Federal Politics


People smugglers not giving up, says Clare

People smugglers will not ''give up easy'', Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare says, as almost 500 asylum seekers arrived in Australia over the weekend.

Five boats carrying 491 people have arrived since Friday night, including one boat carrying an estimated 188 people.

Yesterday, Customs reported that another boat carrying 34 people had been picked by a merchant vessel last Thursday.

Last week, federal parliament formally designated Papua New Guinea as a processing country, paving the way for asylum seekers to be sent to Manus Island.

Acting Immigration Department secretary Martin Bowles told a Senate Committee this morning that asylum seekers will start being transferred to Papua New Guinea by the end of the month.


Almost 300 asylum seekers have already been taken to Nauru, after parliament legislated to reintroduce offshore processing in August.

Mr Clare told reporters in Sydney today that people smugglers were making more money than some drug smugglers. He said people smugglers earned more than $1 million per boat and sometimes up to $2 million.

''They're not going to give up easy, when you make that much money ... they're going to fight hard to keep making money,'' he said.

Mr Clare said that the government needed to implement all the 22 recommendations of the Houston Report - released in August - including building on the Malaysia Agreement.

With Opposition Leader Tony Abbott in Jakarta for talks with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on people smuggling - including the Coalition's policy on turning boats around, opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said Labor only had a ''half-hearted'' attitude to border protection and that there was ''daily chaos'' on Australia's borders.

"People smugglers are sending boats at will in record numbers because they know Labor's heart is just not in it as they fail to show the resolve and restore the full suite of proven policies necessary to smash their trade, as was done under the Howard government,'' Mr Morrison said in a statement.

Coalition frontbencher Eric Abetz said the Opposition had a policy that would halt  the boats ''full stop''.

''They can be stopped again just as they were in the past,'' Senator Abetz told reporters in Canberra, citing the ''true, tried and tested'' measures of turning back boats, offshore processing and reintroduction of temporary protection visas.

This morning, ethnic Hazaras told ABC Radio that Australia's tougher immigration laws - introduced in the wake of the Houston Report - would not stop them from making the journey to Australia.

''Yes, I am still looking forward and trying to go. I tried to go last year to find someone - a trafficker to get me to Australia. I will pay whatever it takes,'' Ramin Salik said.

This comes amid concerns for the mental health of asylum seekers detained on Nauru's processing centre, after three men harmed themselves in the facility last Thursday and Saturday.

A number of detainees held a protest at the Nauru centre yesterday, calling on authorities to immediately process their asylum claims, according to the Refugee Action Coalition.

With Bianca Hall, AAP