Shorten's boat policy to remain an option


Opposition Leader Bill Shorten appears to have enough party support for his plan to adopt the government's policy to turn back asylum seeker boats.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten appears to have enough party support for his plan to adopt the government's policy to turn back asylum seeker boats.

Mr Shorten has provoked anger from within the Labor Left faction over his backflip on the coalition policy and could have faced a showdown at the party's national conference, which starts on Friday.

But AAP understands enough delegates from the left are prepared to let the turn back policy remain an option.

Should a motion ruling out the policy in the party's platform be put at the conference, it's not expected to pass.

Mr Shorten believes Labor must have the option to include boat turn backs in Labor's asylum seeker policy if elected to government, conceding that the coalition's mix has helped defeat people smugglers.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott reluctantly applauded the opposition leader.

"I'm prepared to say: good on Bill," he told ABC television on Thursday.

However, he said Mr Shorten should have supported the policy two years ago and said hundreds of asylum seekers might not be dead had Labor implemented the policy when in government.

He also questioned the sincerity of the party's belief in the policy, a concern aired earlier by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton. "If I thought it was genuine, I would welcome it," Mr Dutton said.

Mr Shorten conceded Labor did not get the policy right in government, saying it underestimated the ability of people smugglers to exploit vulnerable people in great numbers and entice them on to unsafe boats.

"I can no longer escape the conclusion that Labor, if we form a government, needs to have all the options on the table," he said.

Opposition immigration spokesman Richard Marles argues it would be profoundly immoral for Labor to allow boat journeys to resume.

Both he and Mr Shorten flagged that Labor would increase Australia's humanitarian refugee intake - now 13,750 a year - to appease opponents of a tougher approach to asylum seekers arriving by boat.

Prominent Labor backbencher Anna Burke is bitterly disappointed with the Shorten plan.

"(Former Liberal prime minister John) Howard created political footballs out of human lives and we have to get above that," she said.

The Greens accused Mr Shorten of "kowtowing" to the government's policy of turning back asylum seeker boats.

"It's the coward's way to play politics with people's lives rather than stand up and call for a humanitarian response," the party's immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young told reporters.

The Refugee Council of Australia has accused Mr Shorten of "pandering to the politics of fear".

Refugee lawyer David Manne lamented there were many cases of people being turned back who had been found to be genuine refugees.

The United Nations' refugee agency is unimpressed, saying asylum seekers must be properly and individually screened.

Boat turn-backs were "contrary to the spirit" of the 1951 refugee convention and set a negative precedent for other countries, it said.

Source AAP

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch