without a visa you won't be settled in Australia".
Mr Burke dismissed claims from refugee advocates that the government's policy was inhumane, saying there is nothing compassionate about allowing people to die at sea.
He also said he was "shocked" at those who said the advertising campaign was waste of taxpayers money.
"I want the message to get out, and I want there to be fewer people drowning on the high seas," Mr Burke said.
"I make no apology for that, and if the advice comes back that more advertising will help get that message out further I'll be authorising more."
Outflanked by the government's tough stance on asylum seekers, announced by Kevin Rudd on Friday, the coalition continued to question the prime minister's ability to deliver on the PNG asylum seeker deal.
Addressing the Liberal National Party state conference in Brisbane, Tony Abbott praised PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill as a "good man", but said "I will never subcontract out to other countries the solution of problems in this country".
"If you want solutions for this country you can't rely on the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, you've got to be able to rely on the Prime Minister of Australia, and I am someone the Australian people can rely on," the opposition leader said.
Coalition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said: "The problem is not with the idea but with this government's inability to implement ideas".
Greens immigration spokeswoman Senator Sarah Hanson-Young labelled the agreement with PNG "a rush to cruelty as Kevin Rudd rushes to the polls".
Australian Lawyers for Human Rights said the plan would expose asylum seekers "to greater harm".
"Australia's obligations are not met by effectively engaging in the people trade itself: paying poor and needy countries to take asylum seekers and refugees who sought Australia's protection," president John Southalan said in a statement.
The United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, said it had not been involved in the agreement between Australia and the PNG, and that it was seeking more information about the deal.
The policy arrived on the same day that inmates at the Nauru immigration detention centre rioted over delays to their refugee claims, resulting in tens of millions of dollars worth of damage.


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