Most Australians think asylum seekers who arrive by boat are not genuine refugees and there is strong support for the Abbott government to treat boat arrivals more harshly.
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Lifeboats for asylum seekers
The Abbott government is reportedly set to buy sixteen hard-hulled lifeboats to send asylum seekers back to Indonesia. Nine News.
A nationwide opinion poll by UMR Research shows that 59 per cent of people think most boat arrivals are not genuine refugees.
The poll, based on a nationally representative sample of 1000 online interviews, shows only 30 per cent of Australians believe that most asylum seekers are genuine refugees while 12 per cent are unsure.
A strong majority of Australians, 60 per cent, also want the Abbott government to “increase the severity of the treatment of asylum seekers.”
Groups most strongly favouring harsher policies are older Australians (aged over 70 years – 68 per cent), and self-employed people (71 per cent). People in Queensland and Western Australia are slightly more supportive of a more severe approach (65 per cent and 64 per cent respectively) than in Victoria and NSW (both 62 per cent).
Only 30 per cent of Australians think asylum seekers should not be treated more severely, while 9 per cent are unsure.
A majority of Australians - 59 per cent - oppose refugees receiving government welfare assistance. Only 27 per cent believe that refugees should receive government support.
The latest polling results come as Fairfax Media reports that the Abbott government is buying up to 16 hard-hulled lifeboats - similar to those carried by cruise ships and oil tankers - to which asylum seekers will be transferred and returned to Indonesia if their vessels are unseaworthy.
Indonesian police have said Australia has recently turned back two asylum seeker boats, prompting Jakarta again to voice its condemnation of the policy.
In a standoff at sea in November, Indonesia refused to take back an asylum seeker vessel on the grounds that it was unseaworthy.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has refused to confirm or deny the purchase of lifeboats or the reported recent turning back of asylum seeker boats, citing the need to "protect the security of our operations".
The poll shows the government's current treatment of asylum seekers is approved of by 48 per cent of Australians and 39 per cent disapprove. The poll does not show, however, how many of those who disapprove think the government's policies are too lenient or too harsh.
According to the Australian Parliamentary Library's research service, between 70 per cent and 97 per cent of asylum seekers arriving by boat at different times have been found to be genuine refugees.
Under the former Howard government's "Pacific Solution", 1637 unauthorised arrivals were detained in the Nauru and Manus Island detention facilities between September 2001 and February 2008. Of those 70 per cent were found to be refugees and ultimately resettled to Australia or other countries.
During the Rudd government approximately 90-95 per cent of refugee assessments completed on Christmas Island resulted in protection visas being granted. 99.7 per cent of people from Afghanistan (the majority of whom arrived by boat) were assessed as genuine refugees. Grant rates for protection visas for people from Iraq, Iran and Burma, many of whom also have arrived by boat, were also high, ranging from 96-98 per cent.
However the latest UMR polling, conducted in the second week of December, shows that public perceptions of asylum seekers are quite different from official assessments.
Residents in NSW (61 per cent) and Queensland (66 per cent) are more likely to reject the description of most boat arrivals as refugees than Victorians (54 per cent). There is also a significant division in attitudes in metropolitan and regional Australia with people outside major cities less likely to see asylum seekers as refugees (25 per cent against 33 per cent of people in cities.)
People aged under 30 years (35 per cent) or who are university educated (39 per cent) are more likely to think people travelling to Australia by boat are genuine refugees. People who are self-employed (70 per cent), aged between 50-69 years (65 per cent), or over 70 years (67 per cent), or who have a TAFE or trade qualification (66 per cent) are more likely to think asylum seekers are not genuine refugees.