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Immigration Minister Tony Burke says Liberal candidate Fiona Scott, who suggested that asylum seekers were causing road congestion and hospital delays in western Sydney, deserves the award for silliest comment of the election campaign.
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Asylum seekers linked to traffic jams
Fiona Scott, the Liberal candidate for Lindsay has been widely criticised for comments made on the ABC's Four Corners program implying asylum seekers contribute to traffic jams.
"[Asylum seekers are] a hot topic here because our traffic is overcrowded," Ms Scott, the candidate for Lindsay, told the ABC's Four Corners program on Monday.
When asked to explain her view, she said: "Go sit on the M4, people see 50,000 people come in by boat – that's more than twice the population of [western Sydney suburb] Glenmore Park."
During an immigration debate at the National Press Club on Tuesday, Mr Burke and opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison were asked whether they supported Ms Scott's comments.
Mr Morrison leapt to her defence.
"I think what Fiona's referring to I think is a broader population impact ... [of] the population pressures on western Sydney and in places of Melbourne I think put real constraints on the cost of living," he said.
"They put real constraints on the infrastructure that people can access and the services they can provide. I think Fiona has always been a passionate advocate for those things, and while the actual intake of refugees and asylum seekers into Australia is not as great as our general skilled migration program, the way that people are just frankly being dumped into the community by this government because the detention centres are full in a very unplanned way ... I don't think that's the way to run a program."
Mr Burke mocked Ms Scott's remarks.
"The answer to your question is no. The comments would, I think, rate as some of the silliest of the election campaign, were it not for what Scott had said about [the] boat buy-back. The competition has been fierce. And it's no surprise given what Scott said himself that he at least feels compelled to defend someone who says something a little bit less extreme.
"There are genuine issues in western Sydney that go to infrastructure, that go to planning ... and more specifically with Sydney, of all of our cities, one where we keep putting the jobs at one end of the city and the houses at the other end of the city.
"But let's be serious. In a context of the immigration program, where we're dealing with 12 million people coming in and out every year – this is the cause of traffic? I think Scott deserves full marks as a loyal son of the Liberal Party for the answer that he just gave."
Ms Scott, who is challenging Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury in Lindsay, came to prominence last month when Opposition Leader Tony Abbott controversially said she had "sex appeal".
Asked about Ms Scott's comments on Tuesday, Mr Abbott said he did not accept the reporter's "characterisation" of her remarks, but accepted that asylum seekers were putting a strain on society.
"Obviously when you've got something like 50,000 illegal arrivals by boat that's a big number," Mr Abbott said at a press conference in Adelaide on Tuesday.
"We have all sorts of pressures that are created."
The Opposition Leader then listed Australian towns that housed fewer people than the number of asylum seekers that had come by boat since Labor took power.
"The point of the matter is if we stop the boats we have less pressure on the budget," Mr Abbott said.
"We have less pressure on our facilities for dealing with illegal arrivals, we have less pressure on our relationship with Indonesia."
Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said Ms Scott's comments were "shockingly ignorant" and said there were only a few thousand refugees in the area.