The Australian opposition coalition wants the Australian government led by Prime Minister Julia Gillard to work more closely with Sri Lankan authorities to rein in asylum-seekers, including helping to equip its navy to intercept more than the present 50 per cent of people-smuggling boats before they set off.
According to The Australian newspaper, Australian opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop has returned from a fact-finding week in Sri Lanka, leading a team that included opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison and opposition justice, customs and border protection spokesman Michael Keenan.
Bishop said that following the trip — during which the delegation visited the Tamil heartlands of the north and east as guests of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), toured AusAID projects, and met navy, intelligence, Customs and police chiefs, as well as government leaders — she was strongly convinced that asylum-seekers from Sri Lanka should be sent back.
She said that a TNA leader even supported the reintroduction in Australia of temporary protection visas, as issued under the Howard government.
She said that Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s announcement of the election date was reported on the front pages of newspapers in Sri Lanka, because “there is a perception that this (Gillard) government will let them stay, but a new (Coalition) government won’t”.
“So people-smugglers will have worked out that they just have this window of opportunity until September. This trade is well organised, not comprised of simple fishermen. There’s quite a sophisticated understanding at the government level of the Nauru and Manus centres and how they operate, but not in Tamil communities.”
She doubted Australia’s advertisements about this were reaching the right audiences, according to The Australian newspaper.
Bishop said it was clear that if people wanted genuinely to flee for safety, they could easily reach India, just 30km between the closest settlements and “where there is very, very good support for Tamils”.
“If someone is truly concerned for safety, why pay one million rupees ($7600) and take a 3000km boat journey. Australia has become a destination of choice, not one of flight. We have to do all we can to dissuade them from getting on boats.”