Asylum seeker deaths deepen Gillard's woes

By Greg Ansley

Polls show gains to Opposition as tragedy returns festering issue to fore.

More than 2700 asylum seekers have arrived this year alone. Photo / Getty Images
More than 2700 asylum seekers have arrived this year alone. Photo / Getty Images

The deaths of two more asylum seekers off Australia's Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island has again focused attention on the complexity of the dangerous crossing from Indonesia in the hopes of a better life.

Numbers remain uncertain, but the toll over the years is believed to run into the hundreds.

All efforts to find a permanent solution have failed, with Prime Minister Julia Gillard's Labor Government dropping its earlier, more humane, policies and restoring much of former Liberal predecessor John Howard's reviled Pacific Solution. Gillard has re-opened detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and introduced a "no advantage" rule that means asylum seekers are likely to spend years in the remote camps.

A plan to help relieve the pressure by swapping 800 asylum seekers for 4000 confirmed as refugees in Malaysia by the United Nations was blocked by the Opposition, which sees political mileage in the Government's continuing problems.

The toll has continued: 50 killed in 2010, and 18 died last June. The latest deaths could not have come at a worse time for Gillard, already reeling from a run of disasters that culminated in last week's leadership fiasco.

Two polls yesterday reported a punishing response from voters. Newspoll placed the Opposition ahead by 58-42 per cent in the two-party preferred vote that decides Australian elections, with Morgan reporting a similar result.

In the first three months of the year more than 2700 asylum seekers have arrived - well above the 1200 detained in the same period last year - stretching the main detention centre on Christmas Island to capacity.

More than 700 people aboard 11 vessels have been intercepted off Christmas Island in the past fortnight. Another was intercepted on Monday, with 105 people aboard.

Customs intercepted the boat involved in the latest tragedy early on Monday morning and waited until first light to board. Two officers went aboard as the boat slowed. But the crew cut the engines instead of maintaining headway and the boat swung side-on.

Two waves slammed the boat tipping it on its side and spilling passengers, and the Australian officers, into the sea.

All were recovered, but two were dead.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison blamed Gillard, saying: "This is a Government that cannot control themselves, let alone our borders."

Risking all

2700+ Asylum seekers have been intercepted off Australia so far this year
700 People aboard 11 vessels have been intercepted off Christmas Island in the past fortnight

- NZ Herald

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