Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says he has received support from his constituents over asylum seeker policy. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says he has received "enormous support" from his Sutherland Shire constituents over the government's hardline policies aimed at stopping asylum-seekers coming to Australia by boat.
In an interview with the local Fairfax newspaper, The St George and Sutherland Shire Leader, the federal member for Cook said he gets much encouragement from locals in his travels around the electorate.
''I get so much encouragement when I walk through Cronulla mall, go down the beach, or up to Miranda Fair,'' Mr Morrison said.
''On Australia Day we were at the fireworks at Cronulla and I was walking through the crowd and people were coming up to me to say 'g'day' and encourage me and congratulate me on what we had done so far, and basically saying 'keep giving it to 'em and don't back down'.''
Asked if there were occasions when he received the ''cold shoulder'' or stony looks he replied, ''not in the shire''.
Mr Morrison rejected the suggestion this might reinforce the shire's reputation for being insular. He said residents weren't against immigration or asylum-seekers, but wanted a process that was done ''the right way''.
Mr Morrison said the government had made ''massive progress'' in stopping the boats.
''[Last Friday was] 78 days since we have had a successful people-smuggling venture — that's more than 11 weeks,'' he said.
He refused to say how many boats had been turned back but noted ''none [were] getting here and that's the point''.
He said word had spread through the refugee camps and was having a "devastating" effect on the people smugglers' trade.
Mr Morrison hit back at critics who described the policies as "immoral" and often attacked him personally.
"I am not an insecure person; I believe in what I am doing, I know how I feel about these issues and what motivates me, and as a result I am not easily intimidated," he said.
"There is a campaign being run across Australia by those who want our border protection policies softened. Part of that is to personally attack me and that's why I stand my ground.
"The decisions I have had to take obviously have moral burdens, but the decisions the previous government took, which led to 1200 people dying at sea and 15,000 people who are still waiting in camps and other places offshore, not being given visas, and $11 billion in cost blowouts, that's their moral burden.
"I have the responsibility of making a decision and that's the difference.
''I am up for any challenge.''
He was surprisingly upbeat when asked about speculation he could one day become prime minister.
''I am up for any challenge, but right now I know what the challenge is and the challenge is this job,'' he said.
''John Howard gave me some advice many, many years ago when I became director of the Liberal Party in NSW: 'Do this job well, that's all you should think about, and if you want to do anything else, then that will hinge on whether you do this job well'.
''I find those sort of comments encouraging and flattering, but I don't dwell on them.
''I thank people for their kindness and get back to work.''
Mr Morrison said he was happy to stay in his present portfolio as long as Prime Minister Tony Abbott wanted.
As for the future, he said he came into politics with an economics background, but since the government's present economics team was ''doing a great job'', he didn't envisage changes.
Attorney-General George Brandis told reporters in Sydney on Friday that hadn't seen the comments from Mr Morrison but said he was ''one of the absolute stars of the government''.
''For six years the Labor party said the boats couldn't be stopped,'' Senator Brandis said.
''Mr Morrison assumed the portfolio, he introduced a new set of measures that the Labor party hadn’t had the wit to think of.''
Senator Brandis said Mr Morrison had implemented the government’s policies on boat arrivals with purpose and firmness.
''Is it 84 days now since the last boat arrival?'' he said.
''It just goes to show that if you've got a good man, or a good woman for that matter, in that job it can be done
''But it took Scott Morrison and it took a Coalition government to do it.''